“OK, I admit it. I goofed.”
Where has the time gone?
There are a lot of reasons (and excuses) for why it has taken me so long to do the one thing that makes me feel happy and right (besides being with friends and family, of course). I don’t honestly know why I ignored the signs – they were there – but I thought somehow I was not going to be a victim of time. Of getting older. But I’ve come to the realization that I waited much too long to start to quench my thirst for travel. As the old Chicago song goes – “Time passes much too quickly.” Now I’m really dating myself!
I don’t want this post to discourage anyone. Instead, I hope to encourage people to get started with their travel adventures as soon as possible, because the world will not wait for you! It is an important fact of life that we all have to face, so you need to make some plans TODAY. You can start small and fly somewhere that you’ve always wanted to visit. How about a very tourist-oriented place like Puerto Rico or Costa Rica? How about Canada or Bermuda? There are so many places that you can “cut your travel teeth” on. And the best thing is that they won’t bust your budget, because they’re fairly close and you can spend just 3 to 5 nights for a short vacation. Choose whatever you feel comfortable with and go for it!
I’d like to list a couple of things that might prove to be motivational for you. I would hope to encourage more than just a few people to break out of their office/cubicle and do something about the wanderlust that has been tugging at you all. My own need to travel is very strong, and yet I haven’t been able to pull the plug on the demands of life that we all get tangled up in. I won’t offer any excuses, because they serve no useful purpose. I’ll only say that I have developed a “soon I’ll be free of all my commitments” mentality, which does not liberate you. It is just another excuse. The sad truth is that you most likely won’t do anything at all if you continue that line of thinking. So don’t use that excuse and start planning for your next journey, be it big or be it small.
It’s hard to pull up stakes and go. We all know that. It takes planning, money, determination. But most of all, it takes a firm commitment to just go, no matter what. That’s a very hard thing to do. I get it. I’m living that fight every day as I want to pack my bags, sell everything and hit the road. For me, it has been about exploratory trips. Short two or three-week vacations to get my confidence up. My wife and I have made six or seven trips to Europe and Asia so far, and we’ve enjoyed them immensely. Every time we go, we are more confident in our travel skills and we enjoy things a lot more. This is what life should be about for me. And yet, it’s not. Why not?
I’m going to have to wait for actual retirement before I get to travel as much as I want. I’ve gotten so wrapped up in businesses, paying a mortgage that went under water for a long time (I live in California, where property values really dropped badly), and wrapping up my professional life so that I can collect that pension I’ve worked so long and hard for. But that’s OK. It really is. The travel bug bit me in 2006 and at that time, I came to the realization that I would have to wait to travel on a long-term basis. I just had too much STUFF. So I’ve been slowly getting rid of unnecessary things so it will be easier to pack up and hit the road when the time finally comes.
Enough about me. I would like to offer some advice to you that I wish had been given to me when I was younger. It would have helped me to see that travel is possible at all stages of a person’s life. And that excuses are the things that prevent us from doing what we really want. Here are my “words of wisdom” for your consideration:
For those of you in the 18 to 30 group –
Do you know very much about the history of the places you want to visit? I confess to learning as I go. I always do a little research before I travel, to make sure I know what I want to see. I also like to know something about the history. It’s true that the more you learn about the tourist attractions you plan to visit, the more you come to realize that you don’t know very much at all. And therein lies the connection of travel to history. The places I enjoy visiting are all old churches, magnificent palaces, Roman buildings, ancient arenas – anything connected to important people of history. My fascination with the Medici family in Florence, Italy is due to the things they built and the places they lived. I’m not so impressed with their wealth, but I am impressed with what they did with it. It always seems to be a race to build the biggest, grandest and most expensive. And what they leave behind is now open for the world to see. That’s where you come in.
You can travel to Europe and visit Florence. If you don’t come away from the trip dying to know more, then you probably haven’t been bitten too hard by the travel bug. But, if you turn every corner, and see something you only seconds before knew nothing about, and now want to know more, then you are well on your way to being a traveler in the first degree. I had a very hard time in Rome, because I kept finding new things every time I took a walk. There’s something to see around every corner. There’s so much to see that it is really overwhelming. But that is what makes exploring a new city so incredible!
My advice to you is to either go on a backpacking trip and spend a few months moving about Europe or Asia to really experience the cultures. Or, just put a 3 or 4 week trip together and get started with an exploratory journey to figure out which country or countries you like best. I made a backpacking trip when I was 23 that took me to 11 countries in Europe. I was gone for 4 weeks and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t return to Europe for nearly 30 years after that. I regret that every day. I should have made it a priority to go somewhere great at least every 5 years. But life overtakes your dreams many times (most of the time, if you let it). Get a backpack, fill it with only the things you need, and hit the road to see what people built for you to visit.
I strongly recommend a stay at a youth hostel. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. You’ll meet a lot of people from all over the world. In Europe, hostels are all over the place. It’s inexpensive and fun.
Note: When was the last time you walked on cobblestone streets? Rode on a really great high-speed train? Walked 440 steps up to the top of a bell tower made out of marble and stone? Took a tram to the top of a mountain peak and enjoyed the best-tasting cup of coffee you’ve ever had (with a view to match)? Stood inside a 2,000 year old building made out of Roman cement, granite columns, and marble statues? Gazed at an original Michelangelo painting or sculpture? Walked up to the top row of an ancient amphitheater? Or visited the Acropolis, Pantheon, Colosseum or Saint Peter’s Cathedral? This is something to consider! There is really no reason to wait.
If you’re over 30 –
Most likely you have moved up the ladder of success a little bit and are doing well. You have a job or maybe a business and there’s a little more disposable income. You may have kids and a wife/husband and you feel there is little chance to travel and see any of the places that interest you. I’ve been there. I failed to take action. I missed this part of my life, and if I had it all to do again, I would make sure that I got out to see more of the world. My kids would have benefited so much, too!
Even with children in tow, you can still have a great time traveling all over the world. There is so much to see and do, that it will broaden everyone’s horizons. Parents always want the best for their children, and traveling is THE best way to bring a family closer and build a wonderful lifetime of memories.
I have a friend who took his family on cruises all around the world. They had a great time and they still talk about them to this day. Consider taking a cruise if you still have young children. You will have the opportunity to visit some really interesting places (assuming you go overseas. Even a trip to the Caribbean would be a step in the right direction).
If you don’t have children yet, you’ll definitely find it easier to travel. So there is nothing stopping you. I recommend that you shop around for a plane ticket and rent an apartment somewhere so you can live like the locals do. It’s so much more fun than staying in a hotel. And you’ll get to meet someone who lives there and can give you advice on where to eat, what to see, and how to get around. It’s also cheaper. You usually have a refrigerator and stove, a washing machine and many times, a bedroom or two. So this is a very comfortable way to set up a base and go exploring from there. I don’t even consider hotels anymore, except for when we have to stay just one night somewhere. Hotels mean extra expense and less convenience. At least, that’s the way I see it. See the bottom of this post for some resources you can use to find great accommodations for your next trip. Start planning today. I think planning is enjoyable. It builds excitement for the trip as your departure date gets closer and closer.
If you are slightly older than the 20-somethings, you can still stay in some hostels. Many of them allow older people to rent rooms, and private rooms with a bathroom are available at some hostels. So you can save a few dollars and still have the opportunity to mingle with travelers from around the world.
If you’re over 50 and waiting to retire before you travel –
Take my advice – wait no more! As I’m discovering, for every year that goes by, I have to cross certain things off my list that I’ve always wanted to do. This makes me sad and I regret that I waited until I was older to start getting out to see the world. Now I’m not sure if my physical condition will allow me to climb those 440 steps, hike some of the trails I’ve always wanted to hike, or to take some of those self-guided walking tours that sound so good to me. My next trip to Paris will let me know if I have to scale back or not. Paris is so huge that walking is a must. If you have doubts about your ability to get out and see things, then I urge you to do it now! There’s no better time!
As someone who is over age 50, you will most likely have more disposable income. You’re going to want to stay in nicer hotels and rental apartments. There are some really excellent tours you can take that will provide a hotel and an experienced guide with transportation. I’ve taken guided tours in Florence and Rome, and also in Athens and London. So far, every tour I’ve taken has been totally worth it. If you have a chance to take a half-day or a full-day tour, don’t hesitate. Use TripAdvisor.com to read reviews and pick one that interests you. See a list of recommended resources at the bottom of this post.
I think the holy grail of travel is to have your kids and grand kids visit you while you are traveling. My hope is that someday my children will bring their children and stay with my wife and me in our rented house or apartment. It doesn’t matter where. It only matters that we are together and experiencing another culture together. That is my wish for the coming years. You might have some other wish, but the desire is the same. To live as you want and to do as you want. And hopefully to live life on your own terms. The ultimate travel experience!
Note: People are living longer and staying healthy and vibrant for many more years than they used to. It’s important to take advantage of the “twilight” years to live life to its fullest. That’s what I am advocating here. You can do it, with a little push from your family and friends. Go out and live your dream. No matter your age, if you want to travel, then make it happen. You’ll benefit in so many ways.
Here are a few resources that I use when planning a trip. It’s not as expensive to travel as you might be thinking – if you plan it right!
Homeaway.com (for apartment rentals. We use this site a lot and have rented five apartments with absolutely no problems. Plus, we made some friends and stayed in amazing places!)
Hostelbookers.com (one way to search for hostels in your travel area)
VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner)
Rail Europe (For rail passes)
Bestfares.com (A good place to search for travel deals on airfare. Sign up for the free newsletter. Sometimes they have some really good deals.)
All photos taken by me with a small pocket camera. I have a slightly larger camera now that takes great pictures. I really need to dust it off and give it some exercise. How about Paris next year? Why yes, that will be my next trip, thank you very much! I can’t wait to snap some choice photos in Paris. We’ve already rented an apartment for seven nights, so all I have to do is wait for the departure date and get busy with the camera…!!
Do you have frequent flyer miles? If you are persistent, you can find some great deals for plane rides. You just have to know how to put them to good use. I’ll plan to write a post in the near future to help with using your miles.