Retirement Road Trips – Six Steps to Memorable Extended Travel

Written by Joe Bruner

Confident in the belief that life was about more than the career that I enjoyed, I retired on August 13, 2015 with the intent to begin the next chapter of a life well lived.  To be sure, I would miss all of the things that everyone mentions when leaving the work force—the friends, the challenges, the structure—but I never worried about being bored.  In the years leading up to retirement, I grew increasingly excited about the opportunities that lay ahead. There were books I wanted to read, a camera I wanted to use, stories I wanted to write, and, most importantly, vast stretches of America that I wanted to see.

Three days after retiring, my adorable wife and I left on the first of three extended road trips, each trip lasting a month or longer, and returning after every one genuinely grateful for the experience and eager to plan another.  We are certain there are many others in or nearing retirement with plans for extended travel at the top of their bucket list so, with that in mind, we want to share some of the lessons we learned which helped to make our experiences both memorable and rewarding.

Commitment

Before you make the plans for an extended road trip ask yourself some very probing questions. Can you live without the weekly golf match with the guys or the bridge luncheon with the girls? What about that fabulous birthday party in three weeks that is going to include everyone? Will I really enjoy being that far from the comforts of home? We had those questions and then some.  A recent survey showed that 60% of husbands wanted to spend more time with their spouse in retirement, but only 43% of wives felt the same.  Would Helen (adorable wife) survive with me stuck to her side for five weeks? Wanting to make this road trip so badly, I was almost afraid to ask, but I did and we had a serious discussion about it. Helen is a busy person and frankly, I was surprised (and thrilled) when she exclaimed enthusiastically “I’m all in”.  This is essential to success, so be sure you’re both committed.

Plan

A thorough plan takes time but it can be as exciting as the trip itself. We started planning almost two months out by selecting the region of the country and the cities we wanted to visit. We found Google Maps to be very helpful in calculating travel distances and selecting routes. Regardless of whether your preference is for campgrounds, motels, or even bed and breakfast inns, you should make confirmed reservations.  Once you’re on the road, your plans may change, and you can adjust accordingly, but having a confirmed reservation is a great comfort.  Reviews on Trip Advisor served as our guide for reservations. Two tips might prove useful; (1) Travel after school starts, usually around the middle of August when the crowds are reduced significantly and; (2) organize everything into a loose leaf notebook according to the cities you plan to visit.  We had a tab for each stop that included a hard copy of each reservation confirmation as well as magazine and newspaper articles about things to do in the area.  Add a couple of sheets of loose leaf notebook paper to each tab for notes.  It helps when submitting reviews on Trip Advisor for good (and bad) service for future travelers.

joe-and-helen-bruner-mackinac-island

Don’t Overdo It

On our first trip, we had so much energy and excitement flowing through us that we wanted to do it all. We were in Kure Beach, NC and had made two sightseeing trips two days in a row. In addition, we were having a hard time passing up all of the enticing places to eat and drink. At that point we realized that doing it all was impossible. We were near exhaustion and still had four weeks to go. Out of that weariness, two principal guidelines for extended road travel were born.  First, we would limit ourselves to no more than one major sightseeing excursion and one eating experience per day. We broke with this principle rarely. Second, we planned one or two “down days” where all travel activities were suspended. This gave us the chance to stretch the legs, catch up on email, do laundry, make trip notes and even pay bills.  Both guidelines kept us fresh and energized.

Don’t Fret Over Wardrobe

We discovered on about the second week that no one knows that you wore the same outfit last week. I found that I needed a good rain jacket, three pair of cargo pants (great for cell phone, receipts, maps, etc.), comfortable shoes and some golf shirts. I did pack one nice, dressy pants and shirt combo, but never used it. Helen’s advice is much the same—comfy shoes and comfy clothes— and make that suitcase as light as possible.

Senior Discounts are Plentiful

Travel can be expensive so we did a little research and found that businesses love giving discounts to Senior Citizens. With a little digging, I came up with almost three pages of discounts on food, lodging, and services that are there for the taking. Sometimes a cashier will give it without being asked (gray hair helps), but most of the time you have ask, so don’t be bashful…it pays off. The best discount of all is the National Park Senior Pass that permits the pass holder to bring three adults into a National Park for free for a lifetime. The pass is available to anyone over 62 for a one-time fee of ten dollars. The pass may only be purchased at a National Park (no mail or online purchase).  We rarely pass a National Park when traveling. Be sure and get a National Park Passport also. Collecting the stamps for each park is a lot of fun.

Roads Less Traveled

America is a place of staggering beauty. Without a doubt, the best way to see it is by traveling the roads that take you through the small towns and villages that make our country so unique. Our road trips took us through New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C, but those can be busy and expensive places. Finding parking can sometimes be a challenge.  Some of our most memorable experiences however, were in towns like Beaufort, NC, Solomon’s Island, MD, Grey Eagle, MN, or Bayfield, WI. There is much to learn and do in small town America so stop, visit a Farmer’s Market, browse through the shops (we love antique shops and flea markets), taste the wonderful food of the region or walk through a park and introduce yourself to someone. If you’re fortunate, you may find a local festival underway where you can really get a feel for the culture like the one we found one this summer in International Falls, MN.

There is a lot of country out there just waiting to be seen and you’ve earned the opportunity to explore it all. We sincerely hope we have given a little help and insight to those of you with plans for extended travel in your “Golden Years”.  We especially hope that the first road trip is successful and leads to many more.  So, slow down and put away that smartphone, take the first exit off the interstate, and hit the road less traveled.

It’s only the beginning, but we’re happily Easin’ Along now…hopefully we’ll see you along the way.

Joe Bruner retired from a career in the home building industry and a career as an officer in the US Army Reserve.  He and his wife Helen live in Knoxville, Tennessee. They have written extensive articles about their travels on their website Easin’ Along (www.easingalong.com).

Explore All Your Travel Dreams In Retirement

Many hoping to retire find themselves drawn to the allure of travel. While engaged full-time at work and raising a family and doing our best just to have a little something left over, free time is at a premium. More often than not any hopes of hitting the road take a backseat in importance and priority. To get to that point in life where you are free to do as you want requires sacrifice in the here-and-now. You might love the thought of travel but the reality is sadly only a dream – for now.

Prior to retirement I envied my folks their ability to take advantage of travel specials on short notice. And it wasn’t just the big trips that triggered my lusting. As I learned from their happy tales being retired allows you to take advantage of those mid-week specials when rates are much more reasonable. I always dreamed of partaking in those “second night free” options that allow you to reserve a spot at those classy B & B’s or high end hotels at half the normal fee. Weekend rates so out of reach (sorry but I just can’t justify spending $300 or more per night to stay anywhere) are cut in half if you stay Sunday through Thursday. Now those open dates on the calendar are looking pretty promising!

When it comes to more extensive travel adventures the list of possibilities is amazing, exciting and more often than not overwhelming. It takes a seasoned expert with incredible patience and stubborn dedication to put together that perfect mix of destinations, accommodations and flight arrangements. I don’t have the skills but fortunately my wife does. She has been a world journeyer all her life plus responsible for extensive travel arrangements at numerous companies. I know when we decide to hit the  road she will figure out the best way to get us there and back.

For my 50th birthday my wife single handedly planned and arranged our first trip to Switzerland (well my first trip – she was born and raised there). She flew there a week ahead of me while I finished a business trip in Ohio before joining her. The staggered travel actually allowed me to get ahead of the jet lag since I was three hours closer to Swiss-time on the East Coast.

Bernina flowers

Although our trip was eight years ago I still vividly remember and frequently relive the itinerary. With her first-hand knowledge of the best sites to see augmented with willing counsel from friends and family our ten day journey could not have been better. The small towns and snow peaked mountains and authentic cuisine were amazing, the pace was comfortable and my personal guide knew all the ins and outs to make the trip roll out smoothly. Since that first trip we have been back two more times adding previously unvisited gems to our travel memories. Who better to plan a Switzerland sojourn than those intimately familiar with its wonders?

Not everyone has the luxury of such insider information when making travel plans. Even my Swiss guide extraordinaire is not familiar with all the possible destinations we could visit during our retirement. We have been exploring various websites in search of well-designed culturally representative travel packages that hit the hot spots but not just the touristy ones (I don’t want to spend my vacation waiting in line).

The other day I discovered a travel site that won me over. STRIDETRAVEL.COM offers reviews, comparisons, and thoughtful recommendations to help choose among the diverse packages they offer. What won me over was taking a look at their packages for Switzerland. When I clicked on their Best of Switzerland package it looked like a summary of the high points from our own three trips. Engadine to Lugano to Zermatt to Berne to Interlaken to Lucerne – these are legitimately some of the best spots to visit. The folks from StrideTravel were recommending the same spots my Swiss family felt best represented the beauty of their homeland.

If it works for Switzerland their insight might prove equally invaluable for other latitudes. Not sure about your next port of call? Perhaps something along the lines of Top trips to 10 Stunning Fairytale Destinations might tickle your travel fancy (I personally like Hobbiton). It’s nice when someone else suggests your next destination using their creativity and insight.

If you are a Star Wars fan (or fanatic) how about visiting real life Star Wars locations where the movies were filmed?

We plan to travel a lot now that we are retired. I am realizing a good travel site does not just find you the cheapest deals for places you want to travel – it also plants the seed for possible adventures you might never have thought of.

Let me know if you have other favorite sites that you use to help chart your destinations. It’s a big world out there and we can use all the help we can find. Enjoy!

 LoveBeingRetired.com

Why Travel In Retirement

We are nearing the end of another memorable trip to Switzerland. Everything to this point has been spectacular from the uncharacteristic perfect weather – a bit warm but virtually no rain or other atmospheric negatives, something the locals say is unheard of this time of the year – to the manageable crowds to the other worldly beauty everywhere we look.

Looking back at the journey I want to share some highlights as well as a few pictures (I was requested by numerous readers to share some of the sights with a snapshot or two. The hard part is picking just a few):

(1) Seeing the family again – I talked about this in an earlier blog but cannot say enough about the incredible treatment we received from everyone in the family. Just last night a bunch of the relatives came over to share an evening and meal including the newest additions to the clan age 1.5 and 4 years. Between the perpetual energy of the kids and the tasty spread that included a diverse selection of salads along with most of the meat groups (steak, chicken, sausage, and more sausage) there was never a dull moment. I cannot wait to return the favor when they visit us.

(2) Getting slightly closer to overcoming my fear of heights – one gondola up the side of a 12,000 foot beast of a mountain, two train trips through the Alps along canyons and precipices high above the ground below, one backward Alpsmoving tram up the side of another steep mountain watching the towns below fade into obscurity in the widening distance, and numerous hikes along trails that sometimes brought me a bit closer to the edge than I would desire – I survived them all. As a matter of fact I find I no longer break into a cold sweat viewing some dangling transport inching its way up a mountainside even when imaging myself a passenger – progress!

(3) Incredible scenery in all directions. We visited some world class spots to view magnificent nature at her best. I can assure you those unreal pictures you may have seen of Switzerland are very real. It turns out all we needed to do was step into the backyard where we stayed to gaze upon a ring of mountains in all directions and the picture perfect geometrically precise farms that dotted Swiss flag on Jungfrauyochthe valleys at their feet. I may have a few favorites – Schynige Platte on a crystal clear day or the tiny husli where we spent a few nights in a cozy farm house in Grindelwald or the many dizzying sights riding the Glacier Express – but second and third and fourth place are all spectacular.

I am fortunate to travel as I have with my multi-lingual travel companion, guide and lovely wife. I am learning from her to be more than an anonymous traveler. There is so much more to experience by engaging with those you meet along the way. While in Zermat Beatrice took time to talk with a Japanese tour guide at the next table learning where her group had been, where they were going and all about her tour guide career that had her in foreign countries 180 days each year.

On another occasion we were riding a train in Pontracino with a young family seated across from us. She casually said a few words in Swiss German and soon we were all smiling and communicating in a combination of German, English, and sign language. Later we ran into this same family high on a Alpen lichenmountain trail and then one more time while having dinner. Each time we greeted each other and briefly caught up on the events of the day. Although I do not speak the language I am getting better at picking out a few key words so I get the gist of the conversation – at least about 30 percent of the time. And I have learned a simple gruezie (hello) is a great ice breaker generally eliciting a broad smile (hopefully not merely because of my pronunciation).

Traveling in retirement can be a wonderful experience. Travel allows you to try something new whether a new place or new people or new activities. It allows you to release your inner flaneur providing the freedom to wander, nowhere in particular, always with the possibility you may discover something amazing around the next corner. Travel allows you to step outside of your comfort zone and be whomever you want. You are no longer just someone retired from the job but rather a world explorer, an exotic adventurer, an international man/woman about town, a connoisseur in training.

Not speaking the language is a sure fire way to make you realize how helpless you could be if not for the fact many along the road speak English to some degree. With a little effort you should be able to start picking up a bit and then a bit more of conversations around you. I think there is no better mind exercise than learning a new language. And it is an education for a lifetime – the more you work at it the better you get.

Enjoying the local gastronomic specialties is a task to be happily undertaken whether of the food or beverage variety. How fun it is to ask for “a local beer” and wait in great expectation of what will be delivered to your table, frosty and foamy, a small piece of this particular spot on the globe.

blogflowersA wonderful trip, many beautiful pictures, lots of memories, and now back to reality. But even reality will be a new exciting adventure as we now move into our new digs in Carmel Valley. We are beginning a new journey, this time a bit closer to home. But a new journey just the same. I can’t wait to step out the front door and head to the left or perhaps the right as this flaneur in training continues his journey through our wonderful world. Auf weiderschen, adieu, hasta la vista, and see you soon.