Below are five travel tips from the Community Partnership on Aging Event Coordinator, Elyse Smith. Most tips apply to all, but were thought of with older adults in mind. She has been planning trips ever since her dad finally let her hold the maps at Disney World when she was in second grade.
(Above: Elyse with her mom and sister on her first trip to Disney World in 1990)
Tip #1 Set your priorities and make a goal.
If I could, I would do everything. But, just like for everyone else, that isn’t possible. Even if I wasn’t constrained by budgets, physical limitations, or the 1,000 little things I am responsible for every day, time gets in the way. There just isn’t enough time to do it all. Because of that, we have to set our priorities and goals. If we set specific goals for ourselves when looking at travel, it will help narrow our focus, and make it more clear what steps need to be taken in order to achieve the outcome we want – for some of us that might be a picture with the Queen’s Guard; for others it might be a week on the lake. Whatever the destination, having a clear goal in mind is key.
We all remember learning about goal setting in school – goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, time bound, and realistic. The same applies for our travel goals – if we are serious and not just day dreaming. If you keep saying to yourself, “Someday I want to go the beach” – it will be hard to visualize a real plan to getting there. What beach? When? This goal isn’t specific enough and is too broad. If you say, “By fall of next year, I want to go to Brazil” but you know that you are having a procedure on your knee in summer, then it isn’t a realistic goal. Set yourself up for success, be specific with yourself, and decide the best way for you to spend your time and money based on your priorities – be it the beach, an international trip, or just a weekend getaway. Once you know where you are going, you can put your plan in place to get there.
(Above: Me at Mt. Rushmore in the beginning of February during a blizzard. On this trip, I learned factoring weather into whether or not a goal is realistic or achievable is important! My husband got a few gray hairs from this adventure.)
Tip #2 Be flexible!
An all or nothing attitude would be a heavy thing to carry with you while traveling – especially when some things that may have been possible for you in the past aren’t realistic anymore. A fixed income might make it harder to splurge, a bad back might mean you can’t hike the national parks as frequently, or a lost companion could mean you are traveling on your own for the first time in a long time – or maybe ever. These scenarios are scary, they are emotionally difficult, and they may even make you feel like there might not be a point to trying some new. But, if you remain flexible and open minded, you might find that what you thought you were going to have to leave behind could become a major part of your future.
Let’s take the challenge of a fixed income. With some creativity and determination, saving could be possible. Maybe your 80th birthday is coming up, and you have everything you need – ask for miles toward a flight as your gift! Every time you are at the grocery, and you go to grab a treat or something you don’t need, put it back and get the amount as cash back instead and save it in a safe place. Just stay open minded, and look for small solutions that could make tiny dents everyday – over time it will add up!
What about the scenario of having a bad back, and not being able to hike anymore? Injuries, aches, and pains could mean finding new ways to enjoy the outdoors (or any sightseeing) a bit differently. That doesn’t mean skipping out to see your 10th national park – it just means adjusting your expectations about how you will enjoy yourself. Maybe camping isn’t realistic, but staying in the lodge can be done. Spending time outside might include a card game at a picnic table at the trail head while your grandkids run around making mud pies or finding paved trails versus spending the day getting to a summit. A flexible attitude when it comes to adjusting to a new situation will increase your well-being and allow you to find new ways to enjoy the things you love!
(Below: When I went to Gulf Shores in 2015 I was eight months pregnant and had gestational diabetes. I was not able to enjoy travel the same way I usually do – through activities and food – so I decided to channel my inner beach bum and relax. As far as food went, I found that just the back and forth to the beach was enough to lower my blood sugar a bit and enjoy a daily treat!)
Losing a travel companion is devastating, especially if this companion was a spouse, a parent, or a sibling. Grief is personal – it might catapult you into a travel frenzy or it might make you want to stay close to home. If your instinct is to stay put, it might be a while before you are ready for an adventure. When you are ready, there are options for ways to travel alone or you could invite a new friend, a family member, or plan a vacation just for you and your grandkids. If you are going to travel alone, a resort, cruise, or travel program might make it easier – in these cases, the decisions are made for you, and you can spend your time relaxing. Whatever you decide, just remember – don’t count yourself out…it might require a new sense of bravery to tackle your first trip after a loss, but you might find it was just what you needed to get reacquainted with yourself.
Tip #3 Schedule in generous break times on your daily itinerary.
It is important for any traveler to take breaks in the day, but that can be even more important with age. Dehydration, exhaustion, and soreness will take the fun right out of any day, and tend to sneak up on us when we aren’t looking. It is important to remember to soak it all in when we are traveling, and outside of the health benefits of taking a break, it should heighten your enjoyment of your surroundings. Sitting calmly, observing, and just “being” are some of the most potent ways to immerse yourself into a new space. Don’t look at these times as taking away from your day, but instead as adding to it – and make it something you look forward to!
(Above: My family and I looked forward to our breaks between Rome and the town we were staying in called Trastevere. It gave us a place to refuel, take a seat, people watch, and get to know the community. These guys were there to entertain us every afternoon and we still talk about them today!)
Having these times scheduled in, and the necessary tools with us to prevent and combat any issues, will help avoid unexpected onsets of fatigue or dehydration. You might think if you are taking a beach vacation this doesn’t apply to you, but it is just as important that you schedule in some break time from the sun. I can’t count the number of times I have thought to myself, “I am not burning” and by the end of the day I am as red as a lobster. Go to a café, take a siesta, or find an air conditioned (or heated if you are on a winter vacation) space to relax. No matter the time of year, always have extra sunscreen and water with you, and have the number of a local cab company in case you do need to get back to your hotel in a hurry. It can be helpful to stretch in the morning and the evening to prevent soreness from sightseeing. The important thing is to listen to your body, and know what is reasonable for you. If you are on a beach vacation, it might be a good idea to budget in for a rented umbrella and chairs – this way you are carrying less items to and from the beach with you, and you know you will always have relief from the sun during the day.
Tip #4 Budget smart and put your money into what is going to count the most.
I find that the easiest way to plan my spending is with a daily budget. This works better for me than a budget based on food, activities, and transportation…if you tell me I have $200 for the week to spend on food, I will spend $100 on day one! If I know I have $40 per day to spend on food, my funds will last longer, and I won’t be stuck to filling my purse with items from the continental breakfast bar for the last three days of my journey.
That isn’t to say your budget will be the same everyday – you need to consider your sightseeing and how your days might vary. Proper planning will help you anticipate these costs and keep you on track. Be sure to anticipate any fees in this budget, as well. If you are traveling internationally, ATM fees or fees to use your debit or credit card might apply. Resort fees might also need to be factored in. A representative from your hotel should be able to help you anticipate many of the fees, but always have some wiggle room budgeted in for those unexpected expenses. Budgets change, too – and that is okay! If you factored in $40 per day for food, and you pass an eclair on the way back to your hotel that you just can’t pass up, you would just know that you need to skip your morning espresso the next day to make up the difference.
(Above: Pictures from a market in Ukraine and the meals we made to help stick to our budget and experience Ukrainian culture (I came home $200 under budget)! I skipped the lard, but had to take a picture.)
In the past, you may have looked at different places to cut costs that just don’t make sense anymore, and that is going to be something to think about before you make your budget. Maybe the last time you went to Myrtle Beach you stayed a block away from the ocean, but now that walk isn’t as feasible. Or perhaps you never really needed to worry about flying because driving through the night was a possibility. Think about what some of your new needs might be, and prepare for those things on your budget. I know there was a time when the idea of staying in hostels was exciting to me, and now the idea of a shared bathroom is not something I can get onboard with. Instead, I now put a little more money into my lodging, but I know that means I might have to get my lunch at the market and enjoy it at the park, skipping a big lunch in a restaurant.
Transportation will likely be a big part of this new spending area. It can be challenging (and exhausting!) to do the trains, planes, and automobiles dance just to get from the airport to your condo. Lugging around your bags between the cab and the subway, just to get on a bus, doesn’t make for a relaxing arrival. While relying on public transportation might have cost you a mere $30.00, it could be a good idea to look at an airport shuttle service or even renting a car. While this can get expensive, it affords you freedom and is kind on your body. Assuming parking isn’t astronomical, it might even come out saving you money on the other end, because you have avoided calling a taxi if a day of sightseeing needs to end early because of an unexpected ache. In addition, rental car services typically have point incentives that could benefit you if you are traveling often.
If you are having some trouble looking for places to scrimp to pay for other priorities, I suggest taking a look at your itinerary. Have you ever thought to yourself, “If I have to look at one more painting I am going to scream?” Or, “I have seen so many Temples today they are all running together?” Well, trust me – if you haven’t, you will – assuming you do what many travelers do, which is to book days filled with “must-see” sights. This is where setting priorities comes in again – pick what is going to be the most meaningful to you, take your time seeing those things, and relax!
(Below: Me in India after the 1,234th Temple. All were beautiful, but I was ready for something different.)
Tip # 5 Don’t rule out entire destination due to feeling limited – embrace the challenge, plan ahead, and enjoy yourself!
Everyone experiences some sort of limitation when traveling – be it physical, economic, or emotional – but it will enhance your well-being if you think of those things as challenges to overcome versus walls that can’t be broken. Don’t rule out entire destinations or dreams because you can only afford to stay for three nights, or because you are worried about a language barrier, or because some of the sights are too physically demanding. Sitting on a bench in the middle of the ruins in Rome, observing, and taking it all in, is just as powerful as wandering through them. These challenges are real, and they are hard, and they might seem overwhelming – but they aren’t unbeatable.
The best advice I have ever been given is to just set a date – make the first move, put it on the calendar, and the rest will fall into place (with a little bit of planning and maybe even some help from us). Planning ahead not only gives you a leg up when you leave for your trip, but it extends the fun and enjoyment of your trip. Reading guide books, looking at articles on-line, or talking to other travelers will decrease anxieties and will help you feel like an expert. Someday, I want to walk the Camino de Santiago – I know that is a long way off from being possible, but I still take in all the information I can about it because I know in the end it will help prepare me, and for now it gives me a glimpse into the dream of completing my goal. Becoming as knowledgeable as I can, helps the seemingly impossible feel achievable.
(Below: The Camino de Santiago – my dream!)
The point is to enjoy yourself – if it isn’t fun, it might be time to adjust. Maybe by the time I can actually afford to walk the Camino, it will be much more appealing to spend a week on the beach sipping on a drink with a giant fruit garnish and a generous kick. That’s okay – we inevitably change, so our goals will probably change, too. Find the destination that will make you happy, and go for it. With a solid plan (and probably some grit) you can find ways to make it to your dream destination despite limitations – you might have to adjust, but it doesn’t mean you have to settle.
(Below: This is always okay for me, too!)