Travel in retirement ranks toward the top of many to-do lists. What better way to spend your second act than journeying to the distant locations you didn’t have time to see while working? Modern conveniences make the whole process as user-friendly as it has ever been. And the list of exotic places you are now able reach without too much difficulty grows every day.
While the lure of travel may make your heart beat faster, it is certainly not easy. There are many aspects of travel that are confusing, excessively time consuming and just plain frustrating. From the ever-changing requirements at the ticket counter to invasive security pat downs, if you are going to travel, you might want to prepare for some headaches.
My wife and I plan to hit the road on a regular basis once we are fully retired. We realize that our individual ideas of the perfect outing may differ slightly. She has traveled many parts of the world including a three-month backpack through Guatemala and a memorable cross-country motorcycle trip to Sturgis, S.D. Although she has helped to broaden my horizons with a few trips through Switzerland, Mexico and a magnificent introduction to Paris, our tolerance for inconvenience varies.
We put together a list of some of the most common components of travel likely to be encountered on the road. Then we each ranked the items on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being something we are totally fine with and 5 being something we hate it. The goal was to compare our comfort levels in different areas to better guide our selection of future trips.
Sitting in traffic. This is a big negative for me, while my wife is much more tolerant, knowing the ultimate destination waits once we survive the delay. I guess my many years of commuting in the San Francisco Bay area have given me more than my fair share of bad traffic, so I hope to avoid it when vacationing. On our travel frustration meter we are looking at probably a 5 for me and a 1-2 for my wife.
No confirmed room prior to arrival. She is much more comfortable with winging it, while I might stress about not knowing exactly where we are going to rest our heads come day’s end. Spontaneity is wonderful, but I fear discovering no room at the inn after a busy day of sightseeing. This is important to me, but not so much to my dynamic spouse.
Importance of hitting all the tourist attractions. I like the idea of visiting all the most important sites, but generally prefer to maintain a more relaxed pace with some down time at a local cafe or park along the way. For this category, my wife’s travel frustration meter rates a 1 while I am closer to a 3.
Desire for adventure. Of the two of us, my wife is the more adventurous. I am working on venturing a bit outside of my comfort zone to accommodate her wilder side. I am learning that adventurous does not necessarily have to mean dangerous. Adventure can also be a matter of degree, offering a bit of excitement and not so much risk to life and limb.
Long flights. This is not necessarily desired by either of us but is often required. Both of us are very comfortable with a flight in the five hour range. It is the longer ones she is more willing to endure than I am. We are probably both in the 3 to 4 travel frustration meter rating for this one.
Setting the pace. My wife often wants to visit as many as possible of the local attractions, often saying, “You don’t know if we will ever be here again.” I enjoy wandering the neighborhoods, stopping at cafes for an espresso or glass of wine as appropriate and in general taking it a bit more slowly. We are learning to adjust our wishes to incorporate a little of both in the average travel day.
Affordable versus luxury accommodations. We are in agreement that we prefer to save money in this area as long as the place is clean and safe and ideally allows us to walk to the nearby downtown.
Comfort level not speaking the language. I speak English pretty well and had some Spanish in school. Fortunately, my wife speaks French, German, Spanish and even Swiss German. Prior to a trip abroad, I try to become familiar with some words and phrases for the local area, but tend to defer to her. With her advantage when it comes to languages, we feel pretty comfortable in a foreign land.
Room service. It’s nice to have, but not a must. We tend to pack our own snacks rather than attack the mini bar or request what is always an expensive room service.
Local hole-in-the-wall or 5-star restaurant. There may be a time and place for each, but we both prefer finding a spot frequented by locals to truly experience the neighborhood.
Airport security hassles. We hate it, but realize it is a must these days.
Relative safety. My wife has been robbed on more than one occasion while traveling and takes precautions as a result. In some areas, crime is almost a part of the landscape. I have a more difficult time with this, but am coming to accept that the criminal element tends to flourish in most large cities no matter what continent.
Ability to accept the unexpected. Whether it’s a lost wallet, delayed flight, absent luggage or unbearable weather, how well you are able to cope with the unexpected can impact your travel experience.
Traveling with others. I am truly comfortable and at ease when traveling with my wife. We may have a stressful moment or two on the road, but she is the only person I can really be with all the time and be happy with that state of affairs. I sure hope she feels the same way about me at the end of a long day on the road.
Dave Bernard is the author of "I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be". Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.