Many of us look forward to retirement as a time when we can enjoy a bit more travel. The trick for those of us on a fixed income is how to seize more adventure for less money.
You don’t have to be retired to know how to stretch a travel dollar. Sujai Kumar lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. Three years ago, on his way to India, he spent the night in London before his flight out the next day. While he has many friends there he could have crashed with, he decided to stay with a perfect stranger because he wanted to give CouchSurfing a try. He stayed in the guest room of a lovely flat in Greenwich. The next day his hostess took him for a stroll around the neighborhood and over to Blackheath Village, where they enjoyed a nice lunch together before his flight out that afternoon.
Since that trip, Sujai has enjoyed over a dozen couch surfing stays and entertained nearly two dozen visitors in his home, through the CouchSurfing.org website. Despite the name, he has only once slept on an actual couch. Usually he has a bed, and most often his own room, although bunk beds in a hallway were once his accommodation. Now he says, “I can’t imagine staying in a hotel anymore unless I absolutely have to.” He loves the glimpse he gets of the local culture from actually living with locals instead of in a sterile hotel room.
One of his favorite experiences so far was spending three nights with a family in Iceland. When they bundled up their one-year-old and put him in his carriage for a nap outside on the covered porch, he learned that this is a typical napping place for the babies of Iceland, something he never would have gleaned staying in a hotel. He now counts his hosts among his friends. They are working on plans to visit him in Scotland.
If you don’t mind staying in other people’s homes, but you’d rather not stay while they are actually there, perhaps a home exchange is more your style. We’ve had nearly a dozen successful home trades over the past couple of years. We’ve swapped twice for the same elegant studio near New York City’s Columbus Circle. The bed, in a former closet, was a tight but quiet alternative to the previous week’s stay in a more spacious one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side. While we did have more room in the first apartment, the rumble of the Lexington Avenue subway line, which ran directly beneath the apartment, jostled us to sleep each night.
Our favorite stay was in a 200-year-old farmhouse in Brattleboro, Vt. We went from the hustle and bustle of New York, to the quiet calm of sipping our evening glass of wine, pool-side, as we gazed past the thick of maple trees out over the Connecticut river. After a couple of visits by the resident mouse, we learned that we needed to store our food securely in cabinets, not right out on the kitchen counters.
Even if you are not comfortable hosting guests in your home, you can still find deals living like a local. Airbnb.com offers inexpensive rentals of rooms like couch surfing, or whole apartments and houses like home exchange, but you won’t have to use your home as currency.
Don’t despair if a more traditional hotel room is where you prefer to rest your head. There are plenty of last-minute vacation packages available to travelers who are flexible with their dates, and that means most retirees. Many hotels offer package deals through discount travel agents, to fill up vacant rooms or to generate business for new resorts. I eagerly await weekly emails from discount travel agents such as Travelzoo and Travel by Jen, which let me know of hotel, resort, and cruise deals when I’m ready to get out of town on a moment’s notice.
Couch surfing and home exchanging take a fair amount of time. You may have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the right match, and you should spend some time getting to know your travel partners before handing over the keys to your home. Taking advantage of last-minute travel deals requires a fair amount of flexibility. You’ll have to be pretty spontaneous to enjoy the lowest rates. But in retirement you’ve got all the time in the world to plan, and the freedom to come and go as you please. So, why not enjoy a few extra adventures.
Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.