A quick web search will reveal a host of bloggers in their 20’s and 30’s writing about travel and travelling. After all, it is the alternative lifestyle choice with which to escape the corporate ladder and quit the rat-race.
For the more mature traveller, travel is rarely about ‘finding one’s inner self’. It is often simply about opportunity. For some it is about challenge. For others, fulfilment of lost dreams.
My internet search for mature bloggers writing about travel revealed a handful of full-timers – those that had encashed their pension lump sum and taken to the road; others who sought a different lifestyle in another culture. I found litte for the opportunistic traveller, save commercial sites selling expensive or budget packages.
In this blog (following on from my previous blog about preparing for retirement) I propose to address ‘smart travel for the mature solvent’ – solo, as a couple, or in a small group.
Preparing for leaving home
For most travellers, it is a case of sorting out the pets, the children, the aged parents, handing the house plant to a neighbour and ensuring the oven is switched off. Longer trips tend to require a little more thought, so here are my tips for those contemplating travel for a month or more.
Topics such as home security need a mention here, even though they apply equally to short trips such as a weekend away. During extended travel, the accumulation of mail is an obvious sign that your home is unoccupied. Consider reducing this by on-line billing and digital communication. During the months prior to travelling, ‘return-to-sender’ all junk mail, requesting to be removed from mail lists. This in fact works. Additionally, consider house-sitters as an excellent way of keeping your home occupied and safe. A network of neighbours to whom mail is delivered is yet another option, benefiting from social networking to keep you posted on any issues. For winter evenings, don’t forget the time switches.
Travel insurance is another heady topic. Medical care is rarely free for visitors outside Europe, and even in Europe may not be free after Brexit. You need health insurance. The mature travellers with pre-existing medical conditions tell me that they use ‘OK to Travel’. Do bear in mind that the health declaration could invalidate your insurance, so it is wise to apply care to disclosure.
‘Of course I know what and how to pack!’ Actually, this is the area that most travellers get wrong – packing too much, and taking the wrong things.
Airline weight restrictions can be uncompromising, with heavy surcharges for overweight baggage. For a few dollars or pounds buy a bag scale to weigh you luggage before departure, get below the limit, and remember to take it for the return journey.
With obvious exceptions, you can buy what you need during your travels, and sometimes at a lower cost than you pay at home. This gives rise to the rule – ‘Don’t take it unless it is essential’. Save for specialist products that may not be available elsewhere, it is not necessary to travel with more than flight samples for personal hygiene. Question why you might need cosmetics – and if you do, whether these may be equally available at your destination.
Likewise with clothing. While you may not find a branch of Marks and Spencer where you are going, you can buy clothes to augment your basics, offering an advantage of blending into the background rather than standing out as a tourist. In the 1960’s my uncle travelled the world wearing a blazer, grey trousers, shirt, tie and shoes with a toothbrush pushed into his inside pocket. The rest he simply bought – and gave away when he left.
The reasons for economy are threefold. First, is security. As we age, we are perceived as vulnerable, especially those wearing expensive watches or jewelley, which should always be left at home. Loss of a small carry-on case is hardly a drama, whilst the loss of an entire wardrobe becomes a crisis. Second is effort. How often have you seen fellow travellers struggling with cases that exceed their capacity to manage with ease? Travelling light is a fun art and only has advantages. Lastly, the ecology of travel. Need I say more?
A careful choice of technology is essential – often the first casualty for loss or a target for theft. Keep it small, neat and manageable. I take a throw-away smartphone, a 9.7” ipad for principal connectivity, Hootoo Tripmate travel router to provide secure internet connection / battery backup when needed, and a USB cable adapter for charging. With that kit I am able to stay in touch, access my legal world, do my banking, and blog.
Those who have read my tango blog will know that I also carry a Travel Blue secret sliding wallet (look it up for they are essential for travellers of any age), Keyback with belt clip, luggage alarm, pocket size torch, rechargeable batteries and charger.
Hotels v hostels
In ‘holiday mode’ our minds turn to hotels as the classic accommodation default. For travellers (as opposed to holiday makers) hotels simply don’t cut it. First is the expense. Longer trips rack up hotel bills to the point that you end up cutting the trip short simply because of cost. But more important is the impersonal nature of most hotels. You rarely get to meet and interact with local people if you stay in a hotel – and sometimes you meet no-one.
At the opposite end of the scale are hostels. Not necessarily for young backpackers, I have stayed in hostels where the middle to older years travellers outnumbered the young. Hostels are frequently a meeting point for a range of travellers who want to prioritise their spending on their adventures, rather than lifts, minibars, and hotel dining rooms.
Between the two stand Airbnb (closer to the hotel experience) and couchsurfing (closer to that of a hostel). Many mature travellers will combine the options – the adventure of hostels, with the luxury of an occasional hotel.
Language, making friends and meeting strangers
English is still the international language of choice (although Mandarin is waiting in the wings). The problem with having no native language, especially as we mature in age, is one of invisibility.
Mastering the very basics in most languages is not an impossible task. Amongst the basics I include greetings, numbers and being able to give personal details. ‘Where are you from’ is the most common question asked of the traveller. ‘What is your name’ comes second. ‘What do you do?’ is the third. Having these essential words and phrases opens doors to friendships and relationships. For the rest, you may rely on non-verbal language.
Bear in mind that travelling is fairly pointless unless you are willing to engage with strangers and make new friends. For this, communication is essential, as is an openness to the task of making new acquaintances.
Centre on an interest or hobby
The travellers I have met that don’t have a particular interest or hobby have been the least fulfilled by their trip. After all, without a specific interest, the trip’s success depends on what you are able to get to see and the weather in which you see it.
Specific interests – photography, language, sport, painting, music, dance, wine, cooking, archeology, genealogy – provide a focus to a trip, and can bring you into contact with like-minded travellers or locals.
When younger, the common objective is to see as much as possible in the shortest possible time. As we age, that imperative is reduced (unless we find ourselves with finite time to travel). Slow travel just like slow food offers a richer experience with deeper dimensions of flavour.
Unlike holiday-making, successful travel asks us to re-define. Whilst each day counts, it counts in a different way – by the total achievement of one objective rather than multiple tasks inadequately. Travel becomes not ‘what you see’, but more ‘how you see it’ – bringing a different quality of experience.
Forget the plan, and perhaps not to make one in the first place. Plans – especially where they include bookings, flights and hotels – defeat opportunities, and can create stresses where none are needed. When first travelling to Argentina in 2007, I found myself stranded by the airline in Madrid. Our group of travellers got together for an airline-funded meal and spoke about our lives – a memorable moment that arose from an unplanned event.
The joy of travel is making general plans of what you want from your trip, then taking time to travel, travelling light, being open to opportunity, and optimising the inevitable friendships on the way. Do this, and you have mastered the art of mature travelling.