Posted: 10/22/2020 | October 22, 2020
Today’s guest post is from Kristin Henning. She and her husband Tom Bartel are perpetual travelers and publishers of the blog TravelPast50.com, where they discuss travel for older travelers looking to make the most out of retirement. Kristin is here to give her best tips on retirement travel (since I obviously don’t know much about this subject!).
Many hardworking people dream of the time when they’ll retire from their regular jobs and hit the road. For almost as many, the allure of travel is offset by the stress of planning and packing and leaving home for more than a few days.
Getting started can be especially difficult for senior travelers because of the “baggage” accumulated over a lifetime, including habits, pets, elderly parents, children and grandchildren, medical and other professional support networks, and assorted household stuff. Managing even a couple of months away can be complicated.
We were lucky to start our retirement travel early. We sold our house in 2010 and moved to South America, starting with a brief time teaching English. For the next ten years we traveled in almost every way imaginable: from months overseas to weekend trips in the USA; from road trips to bike trips to walking across Spain; from solo adventures to luxuriating together on a river cruise; from house-sitting to hotel-hopping.
We had no idea when we started out where this journey would take us, but before we knew it, we’d visited more than 70 countries on six continents!
We know such extensive travel isn’t for everyone. But the benefits of travel are available to anyone willing to take the leap and devote a month or two, at least, to exploring with interest and curiosity.
In any case, regarding retirement travel, we want to focus on using time and flexibility to your best advantage. Let’s replace the idea of a fully scheduled holiday — those plans you squeezed into your too-short paid vacation time — with the concept of independent, slower travel, because that’s when discoveries blossom. (Even if you do participate in a package holiday, we encourage you to surround the experience with additional weeks on your own to realize the rewards of independent travel.)
Why Seniors Love to Travel — and are Good At It
We older travelers have some great advantages. We have time to extend our trips, the freedom to focus on the present instead of a job back home, and a desire to make the most of our time, experiences, and relationships.
Following our noses and personal interests, we can pursue opportunities that pop up along the way. Unrushed, we can stop to ask questions or read a roadside marker; we can add a few days to our travels to detour to an unusual site; we can decide to linger longer in a favorite spot.
So, while acknowledging our logistical barriers — and the need to adapt to new pandemic-related travel protocols — let’s remember why travel still calls. Here’s why we keep on traveling, right into even older age!
1. Natural beauty: Discover diverse scenery and ecosystems
We love moving beyond our Great Plains roots to spend time in the mountains, to explore the deserts, to appreciate oceans and wetlands, and to view geological mysteries. The history of the Earth is long, and our time to witness all its glories and sunsets is short.
2. Historic context: Travelers love to learn
No matter where we travel, we’re likely to start our visit with historic sites and museums to gain perspective on the area’s cultural heritage. These experiences not only add meaning to travel but often steer us to the next destination (or detour!) in order to follow some thread of the story.
3. Healthy lifestyle: Travel for your health
Travel means more fresh air and exercise than we ever manage at home. The best of travel is active travel; walking in cities, hiking through national parks, and enjoying biking or water sports make for healthy bodies and engaged minds. Active travel also means you are that much closer to local people, as opposed to being escorted around by bus. Try it!
4. Food and culture: Find common concerns around the globe
Who can deny the joy of watching a festival, eating the best regional dishes, and enjoying the local wine? These are the windows into the culture of a community, and we travelers are lucky to sample the fare and recognize these common concerns and joys around the world.
5. Increased resilience and patience: Calm down and enjoy the present
Just because our children tell us we’re set in our ways doesn’t mean it’s true! Facing the unknown isn’t easy, but travel teaches patience and adaptability. Handling delays, changes, or adversity calls on us to solve problems and propose solutions. Problem-solving builds confidence, and confidence builds self-reliance, which in turn brings more joy to travel.
It’s also true that senior travelers aren’t afraid to take a day of rest. Sightseeing is most enjoyable at whatever pace one finds manageable.
6. Youthfulness: Surround yourself with all ages
Traveling helps us feel young and energized. Interest in exploration and discovery is ageless, and fellow travelers love to share tips and stories. It’s easy to strike up conversations with all sorts of people when you are abroad. We especially enjoy meeting young travelers and hearing about their homes and travels. Most are interested in hearing about us, too.
7. Simplify your life: Travel light
When you travel for an extended time and pack light, it becomes clear that joy comes from experiences more than things. Appreciate the lightness of living with only a roller bag and backpack for a few months and you’ll be inspired to declutter or downsize once you’re back home.
Prepare Now to Enjoy Travel Later
With a little preparation, you’ll feel much easier about starting your retirement travels, whether that means several weeks on a road trip or a couple months overseas. Consider these tips to alleviate stress, to ready yourself for leaving home, and for more carefree travels.
1. Take steps to leave your home safe and sound
- Install a Wi-Fi remote-controlled thermostat.
- Consider a home security system to alert you of any opened doors or windows.
- Go paperless: If you haven’t already, eliminate all paper mail, including bank and credit card statements, doctors’ and insurance bills, and Social Security mailings. A good paperless habit now means easier travel preparations to come.
- Hold or forward mail: The US Postal Service will hold mail for up to 30 days. For longer trips, consider USPS Informed Delivery, or (as we did) forward your mail to a post office box accessible to a trusted family member or friend.
- Arrange house and/or pet sitters: Relying on friends and family to check in on your house and pets may not be a realistic solution. Look into the array of options, whether boarding your pet, hiring someone to tend to your pet/plants/house regularly, or finding a live-in house sitter. Check out Trusted Housesitters or House Sitters America for example.
- Sell or park your car: Avoid unnecessary auto expenses by storing your car and removing the insurance (except comprehensive) while it’s not being driven.
2. Prepare your online banking and travel credit cards
- If you haven’t already switched to online banking, now is the time to free yourself for travel.
- Check out PayPal and Venmo for settling up with friends, family, and small businesses instantly, from your phone.
- Find a travel credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
- Know your credit card benefits. Know in advance, for example, which credit card you want to use to book a rental car so that you will realize built-in insurance benefits.
- Advise credit card companies of your travel. Otherwise, when they see unusual activity in, say, Bolivia, they may freeze your account.
- ATMs use debit cards, so know your PIN. Some services also require debit card transactions (versus credit). This is common in rail and metro systems.
- Leave unnecessary credit cards and jewelry at home.
- Carry and exchange minimal cash.
3. Tend to your travel health and wellness
- No matter where you travel, it’s important to start out with a clean bill of health, or at least some knowledge of how to deal with particular health issues.
- Prescriptions: With cooperation from your doctor and pharmacy, it’s possible to get more than 90 days of prescriptions filled at once.
- Travel clinics: Visit your doctor or a travel clinic with your specific destination in mind. This is invaluable if immunizations are required for visas or entry, and a huge help for understanding potential diseases and dangers in certain regions of the world. Travel clinics may also help supply first aid items and medicines, such as antidiarrheal or antibiotic pills, or medicine to prevent altitude sickness or seasickness.
- Pandemic and other global health updates: Do research the current conditions in your intended destination(s).
- Travel insurance: Check out single-trip coverage or annual plans (if you travel three or more times a year, including domestic trips). A good travel insurance program for seniors will (a) allow the traveler to find an emergency room or medical care provider quickly, (b) provide for emergency evacuation as the medical condition or situation dictates, and (c) offer appropriate coverage with minimal prior approval requirements.
4. Mind your digital records and mobile communications
- Eliminate headaches and having to put out fires back home by organizing your essential documents in digital format in advance.
- Scan or photograph your passport and credit cards and know where to access these on your phone or computer (preferably both).
- Update any travel-related apps, including those you might want in an emergency (banking, travel insurance, maps, and travel planners like TripIt or AAA).
- Protect your various login usernames and passwords in a secure online place like 1Password.
- Set up your phone plan according to your destination, time away, and need for connectivity. Options include everything from using Wi-Fi only as available (turning roaming off), getting a SIM card specifically for your destination country (recommended for long stays), or using your US phone plan. We’ve appreciated the ease of T-Mobile’s unlimited data plan, which is good in over 140 countries.
The reward for being prepared is great enjoyment of the moment, your travel moment. When we travel, we expect we’ll meet up with various challenges. But many of those challenges are the adventure stories that stick with us the longest. We’re proud of those times when we’ve been able to roll with the punches, adapt to the situation, and continue to enjoy the journey.
Senior travelers, we know, are as qualified as any to launch themselves into the unknown and fully appreciate the benefits of travel. May we all discover that travel experiences are part of our lives and character, not escapes from them.
Kristin Henning and her husband Tom Bartel are perpetual travelers and publishers of the blogs Travel Past 50 and MN Trips. Their wwebsites are regularly featured in major media and they often speak at travel events.
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