Written by Julie Watson
(A Runner-up entry in the Travel for Seniors Writing Competition.)
I’ve been addicted to travelling since my early twenties. The more I did the more I needed to do.
The truth is I have measured out my life in travel fixes. I’ve sought out all opportunities to travel – for work, pleasure, escape; for just about any reason you can think of.
Almost any excuse has served as a perfectly good reason to pack a bag and set off somewhere. Now I’m freshly retired and there really seems no point trying to kick the habit of a lifetime. In fact, I’ve decided on quite the reverse.
It’s my ‘me’ time now and I’m free to respond to spur-of-the-moment travel urges or even make a bucket list. I don’t need to hide my urge to travel behind an excuse. I might have slowed down a little but travelling is still top of my to-do list. It is what I ‘do’ with my time now!
So, with the dawn of this new and exciting third age comes the realisation that I need to start thinking of myself as a fully-fledged senior traveller. But what does being a senior traveller entail exactly?
Have I changed the way I travel? Do I want something different from the experience or the destination now? I’ve been thinking about what travel means to me as a newbie on the senior scene. Here are a few of my conclusions.
I recognise that some aspects of my travelling have changed for the better. I prefer a degree more comfort these days. That hard backpacker’s bunk bed in a cheap hostel in Cairo no longer does it for me, nor sleeping upright in my seat as I Inter-rail my way around Europe.
No, thank you. Although I did all that once upon a time, I now prefer a soft comfortable bed in a quiet pensione so that as soon as my head hits the pillow I drift into sleep and wake up the next morning refreshed and ready to roll.
I also want a sustaining local breakfast that will keep me going till lunch time or later; not a take-away coffee and a melting chocolate bar retrieved from the bottom of my backpack.
There are some things in my approach to travel that haven’t changed. I always enjoyed the planning of my trips -and I have more time to do this now: deciding when to go, where to go and what to see there. This lets me savour the prospect of my holiday months before I experience the real thing.
But I still allow for an element of surprise and adventure by not over-planning my trips. I don’t want to be like the tourist following a set itinerary, who, as G.K.Chesterton said ‘sees what s/he has come to see’. Instead, I want to be ‘the traveller (who) sees what s/he sees’ and can enjoy every serendipitous moment that comes my way.
And then there’s the journey itself. These days I try to avoid the really cheap flights – I mean the ones that nobody else wants to take either – as I don’t want to arrive in my destination in the small hours and then hang around empty taxi ranks in the dark. I also don’t want to get up at 4 am, disturbing the sleeping night porter, so that I can check out and take that cheap and very early morning flight back home!
Lastly, I’m a lot bolder these days. Seniors care less about losing face so I’m no longer shy about accosting the locals to ask the way. I want to try out my language skills although for more out of the way places I still go armed with a phrasebook.
As to the contents of my backpack, there’s far less in it than there used to be. As a senior traveller I’ve learned to take a notebook so I don’t forget all the little interesting events that happen along the way. A map is also a must-have as I don’t do bus tours, and invariably get lost exploring alone. I choose to rely on that scrappy street map and a spot of linguistic exercise with the locals.
So all in all, travel as a senior is not quite the same as when I was younger – but in many ways it’s much better! My travel addiction is something I’ll never willingly give up.
POSTED 7th MAY 2018 by STEVE HANSON on behalf of JULIE WATSON.