In my first year of retirement, I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over Europe. But international travel isn’t all fun. While some of my happiest moments have been spent exploring the cobblestone streets of foreign countries, I’ve also seen travellers trudging along those same streets, exhausted, uncomfortable and hopelessly lost. What made the difference?
1. Go as soon as you can
I see far too many people travelling when their age and health limit what they can see, experience and enjoy. Be honest: When do you really expect to have more health, vitality and stamina than you have right now? While travelling, you’re most likely on your feet and walking far more than in your daily routine at home. And the terrains of many, many travel destinations are increasingly challenging as one ages.
2. Don’t be shy
If you’re travelling for pleasure, it’s your adventure — so be adventurous! Eat something you’re not used to. One of my nephews once travelled to Rome, home of one of the world’s great cuisines. What did he eat? Peanut butter from home, spread on whatever bread or rolls he could get. You can do better than that. Whenever you can, eat at local restaurants for a more authentic experience. And talk to the locals. They know when the bus comes, what to do, where to eat. Just ask!
3. Pace yourself
My wife is really good at this. We walk lots when we travel. But before either of us gets tired, she’ll suggest we sit down for a cup of coffee or find a place where we can get off our feet for a few minutes. Then we’re on our way again, refreshed. Do this several times a day and you’ll have the energy to keep going when others are exhausted.
4. Travel in the off-season
If you’re retired, why not travel in the shoulder season and avoid the big crowds or the 40-degree heat? My wife and I had a whole different experience in Portugal in October than our son and daughter-in-law had there in July. We didn’t need reservations to get into restaurants and we could sit outside without melting.
5. Stay at a central hotel
We don’t spend much on hotels, usually choosing three-star accommodation. We’d rather spend less per night and stay more nights. But we do insist on staying close to attractions, restaurants or nightlife. So what if the hotel isn’t fancy? If it’s centrally located, you’re less likely to spend much time there.
6. Eat one big meal a day
Many hotels include breakfast, which I always eat. Then we usually eat just one more big meal later in the day, plus a smaller snack or two. Having one big meal lets you indulge and try a variety of local foods. But we find that doing that twice a day makes you feel lazy, sleepy and chubby.
7. Learn some of the local language, food and customs
As I write this, my wife is downstairs on the treadmill and I can hear her repeating Spanish phrases she’s learning in a language app on her iPod. We’re leaving for South America in October and she’s hoping to have a decent working knowledge of the language by the time we arrive.
8. Don’t get lost unless you want to
Technology offers wonderful ways to avoid getting lost, whether you’re walking, taking public transit or driving. Mobile apps, online route maps and global positioning system (GPS) gizmos can reduce your stress while travelling. Remember, real men don’t ask for directions, but it’s okay to use technology. ;-)