"Hey! Now that you’re retired, I bet all you do is travel!" This was a comment from a friend of mine recently. Well actually, not yet so much. Most of my life’s travel experiences were limited to trips to visit family, and the occasional corporate travel done with my husband’s company. I rarely missed work and seldom traveled just for fun.
Retirement now means much more time to plan and do things previously put off. I suppose that I had better step up to the plate and start acting like a retiree and do some traveling, but where to start?
In a much earlier time, my father had relied on the AAA for his planning needs and occasional maps, and I assumed that would be a good place to start. Wow, has that organization changed! Instead of maps and tow trucks, I found a large modern facility, complete with full travel services, online booking for cars, flights and hotels, travel insurance and foreign currency. They also offer a variety of group tours for all interests. They even had a car service area for maintenance and repairs. I walked out of there with a new membership, my passport application and photos. By the way, they still offer maps and tow trucks.
It was time for my next step, applying for a passport. Since 9/11, obtaining a passport has become more restrictive. You begin by calling participating post offices and getting an appointment. Then you show up, armed with a birth certificate and your application paperwork with photo. You must fill out the application in front of a designated postal employee and pay by check, all very easy.
Three weeks later my new passport arrived. Maybe this whole travel thing is not that difficult for a senior.
Feeling really adventurous, I spoke to some close friends who are seasoned travelers about joining their group trip to Maine. They were enthusiastic and supportive so I continued on with a new process. I installed a JetBlue app on my phone and learned how to buy tickets online. This process was not difficult, and the JetBlue people even answered my phone calls for assistance with a live human being — what a concept! I am now a fan of that airline, which even offers free sodas and snacks on their flights, just like the old days of travel.
So early one Wednesday morning, I joined a large group of about 30 rowdy seniors for a flight to Boston. This large group warmly welcomed me, taught me their drinking song, and off we went to New England for fun and football. Our hosts had done all the planning, including van rentals and dinner reservations.
Traveling in a large group is like herding cats, but they did an incredible job. All in all, it was a fabulous experience and left me wanting more adventures. A great first step!
Arriving back in Virginia, I decided to do some research on senior travel and found that Baby Boomers are profoundly changing the travel industry. There are countless specialized tours for seniors, whether traveling solo or with friends or grandchildren.
Road Scholar, formerly known as Elderhostel, long has been a standard bearer for nonprofit, lifelong learning. I found several interesting trips right here in Virginia that were affordable and easily accessible by car. Their online website is user- friendly, and they supplement it with periodic mailings. Trips are highly content specific, appealing to a wide variety of interests.
AARP also offers travel for seniors, and being a member entitles you to discounts at many hotels, car rental services and entertainment. I discovered ElderTreks for active seniors and Eco Tours, as well as countless cruise ship offerings at discounted offseason rates. There is a wealth of information on the web for anyone interested in trip planning.
Finally, I took a big step and contacted a friend of mine, and we planned a trip to England and Scotland for a tour of gardens. It is time to use that new passport! Since the trip is not until next summer, it will give me time to figure out how to pay for all of these adventures. That will be a topic for another day — senior budgets, for those who spend too much on travel!
Susan Miller is a retired high school English teacher. Originally from Florida, she now lives in Williamsburg. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.