This was the first post written by a new contributor to Prime Women, Gail McKee. Unfortunately, Gail lost her battle with cancer on December 22, 2017. In her honor, we publish this post and hope you enjoy reading it as much as she enjoyed writing it. 

Life has changed. For the better, you think.

You may have retired after a satisfying career that left you with sufficient funds to live comfortably from now on.

You may have worked with your employer to cut back on your hours, perhaps mentoring younger colleagues while working 40% to 60% of your time. Enough to feel engaged but not so much that you feel burned out all the time.  Perhaps you are helping with a particular client, making sure that they get the right attention as you phase out your work life over the next couple of years.

No matter how you’ve done it, you’ve made space in your calendar and in your mind-set for matters other than work. And you want to put that all to good use. Most importantly, you’d like to travel.

During your working life you traveled constantly for business, and a little bit for pleasure. By the time the weekend rolled around, you had little desire to get onto a plane and fight the lines to get to Hawaii or Florida. You’d arrange for one big vacation every year or two, and a few modest trips. It always felt good to get away, but you wanted to do more.

Now, it’s time to assess possible benefits from travel, and understand how to budget for a number of trips each year. All of that depends on the types of travel you find attractive and energizing.

Travel is good for you.

A number of mental health experts agree that travel is beneficial for individuals, in many ways. It opens your mind and perspective. Some vacations, carefully planned, provide high levels of relaxation. Or, you may plan for an energizing, athletic trip that challenges your physical capabilities.You might set a goal that is otherwise sports-related; for example, to golf the best courses in the world over the next 10 years, to tour flat trails on bicycle (perhaps with some wine tasting along the way), etc.

Whatever your preference, you can improve physical and mental health with a carefully planning vacation. So don’t feel guilty if you book several trips during the year. You’ve worked for those trips and they will reward you with deeper knowledge and relaxation.

The more important question is: How do I want to travel, and what kind of budget do I need to stay within? How will this change over time as my mobility changes? These are interchangeable issues and require some careful thought.

In the US, the average household spends about 2% of their income on travel. But that varies considerably, from nearly $0 to an average of $4,700 per year – to much more. Travel budgets increase as we age, and presumably have more time and discretionary income (if we’ve planned well).

Let’s consider the types of travel you might want to undertake, and why. To do that, let’s ask a few questions about you and your motivations:

  • About you:
    • How mobile are you?
    • How much do you enjoy a rugged adventure vs. a pampered get away (or some combination)?
    • How important is it for you to travel with others (family or friends)? Do you enjoy traveling alone?
    • Is it important to you to learn a lot about the locations you visit?
  • Your motivations:
    • Are you traveling purely for enjoyment and relaxation?
    • Are you traveling to learn about the places and cultures that have meaning to you?
    • Are you traveling to exercise in new locations (hikes, bike rides, etc.)?
    • Are you traveling because it’s important to your significant other or other family members?

Based on your answers to those questions, here are possible types of travel to consider:

  • Self-planned, self-managed trips with multiple locations. You arrange the itinerary, find the hotels, book the airlines, trains, rental cars, etc. You use the concierge at the hotel to find the right spa and entertainment options. If you are hoping to exercise, you find help via websites, books, or the concierge to identify running, hiking, or cycling routes.
    • For a given set of experiences, this may be the least expensive approach if you are adept at finding deals. You are doing all the work to arrange logistics.
    • It also provides the greatest freedom. You won’t be stuck rooming with other tour members, or forced to go on an itinerary that you don’t find attractive.
    • However, you may not get the best deals in hotels, transportation, etc.
    • You also might miss opportunities that only tour and cruise operators can access.
    • And if you are traveling with a number of people, logistics and dynamics can get tricky.
  • Self-planned long-term vacation rental in a central location (e.g., a month’s rental in Provence or Paris, depending upon whether you are seeking an urban or countryside type of holiday). You locate the property, perhaps using a platform such as AirBnB or VRBO. You are responsible for cooking the meals and arranging day trips from your home base. You may have groups of family members coming to visit on some schedule, making for raucous fun but also many logistics – how quickly have you learned how to shop in the local markets in order to prepare dinner?
    • This can be a highly rewarding form of travel as you learn a lot about a location, its people and their perspectives, and the culture of a place.
    • It also can be very frustrating as you enter a crash-course on surviving day to day in your location. This is normally only used in locations that are well-traveled and generally either urban or, like Provence or the small towns of the Mediterranean, accustomed to tourists as part of their “buzz.”
  • A pre-arranged tour. We’ll have another article about tours, as there are so many choices to consider here, again going back to your objectives and your physical state. But generally speaking, tours can be a very relaxing way to vacation, as – once you join the group – everything is handled for you. You know where you’re going and how you will get there. You are with a group of people, ranging from 8-10 for a small tour to up to 45 or so for large groups, with whom you can converse and share experiences. You will have a set of activities each day, some of which are core and some of which are optional, based on what you feel like doing. Most tours require double occupancy; if you are single, you may be sharing a room with a stranger or paying double for your accommodations; this is a sore point that some tour operators are starting to address.
    • Tours vary considerably based on how much money you want to spend and the experience you want to have. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of travel agencies who carry brochures for multiple tours and who can help you navigate your way through your options. Recognize that the agencies have a dual role – to help you purchase the right tour package and to help them make some money. Publications such as International Traveller gather information from tour participants and publish articles written by them to educate you in-depth on the tour experience.
  • An example: I have a cousin who tours two or three times a year, always looking for a new adventure. She has many objectives: First, she lost her husband a few years ago and they had expected to spend their retirement traveling. She is making up for his loss by traveling, and doing it via tours so that she is not alone during the time away from home. She was in the Peace Corps as a young person and has retained her love of unique places far from home, so she generally books tours that offer adventures – often adventures that other Americans would not be comfortable with. She often books tours specifically based on whether the company will help the tour participants meet with local residents and talk about local conditions and issues. They may also meet with members of animal or marine mammal rescue teams. And, she has met many other tour participants who have become friends, and people she tours with during the year.

This kind of tour is not everybody’s cup of tea. Many people prefer to see the countryside in a more removed way.  They often go on very interesting side trips, like going to see the animals from a distance when you are on safari.  However, they are not interested in spending time with local residents or seeing animals other than from a distance.  That’s why it is so important to understand what makes you excited in your travels, and what each tour company has to offer.

  • Cruising – a fast-growing travel industry. Cruising is one of the fastest growing forms of leisure travel in the world. Cruises range from low-cost options on very large ships to very expensive options on smaller ships with luxurious accommodations. You will need to choose between sea-based cruises and river cruises. And as with tours, you will need to decide how physically active and adventurous you want to be. Cruises offer day trips based on land or navigating on small boats such as Zodiaks in order to see interesting features of landscape such as glaciers in Alaska or fjords in Norway.
  • Key issues to consider include:
    • Your physical condition. Can you jump in and out of a Zodiak in rocky seas? Can you take a day hike?  Can you walk through a bustling medieval town for several hours, walking across uneven cobblestone pavements that are making your ankles cry? All of these questions should influence the kind of cruise you take.
    • Your social desires. Are you interested in meeting local townspeople and learning how they press grapes during the wine harvest season? Or do you want to stay a little more distant? What kinds of social activities do they offer on the ship, and are they designed to get cruise participants together?
    • And of course, your budget. You can easily spend tens of thousands of dollars on a major cruise, and take days or weeks on the ship visiting several locations. This is all part of the planning process as you think about your travel plans, for the year and for the rest of your life.

Regardless of which types of travel you elect to undertake, it’s important to be clear about what’s important to you and who offers those experiences. Going to a place that has just recently opened to Americans, such as Cuba or North Vietnam, can be energizing but also can introduce uncertainty into the experience. Flexibility is key if you go on a trip to less-well-developed locations, even if you are under the auspices of a well-run cruise operator.

Don’t put it off. Draft up your planning guide and buy some travel magazines… and get underway!

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About The Author

Gail McKee

Gail McKee recently retired as an officer with a global HR consulting firm and lived on the shores of Elliott Bay in Seattle. Entertaining friends, long walks on the beach with her beloved dog Luka, and attending cultural events were among Gail’s many pleasures.