So how does one go about financing a 50-day vacation? By starting very early... I started 23 years ago, in fact. My job offered a 401(k) plan, and I joined up at the earliest possible date. Since I was a single mom at the time I knew I would need to finance my own retirement, and having been poor once, decided I never wanted to go there again. So I started with the maximum allowable contribution (6% at the time, with a 3% company match). Each time the company raised the allowable 401(k) contribution, I raised my deduction to match it. Fortunately for me, it always seemed to coincide with a raise, so it was quite painless.
By the time I retired last year, I had been contributing 18% of my pre-tax income, with a 6% company match for about 10 years, and additional "catch-up" contributions since I turned 50. The whole point of this lesson is to save it in small bites. When the buyout offer came along, I was ready. Since I was 55 years old (and 2 days) when I left my job, I am allowed to withdraw from my 401(k) up to 4 times a year without a penalty for being under 59 1/2.
Common financial sense (and the Wall Street Journal) tell me that in cases of early retirement at age 55, as long as my withdrawals do not exceed 5% of the value of the 401(k) in any year, I will not run out of money. So there it is: I am going to withdraw the money to stay in hotels for 50 days and ride my bike across the country. Cost of the trip: thousands. The adventure, experience, and personal satisfaction: priceless.