Traveling and retirement are almost synonymous terms. Of course, you will want to travel in your retirement! Even my friend who lived in London and traveled the globe in her last five years of employment still has places she either missed or wants to revisit. Sadly, most of us never really formulated a future travel strategy. This reflects our inability to imagine any parts of our future lives beyond our cash flow. Now is the time to curate this topic.
Devising a Travel Strategy
Probably a good place to start is with some very specific, well thought out destinations, both domestic and foreign, depending on your budget. At retirement, many people have some vague idea of covering the major European cities and the US National Parks. I’m sure there might be 1% who have a detailed list of exactly where in the world they would like to travel in numerical order. I, however, was part of the 99%. When I fortuitously received all the money back from a disability insurance policy I never had to cash in, it was time for my husband and I to get busy with our new travel budget. My husband had roamed the world extensively as a young man in the Merchant Marines – me, not so much. It was fairly easy for us to come up with a top five list of places we both wanted to explore. At that moment, we wanted to see the important cities in Europe, reasoning that international travel is physically demanding, and something we should finish by our mid 70’s, at the latest. The next step was planning the first trip.
Planning is not just for Travel Agents
As a person of retirement age, no doubt artificial intelligence has flooded your digital and physical mailboxes with brochures from River Cruise companies. Do most of your friends tick off their bucket list cities in Europe by traveling this way? River cruises, and cruises in general, are popular for a reason. They are very easy to search on the internet. You pay your money and show up with your suitcase at the dock. What could be easier? – no plans to make, no tickets to buy, no hotels to book. It is not even necessary to research what is available in each port, as an excursion could take you to the high spots. These trips could also be reasonable in cost, which is a big plus for retired travelers. If you are of this mindset, feel free to skip the rest of this essay. If not, read on.
I had done a limited amount of traveling before retirement. My itineraries probably reflect many of yours: family vacations at the beach, one or two trips to Europe separated by different life stages, various US cities precipitated by social connections or special interests. All of these excursions were always sandwiched into a very busy life. Planning was done quickly and expeditiously. There was always that one or two days of post vacation euphoria, which quickly faded into “real life.”
Retirement, in no way, should replicate such travel planning. This is the time to take a deep dive to recover your passions, interests and possibly your family history. The template my husband and I use involves travel to one place, if possible, for about a week. Hopefully a rental car is not necessary, and all places of interest can be visited on foot, by public transportation or cab.
No, there was no oracle channeling these requirements. We found out the hard way by combining London, Paris and the Normandy beaches in one trip. After needing our host to lead us by mini caravan to a dining spot in Normandy through the dark hedgerows and approaching Paris late on a Friday night with no place to return the rental car, we vowed that it was not fair to burden either of us with driving in a foreign country, if possible. There are exceptions, such as Scotland, where many prized locations are inaccessible without a car. However, the price to pay is going around traffic circles with people driving on the wrong side of the road, and you looking in the wrong direction to see the oncoming traffic.
The Excursions Live on at Home
Doing small, manageable targeted travel has important repercussions in your “back home” life. You get to witness different lifestyles and develop a more accurate global perspective. The world does not reflect the American lifestyle of rushing, eating huge portions of unhealthy food, wearing athletic clothing in public, and a low national value of the arts. By being immersed in public life in Europe and other parts of the world, you will probably have the urge to do more cooking from scratch, buy tickets to a concert, and take time to enjoy life through the vehicles of coffee, wine or beer. Cafes abroad offer an opportunity for satisfying conversations with locals, as well as the effect of slowing down the whole “forced march” urge of wanting to see every exhibition in town.
We find that focusing on the art, history, music, religion, and cuisine of a city or region covers the most territory. We also love being immersed in a different language, and we try to use our primitive French or Spanish when possible. Lately, our European television streaming has come in handy with some spare phrases in German, Italian, and even Scandinavian languages! Combining the five foundational contexts gives one a window into the life of that country. The things we value, we try to integrate into our lives at home. The beautiful mementos from the museum shops (our favorite source of souvenirs) are also reminders of these ideals.
Travel enhances the Family Tree
Finally, targeted travel abroad is a way to connect to your family history. Just as retirees are usually bitten by the travel bug, the desire to dig into one’s ancestry is another equally strong urge. We’ve been able to visit the neighborhood in Dublin where my husband’s great grandfather worked as a barrel maker at the Guinness Brewery. We’ve also visited his family’s town of origin, Argyle, in Scotland, which has a pub with our last name. Although I haven’t yet visited my family homelands of Hungary or Poland (they are next on the list), my entire religious education began to make sense when I visited the ancient Jewish neighborhood in Rome and found out where the Jews migrated after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish Museum in Vienna, which charted the removal of Jews in Central and Eastern Europe and houses a collection of the artifacts they left behind, is the closest I have come to the scene of the Holocaust. I have yet to see such options offered on a River Cruise. Have you?
The pandemic has made retirees quite desperate to travel. We are realistic about the number of years remaining for such pursuits. Personalizing travel with your values in mind will make these experiences a true highlight of retirement.