Vagabonding Through Retirement: Part Memoir, Part How-To

The houseboat is only part of the story.
The houseboat is only part of the story.

When the opportunity to review Vagabonding Through Retirement:Unusual Travels from our Paris Houseboat came my way, I took it. Written by couple Bill Mahoney and Ina Garrison Mahoney, the book is a loosely woven journey through the Mahoneys’ post retirement years. Their journey started with the purchase of a Dutch houseboat that they docked in Paris, France to use as a home base.

Vagabonding-Through-Retirement-302x408As a vagabond myself, I was curious about spending time (via the book’s pages) with this couple who have combined their different personalities and interests with years of world travel.

Bill Mahoney’s life has been so chock full of adventure, it’s hard to package into a sound bite. He started hitchhiking through the United States at age 13, for example. Walter Mitty’s secret life could have been Bill Mahoney’s real one. A high school dropout who made his own path to a MA at Boston University, Bill took a turn as a professional fighter (okay, just one fight, but still), a merchant marine, and a history teacher. His last history teacher gig, the last full-time job before retirement, was in Paris.

Mahoney’s wife Ina may not have thrown a punch in a fight, but adventure chased by curiosity about the world is a theme she’s lived by. Teaching took her overseas where she lived in France and the Netherlands before becoming a librarian in Belgium. It’s clear that these two were made for each other.

At times Vagabonding Through Retirement was like being in a pinball machine where flippers and bumpers send one from one place to another through a pattern of chance. Sometimes I lost track of how the Mahoneys ended up where they did in any given chapter, but I enjoyed the ride anyway as each of them took turns with the narrative that spanned several years.

Travel is like that if you head out with a basic idea then see where it takes you and trusting that, no matter what, you’ll land on your feet. Purchasing the houseboat was Bill’s basic idea even though the exact details for how to settle the boat into Paris’s river scene had yet to be hammered out. Whether they puttered into Paris to dock their boat without a permit to permanently park it, or embarked on the Trans-Siberian Railroad on a trip from Beijing to Moscow, the outcome seemed destined to be positive. The right people appeared at the right time, and bum luck could prevail in a pinch. It also helps to have the type of personality where you can talk to anyone about anything.

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One lesson throughout the book is that the world is predominately a safe place that’s meant to explore. Because the Mahoneys’ travels started before the Berlin Wall came down or the Soviet Union disassembled, Vagabonding Through Retirement is a bit of a history lesson as well.

vagabonding portrait
Bill and Ina Garrison Mahoney currently live in Sarasota, Florida

As important to the sense of adventure in the narrative thread is the thread of traveling successfully with a partner and how travel can grow a strong marriage when the couple gets it right. Ina and Bill let each other be and didn’t seem to be bothered that their passions were not always the same.

Bill, for example, is passionate about language and teaches free English lessons as a way to learn languages himself. His free English lessons can take place anywhere–like on a sidewalk for example, or a cafe. Although Ina doesn’t share this interest, she doesn’t dissuade him but instead finds something else to do herself like going to a museum, something Bill isn’t so fond of.

One of Bill’s passions which caught my attention is his interest in visiting prisons, mostly to provide a human connection to someone–most often an American. The visits are not travel turned to nightmare type stories, but more of an interesting snippet into prison life for people who seem like every day folks who got into a jam that they are waiting to get out of.

Although it’s been almost a month since I finished their memoir as I journeyed back from a trip to Montana, Bill and Ina Mahoneys’ message about traveling after retirement has stayed with me. Just do it and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Post courtesy of Jamie Rhein

Photos courtesy of Bill Mahoney and Ina Garrison Mahoney