This is my online diary exploring the world of travel and especially international travel as an older adult who has hardly traveled.
I come at this from an odd perspective – I am over 60 and have never been to Europe or much of anywhere.
My goal is to catch up!
But this means I am starting as a travel neophyte – in a world where it every 20-something has visited one to two dozen countries or more and features their adventures on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
There are no web resources to help the neophyte older adult dive in to travel. I presume this is a small “market” as most already have travel experience, and the newbies are mostly college students and recent grads. There is no market for neophyte older adult travelers.
As I learn and explore options, I document my findings here Disclaimer – obviously, I am not a travel expert and what I find and note here may be wrong. That’s part of the challenge of being a naive travel idiot at my age.
International Travel is Big
- In 2018, 25% of U.S. families with children took an international trip.
- 50% of Americans have visited an ancestral country.
- 60% of American have traveled outside the U.S.
- Globally, almost 1.5 billion people visited another country in 2019.
International travel is huge!
Why Do People Travel?
- Some travel to visit extended family, friends and relatives.
- Some travel for work.
- For many, travel is part of holiday vacations.
- Some travel to learn about other cultures, history and ways of life. To become informed. To have a global perspective.
- Many who have traveled are influenced in life changing ways. Some learn new ways of seeing things and spot new business opportunities. For them, this becomes a purpose for their traveling. The type of “influence” they get also depends on the type of international travel they do. Someone who does a study abroad will be influenced in ways different than someone who backpacks through Europe or Asia for a summer, or someone who travels for international business.
Benefits of International Travel
100% of my peer group traveled internationally, studied abroad, worked abroad, lived abroad, vacationed abroad, and often did several of these. My 3 now adult “kids” have traveled abroad, two did study abroad programs, and one also did science field work abroad (all 3 of my “kids” are highly trained in the sciences).
100% of those whose careers advanced upwards (mine plateaued) had extensive international experience. 100%.
I have yet to find any accomplished person who has not studied or worked abroad or has no travel experience. Not a single one. International skills are essential to work and life in a globalized world.
International travel skills and international knowledge give one a global perspective. This is important for identifying, pursuing and managing international markets. Today’s world is globally interconnected. Those who know how to navigate and identify opportunities and deliver solutions in this global market are those who will be in demand and who will rise upwards in their career.
Career advisors say international skills have other benefits: Employers see those who have studied and lived abroad as having demonstrated an ability to adapt and cope with a different environment, a different culture and to have good skills for working with diverse populations. Adaptation and valuing cultural diversity are positive skills in the workplace.
Some skills are business practical: knowledge of local cultures, customs, and languages, can help identify and develop international business opportunities.
Career advisors say the greatest value in international experience comes from visiting places different from your home, where the experience is most distinct. The more distinct, the better your adaptation skills and understanding of diverse cultures – attributes that are important in the globalized workplace.
When I was in college, I had a ride in a light plane from a fellow college student. Today he is an American Airlines Boeing 777 Captain! Anyway, that flight in a light plane changed my perspective on much – looking down on the world was mind altering. Keep in mind that I had only previously flown on a prop plane airliner when I was 2 1/2 years old, and on a 20-minute demonstration flight in a Boeing 727 when I was about 8 years old. Other than that, this was de facto the first plane flight I would remember! And it changed my perspective on many things, for life! I see international travel as having similar impacts on those who have traveled.
What I am Doing?
I am perplexed as to how I missed the global travel phenomena. How did I reach this point late in life where I have not traveled?
- Travel by car, not air, was the standard when I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. My family did not travel by air when I was growing up. I had no experience with air travel until college when I took an infrequent hour-long flight to a university city.
- By the ’80s, I was in the world of work, not travel, and had just 2 weeks of vacation per year (throughout most of my career). Eventually there were family obligations.
- Bigger, though was my lack of awareness of travel. How did that happen? (1) Busy with work and family, (2) Grew up with parents who were teens during the Great Depression and adopted their thrift values, (3) Brain injuries. I often joke I am a brain injured idiot but that is more truth than I wish. I’ve had six serious head injuries including a 5″ long skull fracture . This affected me in many ways.
- I recently realized, also, that I missed almost all world history in K-12 education. Sixth grade is, today, when students are introduced to human history. I was out much of sixth grade due to the skull fracture (the year when world history is first introduced). I missed one third of my 9th grade year due to a systemic Staph A infection that my doctor never recognized until I was in an ER with a 104 deg F fever (lab confirmed Staph A and influenza and x-ray confirmed pneumonia). 9th grade is when I had my only U.S. History course. Finally, I was encouraged to leave high school one year early, missing 12th grade. As a consequence, I never had a World History course. This means I missed a staggering 1 year and six months (may be a little more) of K-12 education. While I have BS, MS and MBA degrees, I never graduated from high school. Sigh.
Catching Up and Preparing for Travel
With my brain injuries finally treated, kids grown up, and retired, I began to pursue catching up on things missed in life.
In 2018, I set out a plan to travel in 2019; however, we moved that year, and postponed travel to 2020. Of course, 2020 happened and everything was canceled. Global travel restrictions remained in 2021, especially for the places I wished to visit. As of the end of 2021, I have no plans for destinations or time frames due to the uncertainty of travel during a pandemic and it looks like it may be 2023 or even 2024 before I can start.
I am fortunate I am now retired and have the resources to travel. Just don’t know when we will be permitted to travel again. Nor do I know how much time I have left in life while healthy, to pursue these activities.
In the interim, I am doing everything I can to become the most prepared global traveler in history.
- Since July of 2021, I have been studying two languages: Norwegian (family history reasons) and Spanish (had two years of it high school).
- I am reading multiple books on European history and culture. After realizing I had missed most history subjects in K-12, I am may read AP US and World history textbooks to catch up on my high school experience.
- I am reading books by other travelers – even students who studied abroad – to understand experiences that I will never have.
- Enjoying international foods. I do not live in an area with international cuisine other than Mexican and Chinese food. Thus, I have international cookbooks : Spanish, German, Swiss, Italian, Scandinavian, Thai, Chinese and Indian foods. A bit of a gastronomical world tour. Have also purchased some food items that we do not normally have in the U.S., such as Norwegian Brunost (“Brown cheese”) or Dutch stroopwafels.
- Walking and jogging, to keep my health up for future travels.
As of early 2022, in the midst of the “Omicron” wave, I am not yet looking into travel destinations due to randomly changing travel restrictions. Once travel options become clearer, I will consider destinations and time frames.
My preference would be to just get on a plane, like everyone else does, and go somewhere. But since travel is de facto impossible, all I can do is dream and study and do modest pre-planning.
What Kinds of Travel?
For various reasons I will not get in to, I am not interested in organized group travel. At all. Nor am I interested in “cruises”.
I am interested in a feet on the ground perspective and approach, and the opportunity to spend time in a destination. I have read that the old-style vacation trip is now out and “slowcations” are in. Rather than spend a day here, a day there and so on, the new model is to stay in one place for a week or two or even months. This approach appeals to me too.
My first travel experience – not yet known whether it will be solo or with my wife – may be to spend 10-15 days in one location, with extended day trips around there.
As an older person, the opportunities for learning how to travel are less than when we are in our 20s.
- In our teens, we have options to travel with family (hence, a “supported” trip), or an education study exchange program (“supported).
- In college, we have opportunities to study abroad for a semester, a year or longer, or do shorter summer study abroad programs. Two of my now adult “kids” studied abroad, one in Russia and one in Wales. Most parents visit their student once, while abroad; we didn’t. Sigh.
- Graduate students have options to study in other countries. Many countries fully fund graduate students – even students from outside their country – there are no tuition fees, and in some, even a paid stipend! Students may see opportunities for jobs and residency, even citizenship, in the country in which they studied. (Dual residency/dual citizenship/dual nationality is a bit of “hip” thing to have now.)
- Some countries provide long duration (one to two year) temporary work visas to those under age 30 or 35.
- Programs that make sense for a 22-year-old – such as living in a family home at their destination country, do not typically make sense for an elder visitor.
- A few pursue graduate degrees in their 40s, but that is about the limit for foreign study opportunities. (Hey, I did my second Masters, in engineering, at age 54!)
- Those working for global companies may have opportunities to take an assignment within their organization at one of their global offices.
None of these options are generally available to a neophyte older traveler.
What’s Left Then?
- Travel, on your own, which means unsupported – figuring this out yourself.
- Education abroad programs are limited – primarily to language immersions programs. There are some “arts, culture and history” “education” programs but they are mostly organized group travel, with a professor lending expert commentary. Most of those I have seen are not of interest to me. Although one, the “non-traditional learners” who accompany Semester-At-Sea college study trips might have some interest to me – but that is unclear for now.
- There are some “volunteer abroad” programs for older adults. I know of some, my age, who as part of a local community service group, traveled to provide assistance. From online research, I have concerns about the value of many of these programs and the difficulty in getting an honest evaluation of them.
- Digital Nomad visas – many countries offer a “digital nomad” visa, to encourage those who can work remotely to stay for an extended period in their country. Visas for 6 months, a year or more are readily available and can often be extended. This makes sense for the host country! It brings in outside income to their local economy.
- Organized travel tour groups. As I mentioned, I am not interested in these.
I am planning that my path forward will be #1 – doing this on my own.
My initial goal is to travel to at least 3 other countries (excluding Canada). Ok, I have been to Canada. My wife’s Dad was born in Canada. We love Canada and Canadians and would go there in an instant! Due to Canada’s Right of Descent rules, my wife is eligible for Canadian citizenship if she wished to apply for it.
But my preference is to travel to non-English speaking countries – okay if many people speak English there (as in much of Europe) but where English is not the native language!
Second, the goal is to encounter differences – and see and learn different ways of doing things!
My Long-Term Stretch Goal
Long term, my goal is to stay in another country for an extended period of time. This is challenging at this point in life. We own a house, for example, that needs to be looked after. For most countries, visas are limited to 90 days maximum, for tourists. Longer stay educational, work visas, and digital nomad visas, are not usually available to “old people”. Plus, one needs to purchase additional health insurance for international travel – and those policies become quite expensive as we get older, regardless of our health status.
But my goal is to have an in-country experience somewhat like those who were able to study abroad had – although obviously, there are numerous limitations that make that impossible as an older traveler.
BUT – this is my major goal if I do not run out of years. (The pandemic policies are, unfortunately, consuming many of my useful years and I have no idea if I will run out of time.)
My Back Story – Brain Injuries
At about age 6, I fell out of a tree and was knocked unconscious; I ended up in speech therapy for about 18 months due to speaking problems after that, which today would likely be diagnosed as TBI related. At age 11 1/2, I suffered a 5″ long skull fracture while riding my bike home from school and hitting a small pothole around a turn. I was not “treated”. My head was not even x-rayed until 5 days after the bike crash. I literally spent weeks in bed, vomiting, difficulty recognizing people and communicating. No one ever mentioned “traumatic brain injury”.
As an adult, in my 20s, I had two more bike crashes that broke my helmet, knocked me out and broke other bones. No health care professional mentioned brain injuries. In my 40s, I had two more head injuries, one due to a fall on ice.
From my 20’s onwards, I had a continuous 24 x 7 headache for the next 32 years. It got to the point I thought a continuous headache was normal. I had odd speech issues and a host of problems – too many to list here. But since no one mentioned “TBI”, I was unaware that these were brain injuries and could be treated.
At the age of 58, while looking for something unrelated, I stumbled onto a short e-book on brain injuries – and within a few pages, I saw my entire life in paragraph after paragraph. Leaving out some steps, this led to my having an extended visit with my doctor to go over my head injury history, which led to a diagnosis of brain injuries, working with a neuropsychologist and being on medication for a bit. My headaches went away!
Finally, most of my brain issues were unscrambled! I began a process to start catching up on a number of activities that had been neglected. Unfortunately, this was just months before the pandemic policies shut everything down indefinitely. At 2022, there is still no sign of when we will be “permitted” to engage in life again.
In addition to dealing with brain injuries, missing almost two years of K-12 public school, I also had to pay 100% of my own college tuition, fees and book expenses. This meant I was working part time from age 10 onwards. My parents did help with housing expenses, but I did have to pay all of my own college tuition, myself.