People ask Kris and me all the time about how we’re able to travel full time (at our age.)
Usually the people who ask us are living some variation of what used to be called “The American Dream”– a good job, a home in the suburbs, two cars, and a membership in the country club. That’s a life not too unlike the one we used to have. Sometimes the question even takes on a belligerent tone–ala a recent accusation from someone who said we were wasting our lives on trivialities, like travel, instead of accomplishing things.
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Whether you consider getting to know the world and many of the people in it “accomplishing things” or not, we figure that we accomplished plenty when we were young. We had a successful business and we raised two exceptional children.
We're not done accomplishing things. They're just different things. I impulsively went back to the University of Minnesota to study Latin when I was 49, so I guess I have a rather wide view of what accomplishment means. (There's probably nothing so useless in this world as advanced studies in Latin, but at least I can read the inscriptions in the European churches.)
But my father once said to me–only somewhat facetiously–that the happiest day of his life was the day the last kid left and the dog died. That, maybe unconsciously, is what we’d been waiting for. Kids and dogs, while wonderful, are legitimate anchors. Some families travel full time with their children, but that wasn’t for us. We also had a business. It’s a lot harder to uproot a business than kids.
But by 2010, we’d closed our last business, our kids had grown, graduated from college and left home, and one of them had taken the dog (at our insistence.)
So, we still had the large home, a house full of furniture, and three cars. The country club had been abandoned long ago when I realized I didn’t really like golf enough to spend all that time on it.
The question is not, “How are you able to travel full time?”
The question is, “Would you rather schlep a small bag or two to 70 or so countries in the next few years, or be comfortably ensconced in your living room with all your stuff watching the world go by on television?”
If you answered that question like we did, then the next logical query is: “Do you know a good real estate agent?” We did. Within three months, the house and everything in it was gone.
We’ve learned that traveling at our age–baby boomer travel, senior travel, whatever you want to call it–has its advantages. And accomplishments.
Here are some of my thoughts on the particular advantages of “senior” travel:
1. You can go where you want and skip what you want. If you don’t want to go to the famous museum, you don’t have to. If you’d rather eat a hamburger instead of the local cuisine, go ahead. It’s your life; live it like you want.
2. You know that a good museum or gallery is more interesting than a beach. You can go to the beach later in the day. Sunsets are nice there. Probably nicer than the gallery.
3. You don’t have to stay in the cheapest place. Hey, you can stay in a hostel if you want, but wasn’t the point of working for all those years getting to take some time and enjoy yourself? Get a soft bed and take it easy. Some days, instead of forcing yourself to see one more cathedral, stay in the room and read a book. Order room service. And the main advantage of a hotel over a hostel? You don’t have to go down the hall to the bathroom.
4. Occasionally, you can travel with your adult children (and now, even grandchildren) to places like Spain or Vietnam. Unlike the vacations when they were young, you can send the kid to the store when you need more beer. Or, even better, you can go to a bar with them.
5. You can do things you’ve never done before because now you have the time. Since I’ve been older, I’ve trekked 120 kilometers in the Guatemalan jungle, walked 500 miles all the way across Spain, walked most of the way across northern Sweden, and climbed a mountain in Tasmania that I had no business doing. I never did any of that stuff when I was a twenty-something. As a t-shirt I own says, “You don't stop hiking when you get old. You get old when you stop hiking.”
6. Two words: senior discounts. In some countries, at least. One of the very best of these, btw, is the senior discount to the United States National Parks. A lifetime pass used to be only $10. It's gone up to $80 now, but still the best deal in senior travel.
7. The taxi driver (and you often take taxis) will lift your bags out of the trunk for you without being asked.
8. Your iTunes playlist is much better than that of the young people around you.
9. If you’re a woman, you find new found freedom at not being ogled wherever you go.
10. You don’t have dementia, and yet you still get to meet new friends every day.
11. You can take a nap if you want to. And you often do want to.
12. You don’t spend ridiculous amounts of your travel budget on alcohol. You know it’s worth the extra two dollars to get the top shelf brandy after dinner. At your age, it only takes two drinks to get a buzz on. BTW, stay away from the marijuana in Amsterdam. It's not like what we had in college.
13. You know that traveling in foreign countries is really not that hard. Language barrier? No problem. You’re used to getting what you want by demonstrating. If you don’t get exactly what you want, you’re ok with it because you know it’s not really that big of a deal.
14. When you come across a “famous” person’s house or grave in someplace like Sweden or France, there’s a good chance you know who he or she was because you had a liberal arts education, and you’ve also had time to read a lot of books since college.
15. Surfing even a two-foot wave is impressive. Hey, you got up, didn’t you?
16. You’re absolutely sure that when it comes to photographs, it’s the photographer, not the equipment that matters. You also know that you don’t have to take a photo of yourself in front of every tourist attraction in the world and post it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
17. You are smart enough to wear a hat and sunscreen and to have quit smoking a long time ago.
18. You are an expert at packing light, because you’ve had things all your life and now you realize that most of them are utterly unimportant. Now, instead of collecting knick-knacks, you appreciate your inventory of top quality bags, packs and totes.
19. You know that no matter how old you feel, you’re still younger than Mick Jagger. And Keith Richards. Although Keith will probably outlive you.
20. When young people find out you are a full time traveler at your age, they think you’re cool. And you are.