Grandpa Points: Traveling in the Autumn (Of Your Life)

Sep 23, 2018

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Ahh, Fall. It’s like a reset button. A release valve. A chance to recharge. We all look forward to that first hint of cooler, drier air as it filters in after months of summer heat. It is one of those “feel good” moments in life. September, October and early November bring a transitional state of calm and beauty and well being. It’s safe to say that baby boomers (my generation) are also now in the autumn of our lives. And since autumn is often the best time  of year to travel, to extrapolate a little, maybe we are also in the prime time of our lives to travel.

Boomer Travel: 70 is the new 50

The term “baby boomer” is a generational definition for those born between the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s. This period began with the optimistic and halcyon post-WWII years when doors went unlocked, keys were left in cars’ ignitions and a comforting innocence was portrayed nightly on our black and white televisions. The era ended in a transitional, chaotic and challenging decade that saw us witness the extremes from triumphant successes in space exploration to tragic assassinations and a country divided by the war in Vietnam.

Seventy million. That is a “7” with seven big “0”s tagging along close behind. That’s the approximate number of baby boomers alive, kicking and hopefully traveling in the United States (and beyond). My wife and I are proud members of this special club and we hope to retain an active membership for years to come. We like to think that we are representative of this age group in our approach to life, our appreciation of good health, our financial position, our involvement in our children’s and grandchildren’s lives and our love of travel. We truly believe that 70 (there’s that number again) is the new 50. We believe we are younger, more active, more mobile and more energetic than previous generations.

Grandma and Grandpa Points traveling in the autumn of their lives

We do not take this for granted and we consider ourselves as beneficiaries of the social advancements and comforts provided by our parents and their parents.

We found as we went through the years of our youth, the years raising a family, and the years of maximum work output, that there were travel goals and dreams necessarily set aside as life’s deck of cards were dealt. This is how bucket lists are created.

The things you want to do and places you want to see are put out there like the carrot at the end of the stick until the right day comes along. For most of us, the right day comes as retirement age is approached or achieved. The calendar and the clock become less of a foe and more of a friend. My wife and I, for example, always wanted to see the Northeast in the fall. But, because of our jobs, autumn was never a vacation option. However, once free from a work schedule, we were able to fulfill this decades-long wish in spectacular fashion that exceeded our wildest expectations.

Fall in the Northwest (Photo by Buddy Smith)

And, as we became freer to move about the country, we gave increased attention to our bucket list trips as they took on a more pressing degree of importance once you realize that there is a lot more sand at the bottom of the hourglass of life than there is at the top.

(Photo by Buddy Smith)

Even though we are discussing the positives of post-retirement travels, we must add the caveat that we are also advocates of seizing opportunities when and as they are presented. Sometime chances only come along once and sometimes then the curtain closes for good. We know of several good friends who postponed or delayed much-anticipated experiences and never made it to the starting line of their lifelong dreams.

You also, of course, want to try and see and do things before the -itises come to visit for an extended stay. You know the ones: arthritis, bronchitis, bursitis, gastritis, tendonitis, neuritis, etc.

Safety first when traveling during retirement

There are some obvious considerations that we need to remember when taking a trip as seasoned travelers. Like a good Scout, we need to be prepared. In deference to the time we now live in, the most important thing may be to have your cell phone always fully charged and with backup power just in case. And as another traveling safeguard, installing the phone app “Find Friends” allows your family to check on your movements and location.

If you are on a daily prescription regimen, be sure medications are up to date and that you take them with you. Check with your doctor about whether you should take Aspirin to help prevent deep vein thrombosis. We are big advocates of the annual higher dose flu vaccine since a lot of travel is in very close quarters for extended time with people from an assortment of locales. Pack an extra pair of glasses. If you are driving in a car, keep the gas level above the half-full mark. Keep a six-pack or two of bottled water and snacks in the car. I also recommend a good old fashioned hard copy paper map be a part of your road trip essentials. When faced with parking in a big, multi-level garage, take a photo of your car with a sign indicating the level you are on and the parking space you are occupying. Be sure and wear good shoes that support your ankles and provide traction. As we age, balance and coordination, especially on uneven ground, can be tested. And, as we all know, falling can be enemy #1. Let someone know of your destinations and travel schedule and reconsider any plans for driving late into or through the night.

One of the recent trends in our society is the opening of urgent care and emergency clinics. These can prove to be very beneficial to the traveler that incurs some sort of medical situation while on the road. These facilities cater to the walk-in visitor and can literally save a trip when the need arises. Our recent trip to Nevada/California required an urgent care visit, and with a few hours of time, the right diagnosis and proper prescription the trip went from questionable status to back on track.

It is also incumbent on us vacationing veterans to let our wisdom and experiences keep us safe from harm and out of trouble. I remember the phrase about your eyes being bigger than your stomach. It was just a saying to emphasize that perception and reality are not necessarily the same, but the same dilemma sometimes surfaces with the age progression. The mind and memory can suggest one outcome but the body’s answer is different. Sort of the spirit-is-willing but the flesh-is-weak kind of thing. Recently we were at Lake Tahoe (thanks to $20 airfare on Frontier), and I was climbing all around on and between some big boulders at the lake’s edge.

Lake Tahoe
(Photo by Buddy Smith)

I soon realized that my youthful exuberance had gotten me trapped by a few of these large stones. I knew that in a different time I would have just gone on autopilot and instinctively, athletically and reflexively climbed out. No problem. But that day, at this age, I had to come up with a game plan to extricate myself from the minor predicament. I succeeded in reasonably short order, but the incident will linger in my psyche as a reminder that I am not as young as I used to be. I decided then and there that I would need to give thought, discretion and consequences more weight when balancing the pros and cons of certain physical activities.

Ticking off (and adding to) the bucket list

The biggest advantage of traveling post-retirement is the freedom to travel when you want to and when it’s the best time rather than when you have to. Other benefits of being able to travel during non-peak periods include lower rates and fees, more availability, smaller crowds and a less hurried and harried experience.

Some of our best trips have been taken after becoming social security eligible. We spent 13 magnificent days exploring the waters, the mountains and the tundra of Alaska.

At last, we made it to Alaska (Photo by Buddy Smith)

Ten days were spent roaming the state of Colorado, from Bridal Veil in Telluride to Maroon Bells to the mill at Crystal to the Elk Festival in Estes Park.

A dozen days in California were spent cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway, walking in the shadows of giant sequoias and seeing rainbows in the falls of Yosemite. A two-week trip to the Northeast saw us reveling in the colorful glory of a resplendent fall, taking in the sights, sounds and faces of baseball at Cooperstown, hearing the roar and feeling the spray of Niagara Falls and silently admiring the awesomeness of Letchworth State Park.

Letchworth State Park (Photo by Buddy Smith)

12 months of travel during retirement

In between those grand extended trips, we have enjoyed many three to five-day adventures. We have utilized each month of the calendar to maximize opportunities. The 365-day window for travel has led to skiing in Utah in January and hiking The Wave in February. We captured the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms last spring because of our date flexibility.

Cherry blossoms in DC (Photo by Buddy Smith)

And a drive up Trail Ridge Road on a May day just after it was plowed and opened was ours because we could. We were in the patriotic spirit of our nation’s capital on July 4.

4th of July in DC (Photo by Buddy Smith)

We chased the total solar eclipse across Missouri last August and cheered on Team USA at the Ryder Cup in late September. An October trip gave us access to the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and the slot canyons at Page, Arizona.

Exploring slot canyons (Photo by Buddy Smith)

We experienced a November Notre Dame Game Day in South Bend and we enjoyed the holiday season in NYC one December.

Radio City at Christmas (Buddy Smith)
Radio City Music Hall (Photo by Buddy Smith)

We have taken trips on whims, taken trips on “why nots?” and taken trips on “if not now, whens?” We are certainly not wealthy or privileged. But, we are rich in the desire to see and do things. Combine that hunger for travel, the time to do it and mix in the world of miles and points and you come up with a recipe that makes it possible.

We hope the ‘Fall of our Lives’ continues to see us in good health with an eagerness to explore. (The distant sound you may have just heard was me knocking on wood for good luck.) We wish the same for you whatever your aspirations are and wherever your travel dreams may take you. Enjoy each day and  always look forward to tomorrow. Make these autumn years truly golden. Safe travels to all.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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