If you are like many retirees to be, travel will be an important part of the retirement you imagine. The new found freedom to do what you want is nicely channeled into wandering the world where you experience new sites, sounds and cultures in places you have to this point only read about or seen on the Travel Channel. You can strike out on your own to be as adventurous as you want or play it safe as part of an organized tour. It is all up to you and the options are limitless.
Whatever your choice, it is essential that your travels are a positive experience. As we get a bit further along in years, certain comforts and considerations can make or break a trip. In new locales where you can find yourself dealing with different languages, unfamiliar customs and strange laws, there is always the possibility that something might go wrong.
We recently spent a week in Paris while attending a wedding. The trip was a big success and we are already trying to figure out how soon we can return. As I think back on what it was that made the trip so enjoyable, I am able to identify a handful of factors that combined in our favor, tips that I hope to replicate in future travels.
It’s all about location – my wife and I are big walkers and always look for a home base that is centrally located to provide easy access to local attractions and neighborhoods. The big hotels with their nice amenities come at a cost as they tend to be located in busy touristy areas – not our cup of tea. On this trip for the first time we tried the new AirBNB service we had been hearing so much about. We went to the website and entered parameters for the area we wanted to stay and the dates we would be in Paris. After some research we came upon a lovely flat in the middle of the Marais with a small kitchen, bedroom, and living room overlooking the street four floors below. The location could not have been better. During our week there, we walked far and wide visiting our Top 5 Important Site list without once having to use the Metro. We carried an umbrella as the weather was as usual unpredictable but were lucky to keep it closed most of the time. Best of all along the way we discovered those hidden farmers markets and little known restaurants and off-the-beaten-path boutiques that are the real charm and beauty of Paris. And after an average of five hours walking each day, we had no problem sleeping when night came.
Top 5 List with sufficient time to enjoy – when visiting a new place it is common practice to want to see the major attractions. We are no different and had our Top 5 List ready before the airplane wheels touched down. But we have learned over the years that to really enjoy the experience, it is important to balance adventure with down time. If the whole trip is spent in a constant state of go-go-go as you try to see everything there is to see, by the end of the day you may find yourself tired and cranky rather than reminiscing over fond memories of the day. We typically focus on one or two major attractions in a given day, leaving plenty of time to meander the neighborhoods and chill with a glass of espresso or wine along the way. We keep up a brisk pace while “on the hunt” but also pause to catch our breath and take in everything around us as well. Now that we have done Paris, we have begun looking into flights to Perth for our next possible adventure.
Technology is your friend – before our departure, we did our research. We Googled maps for the apartment location as well as attractions in the immediate vicinity. We uploaded the AirBnB app to our phone to maintain contact with the landlords should we need them for anything during our stay. We sent copies of our passports to our email account in case we might lose them along the way. We even picked up a Google Nexus tablet to provide maps of the area while we explored. The bottom line is there is technology of all kinds that can make your trip safer and smoother. Why not take advantage of it?
Know your neighbors – our first time in Paris we found ourselves challenged finding a good restaurant for dinner (hard to believe I know). It’s not that there were no good restaurants but we did not know which they were. We tried a few that looked good along our wanderings but were pretty much let down. This time we asked people familiar with the area for recommendations. We got the list of nearby top restaurants from the owners of the apartment. We picked the brain of wedding attendees as to what and where we should go during our visit. We even asked locals on the street for their insight. We learned a few of the sites we had planned to visit were basically a waste of time so we skipped them. And this time, the dining experience was excellent. The best way to find out where you should go is from the natives who live there every day.
Traveling in retirement can be a wonderful adventure if you take time to prepare a bit before departure. Then once you arrive, you can focus on exploring and experiencing the local sites and culture that drew you to this spot from the beginning. Happy trails!