Adventure Travel as a Senior
A Mature Woman Describes Her 3-Course Banquet
Article and photos by Dorothy Conlon
Mark Twain famously wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
I totally agree, but I began my adventures long before I realized that truth. Over the course of many years—and having experienced many off-beat adventures—I have come to look upon each journey as having three stages. To change metaphors, we might think of a trip as a 3-course banquet, consisting of:
- The after-glow of satisfaction
Planning Your Adventure
But there is no need to be too impatient. The planning of your travels can be almost as enjoyable as the actual journey. Of course many people take the path of least resistance and sign to go on a tour without any research or comparison shopping. But, avid traveler that I am, I have a hard time choosing from the smorgasbord of possible destinations. So I talk with friends who have been all over, read blogs and clippings about a particular area, and finally hone in on “Country Mysteria,” my top priority for any particular journey.
Even if you are taking a package tour, there are many things to check out. How many participants? What are the costs and the length of the trip? The pace of the trip is all important. I am more likely to travel independently myself or at least to use a budget company. That is not simply because I am a frugal New Englander, but often the places you stay and the public transport you use on a budget tour offer closer connections with the people of the country. And isn’t that the main reason for you are going anyway? I have had wonderful trips with—the G Adventures, out of Toronto—and with its Australian cousin, Intrepid. I can also recommend Adventures Abroad, for its small groups and range of destinations, and Imaginative Traveler.
Many of my travels have been solo. Long ago one of our sons, a teenager then, explained why he liked to wander around India—where we were living—alone rather than with a friend. He found that foreigners traveling in pairs or groups were generally left alone, whereas Indians would in a sense “adopt” him when he was seen to be on his own. He accepted various home visits and made friends that way. I have tried it, and it works. I guess it that is so very unusual to see a foreigner—especially a mature woman—travel all by herself, that the people of the country reach out. It has led to some memorable unexpected connections for me.
I envy people who can just venture into a foreign country and wing it without specific plans because I’m a planner by nature. Fortunately, with the help of “Mr. Google,” you can explore on the internet and discover as many of the details of your chosen “Country Mysteria” as you have time and energy for—even before stepping outside your front door. You are probably reading travelers’ stories as well as country guides at this stage. Check out a book series called “Travelers’ Tales”—in the library or on-line—to find personal stories from around the world. The more you read, the more your anticipation builds.
Do you have a particular specialty in mind—for
instance, architecture, crafts, language study, the environment?
Would you like to try volunteering? Frankly, some of my best travel
experiences have come from volunteering. Not only are you likely
to be working closely with the people of the country, but often
you are lodging in a homestay which offers a totally different
experience and insight as opposed to staying in a posh hotel which
no native could possibly afford. The homes may be pretty basic,
but most of us can adapt to pared-down lifestyles when it is for
just a couple of weeks. Global
Volunteers is one of the largest service learning organizations,
but I have also had good experiences with Global
Service Corps. Earthwatch offers
a great range of scientific research projects for which you need
no special skills; I have learned a lot on four Earthwatch adventures.
If you are a single traveler, you will make friends with other volunteers, who usually are like-minded or they would not be there. You might decide, either on a volunteer project or a commercial tour, to build in a few extra days either before or after the main itinerary. That gives you a chance to explore places and activities that the tour did not include. Check out the bi-monthly e-zine Solo Travel News for tips on traveling as a single at any age, or see if your area has a club called Singles on the Go.
Ready to For Your Adventure? Open Your Mind
So now that you have partaken of the appetizers—the anticipation and planning—and you are finally ready to indulge in the main course. Wherever I go, whatever I see and do, I try to suspend deeply-ingrained lifelong preconceptions. It is not easy as easy as it sounds. But if we are not mentally flexible enough to imagine ourselves a resident of “Country Mysteria,” and cannot at least try to understand different traditions and culture, then we have missed a great opportunity and might as well have stayed home.
An amazing discovery I’ve made over the years is that learning about other mindsets and cultures makes me observe and understand my own homeland more clearly. Even if that is not your intent, it happens naturally. As Henry Miller put it, “Our destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.” For one thing, being in new surroundings among unfamiliar people sharpens your antennae. You observe more keenly, your senses are on high alert. If problems arise—and they often do—your ability to surmount them gives you courage and strength for whatever may come next. Travel is truly empowering.
Returning from the Adventure with Memories
So now you’re back home from your big adventure. The jet lag is over, the airplane head cold is abating, you have come down to earth, but without regret, I hope, and not feeling overly sad that it is all over. Because you can, you really can hold on to that after-glow, the dessert of your travel feast. How? Memories, of course, in one form or another. For me, I would be lost if I did not keep a journal of my trips. Glancing at a random page from a recent jaunt or a long-ago adventure can immediately evoke the sights, the sounds, the aromas, the feelings from that particular past moment.
Even better, I take lots of pictures. We have heard all the disparaging jokes about family and friends’ objections to viewing your slides. But I share my images with wonderful people who can no longer travel, in retirement facilities or even Alzheimer’s units. For them it is a virtual journey; for me, it is a memory trip and almost as much fun as the real thing, no matter how long ago I went on the trip. I cannot tell you how many times I have enjoyed Peru, for instance, although I have only been there in the flesh but once.
Nilgiris Hills of South India.
And so, it is as John Steinbeck wrote, “Journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” Enjoy your 3-course feast from start to finish, and beyond.
Dorothy Conlon, author of “At Home in the World: Memoirs of a Traveling Woman,” has been a citizen of the world for all of her 81 years. Conlon has taught travel courses and given more than 600 presentations to audiences throughout Southwest Florida from her home base in Sarasota.