October 15, 2013 — Forty or so years ago many of us baby boomers set out for distant parts – armed with tools like a backpack, “Europe on $5 a Day”, a EuroRail Pass, and a spirit of adventure. Whether it was a post-graduation trip to Europe or a motorcycle excursion out west, we experienced the joys of discovery and new experiences. Now, flash forward to us hitting retirement age and looking forward to more travel experiences. The desire is the same, but the travel might not be quite as easy as it was back in the day.
Part 1 of this 2 part series will focus on the new travel problems that baby boomers typically face as we roll up higher mileage on our personal odometers. We will also provide suggestions and tips on how to overcome these difficulties. Part 2 will go over different strategies for finding the travel options that work best for you.
Travel is a big part of most people’s retirement plans. Whether it’s a cruise, RV trip through the National Parks, African safari, or barge trip through Europe, many of us look forward to getting some travel under our belt.
5 Golden Rules
We’ve come up with 5 golden rules for making baby boomer travel easier:
1. Keep your sense of humor. Travel is an adventure, and there will be highs and lows. If you keep smiling, you and your companions will have a lot better time.
2. Lose the luggage. Most people pack way too much, and that extra stuff causes a lot of problems. First of all, you’ll have to check it, then wait for it to come off the plane. It might get lost or broken into. Boarding a bus or subway with heavy luggage is a nightmare. The same goes for carrying it up and down steps, or getting it on a tiny elevator. Make travel easier: stick with one stowable rollerboard and a small backpack.
3. There’s an app for that. Travel has gotten so much easier with smartphones and all the apps that come with them. These tools are great for directions, translations, restaurant and hotel reviews, what attractions to see. You can even download podcasts with tours of whatever it is you want to see. And oh yeah, you can use them to call home and check your email.
4. Plan ahead. Not to say you should avoid spontaneity, far from it. But spend a little time studying how to get to places in advance (for example, if you search on Google for how to get from Grand Central Terminal to Penn Station in NYC, you’ll find the answer online). You’ll get there with less hassle, and you’ll avoid the lost deer in the headlights look that many older people take on when traveling, which makes them more susceptible to crime.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask directions. It’s a lot easier to get started on the right path, so lose the macho thing: go ahead and ask. The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing. Also, don’t under-estimate the helpfulness of hotel clerks. There is something special about most people who work in hotels, they really seem to want to help. Rely on them for restaurant recommendations, what to do, how to get somewhere.
Armed with the 5 golden rules down, let’s focus on some of the problems that we baby boomers face when traveling, issues that we might not have had when we were in our 20’s.
The worst baby boomer travel problems
Let’s face it, we’re not as young as we once were. While there’s plenty of spirit in the tank, our physical capabilities aren’t quite what they once were. We also tend to be a bit more cautious, having learned the hard way that that can be a good thing.
The issues we discuss here tend to have a foreign travel focus, but most also apply to domestic travel.
– Who was the 20-something that chose the ridiculously small type on this map?
Solution: Obviously the first solution is to bring your reading glasses, preferably on a strap. But an even better solution is to use the Maps feature on your smart phone. Find the button that gives you your present location, then zoom in or out for perspective. Enter street names or addresses and get a route. Combined with a map, a smart phone makes getting you to your destination that much easier.
– Bringing too much stuff. Over-packing can cause endless problems. You’ve got to lug the stuff around, causing inconvenience at every turn.
Solution: here’s our favorite tip. Put out a rollerboard suitcase that’s sized to fit in an overhead compartment. (Maximum carryon size for airlines is a total of 45″ for all dimensions – no dimension can exceed 21x14x9). Create a list of what you think you need to take for your destination’s weather, activities, and level of formality. Two days before you leave, start filling it from that list. When the suitcase is filled, either stop packing, or go back and discard non-essentials. Anything that’s left over and that you absolutely must have goes in a small backpack (including your purse if you have one). When you get back, update your list with what you never wore, and leave that out the next time. Wrinkle free, fast dry clothes are a a must. Bring an Ereader instead of paper books.
– Finding (the right) travel companions. Traveling by yourself isn’t as much fun as with a compatible friend. But you do have to find someone that wants to do many of the same things, eat at the same times and places, go to the same attractions. Can they make a decision? Or, are they too rigid?
Solution: have a mini-trip first to make sure you and your friends can get along. Start a discussion with likely companions and see how that goes. Or, travel with a group.
– How to Make reservations, particularly when you can’t understand the language
Solution: Make them online before you leave. Have your hotel make them for you. Or use a travel agent. And by all means use Tripadvisor.com, Zagats, and other guides to get you an idea of what’s worth going to and what’s not.
– Adjusting to jet lag and different time zones. Arriving somewhere after a long flight can be exhausting and disconcerting.
Solution: Sleep on the plane as soon as you can. Don’t drink, or be very moderate with alcohol. Take a short nap when you arrive, if you can get into your room.
– How much to tip. Americans have taken tipping to absurd levels, in our opinion. Figuring out how much to tip waiters, bellhops, taxi drivers, etc. in a foreign country can be very confusing.
Solution: almost every good guidebook has a section on how much to tip for various services. Read that before you arrive. You will probably be pleasantly surprised – for example in Paris the tip is required by law to be included in the price of the meal – most Parisians don’t add any more.
– Staying safe, now that we’re bigger targets. Pickpockets and thieves are a lot like the wolves and lions on the Nature Channel- they live off the weak. So, looking confident and being aware of your surroundings is very important. Keep your valuables in the safe in your hotel room or in a pouch that hangs around your neck and inside your clothes. Pickpockets create distractions like bumping into you or spilling something on you – back off immediately and yell.
– Renting a car and driving in a strange environment
Solution: Check with your insurance company to see what coverage you have now, and what (if any) you should purchase. Many credit cards provide plenty of insurance. But you definitely need to know what you are covered for. Don’t try to drive and navigate at the same time. Get a map or GPS and study the route in advance. Overseas, standard shift cars are usually much cheaper to rent than automatics.
– I can’t understand the language. It can be devilishly frustrating not to be able to understand public announcements, signs, or people speaking in a foreign language.
Solution: Research your trip so you have an idea of how to execute key travel moves. Get an foreign language app or dictionary. Ask your hotel for help. Hire a guide, or go on a tour. Take a language class online.
– How to eat well when the food, and the time to eat it, are not your usual. Depending on your dietary habits, you might not be ready for some of the food that ends up on your plate. In some situations you might have no idea what to order. Another issue is finding a restaurant that’s open when you want to eat. In Spain, for example, finding a restaurant that’s open for dinner before 8 or 9 pm is just about impossible.
Solutions: bring a dictionary, guidebook, or translation app for your phone. Ask the waiter about what a word means, or even point to a dish on another table that looks appealing. Take a nap before dinner.
– Keeping in touch with family, friends, and the world.
Solution: As we mentioned before, smart phones are a wonderful tool on a trip. If you go abroad, call your cell phone company before you go and buy a data package and international calling plan. You can get by using the wifi at your hotel, but once you are on the street your map function and ability to search for information are on hold.
In the next few weeks Part 2 of this article will explore how to find travel options that match your interests and abilities. In the meantime, start planning your trip(s). We bet you will have a fabulous time!
Comments. Where are you thinking about traveling to, and what great places have you already visited? Have you noticed differences in your travel abilities and preferences now that you are a little older? Please share your thoughts and tips for easy traveling in the Comments section below.
For further reading:
If adventure is your thing, you should definitely check out this Wall St. Journal article on adventure travel – has links to tons of companies that specialize in it.
Don’t miss the series of articles in our Adventurous Retirement section, including a host of articles on cruising and bucket lists.