This is an interim post from Bratislava (finalizing now in Nuremberg) to get some thoughts out while working on a longer post for Vilnius, Lithuania. We’ve been inundated lately by tour groups so it seems like a good time to talk about our travel philosophy. So here are some ramblings about how we travel.
First off we’re an older couple (ie, grandparents), recently retired, who love to travel independently. We don’t generally participate in tours, cruises, groups, or other collective travel gatherings. We enjoy planning our trips, based on our own interests and research. We like the freedom this gives us to put together our itinerary, be flexible, and be responsible for our trip. Sure we make mistakes but consider them part of the experience (they provide some of our fondest memories). We struggle with aches and pains that sometimes slow us down a bit but don’t stop us from doing what we like. We deal with medications for chronic conditions. To get around we take advantage of varied transportation methods, including rental car, train, plane, boat, subway, tram, bus, Uber, taxi, whatever makes sense at the time (no more hitchhiking, aka, ‘autostop’), but generally prefer our feet. Being on our feet lets us more closely experience our surroundings. Because of this we usually get in 20k+ steps a day (8-10 miles or so). Local public transportation is our preferred secondary option. We almost always take advantage of inexpensive buses, metros, or trams if we can’t comfortably walk all the way from our hotel. We’ve used Uber and taxi a handful of times this trip when options 1 and 2 weren’t feasible (such as, rain or too complicated). One of the reasons we can maneuver that way is because of our luggage.
We each carry two carry-on-sized bags. My primary bag is a Rick Steves 45 liter backpack (22x13x9 inches) that I’ve had for 15 years. It weighed 14 kilograms loaded when we started this trip in March and is down to about 10 kilos now. It’s comfortable and rides well. I could carry it all day with no problems. Kathy has a Tumi roller bag, about 35 liters, with similar loaded weight. Her only real challenge is cobblestones. We’ve traveled in Europe quite a bit so we knew what to expect. A quality bag was essential for her since she’d have to drag it over some of those cobbles so she opted for the Tumi. It’s holding up well so far (fingers crossed). We both have small backpacks for secondary or day bags. Mine’s a Nike bag, about 25 liters that I picked up in Korea when my Rick Steves day pack started wearing out. I like the fact the Nike pack is tall and shallow since I’m 6’2″ and I don’t like a pack that sticks out too far from my back. Kathy has a matching Tumi backpack that she uses mostly for storage. She bought a string bag at the Bolshoi that is her go to day bag now. I usually take along a bottle of water, camera, raincoat, notebook and pen, maps, hand wipes, and snacks in my day bag. Kathy keeps snacks and acquisitions in hers. We don’t carry much clothing (we may go into clothing specifics and gear in a separate post) so we have to do laundry occasionally – either self service in our hotel (5 or 6 times on this trip) or in the sink or haul it to a self service laundromat or pay to have it done (once). This hasn’t been a problem at all in the 3+ months we’ve been on the road.
That’s a few of the basics on how we travel. We often get asked by folks in tour groups that we meet how we do it. They think they need someone to plan out the itinerary and details, and to carry way more luggage. One of our goals with this blog is to show that older travelers can travel independently and the experience is actually much richer for it. Our generation may be a little technology challenged but basic internet access and simple navigation skills are all that’s really needed. Couple those with a smart phone with international service and you’re all set (Wifi is pretty widespread so that accounts for most of our internet usage anyway). Most of the world is safe for travel. Information (in the form of guidebooks, apps, articles, blogs, and vlogs) is prevalent. English is common among tourist service workers and lots of ATMs (aka ‘bankomats’), ticket machines, and menus usually have an English language option. Credit cards are widely accepted. Renting a car and driving around is perfectly feasible (at least in Europe). Google Maps has consistently delivered us to where we want to go. All in all it’s definitely way easier to travel like this currently than when we hitchhiked around Europe 40 years ago. So traveling on our own makes sense for us. It allows us to linger when we want and change plans if we find something we’d rather do. It’s about our experience.
“Ah-ha”, you may be thinking, “you can travel like that because you’re retired and have time. I’m working and need to squeeze in as much in a short period as possible. Besides I don’t have time to plan. So a tour is my best option.” Well we’ve been traveling like this since 2003 while we were both working full time at demanding jobs with the usual American vacation allotment (2-3 weeks at a time). All of the planning for our current around the world trip was done while Kathy was still working with the bulk of it before I retired (I exited the work force before she did) and we started this trip the day after her last day at work. Also don’t be deterred by the amount of walking we do. We realize that takes time, especially if you’re trying to fit in multiple activities that aren’t clustered (besides the fact that may not be a physical possibility for certain individuals). If that’s the case, public transportation is convenient and Uber/Lyft/taxi are available. In major cities we usually purchase transportation passes and zip around to various points of interest that way (sometimes just riding is a good option for sightseeing. For instance, on this trip, we took in the metro station artwork in Moscow and rode the tram around Helsinki with our passes). Okay, I could go on but that’s enough rambling for now. Please comment if you have any thoughts or questions. And as always, thanks for reading.