Why wait until retirement to explore the world?

Travel used to be unaffordable.  Many Americans waited till retirement when they felt they had enough money to explore the world.  Believe me, the money you will spend traveling is money well spent.  By retirement age most people are not fit enough to climb up and down tour buses, let alone walk to tourist attractions to take pictures.  Whenever I join sightseeing tours, I always feel sorry for senior citizens who beg the tour guides to let them remain on the bus on stop-overs requiring a short walk to a certain tourist spot.

Why wait until retirement to explore the world?  Why not do it now and enrich your life and the lives of your children?    Take two meaningful trips every year. Explore the national parks for at least two weeks in summer and go overseas for at least a week between November and New Year’s Day.  Most companies offer a 2-week paid vacation each year, and many companies offer 3 weeks after a certain period of employment.  Most companies in Western Europe offer at least one month vacation every year.  Travel is easier than you think. Nowadays, you do not need a travel agent.  You yourself, on your own, can book your flights, car rentals and hotels online through the following websites, Travelocity, Orbitz, PriceLine, Kayak, Expedia, TravelAdvisor.com, Hotel.com, and Bookings.com. For local sightseeing tours, I like Grayline and Viator.  You can snag some “real bargains” from the above-mentioned websites such as:  $125 a night at Elbow Beach Hotel in Bermuda in the month of May and accommodations at four star hotels for about $100 per night during the low season in Rome, Paris, London, Munich, Amsterdam and Geneva. Because I have been following my own advice, I have visited most of America’s 58 National Parks.  My favorites are Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Glacier Bay, Grand Canyons, Yellowstone, Sequoia and Volcanoes National Park. I love driving so I do not mind driving thousands of miles while enjoying the scenery on the way to a certain destination.  Some of the most scenic routes I’ve driven on in America are from Hilo to Kona in the big island of Hawaii; Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz; Highway 5 Sacramento to Vancouver, Canada;  Highway 70 Denver to Provo;  Highway 191 Crescent Junction to Bluff; Highway 89A from Lake Powell to Kanab; Lolo Pass Road from Mt. Hood Highway 26 to Lost Lake, Oregon;  Highway 75 from Sault St. Marie to Mackinaw City;  Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park;  Taconic State Parkway, N.Y. State;  Highway 81 from Scranton to Syracuse.  Whenever time permits, I find a way to rent a car to take in the scenery and explore the countryside even in foreign countries. The most memorable road trips I’ve taken were from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara; London to Bristol; Chamonix to Pisa; Salzburg to Venice; Torino to Rome and Berlin to Luxembourg.  I estimate that I have spent over $200,000 in travel expenses in the past 20 years.  For me, this is money well spent.  Travel has been good for my family and me, for our health and well-being.  My children had travelled to several foreign destinations before entering high school.  The priceless experiences opened their eyes on how other people outside America live, on what side of the road they drive, the languages they speak, the food they eat, and most importantly, how lucky and privileged they are to be living in America.  I was born with wanderlust.  As soon as I complete one journey, I am planning and looking forward to the next one.  That is why I just don’t understand people who have not caught this “disease”.  I have a friend who can well afford to travel but who says he does not want to go to Hawaii because “it’s too far”.  There are those who fly to exotic places then sit by the pool reading a book and sipping margaritas…all day long.  I have a friend who goes to Cape Cod in the summer and flies to Las Vegas in November…year after year.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like exploring the food, talking to locals even in sign language and going to the market places where locals go.  I can only hope that the reader will catch wanderlust and find themselves booking trips to wonderful destinations such as Bhutan; Maldives; Goa, India; Machu Picchu, Peru; Kathmandu, Nepal; Durban, South Africa; Alice Springs, Australia; Petra, Jordan; Masada National Park, Israel; Chamonix, France; Interlaken, Switzerland; Naples, Italy.  Before you leave this world, don’t you want to see the land of the midnight sun, the Alps, Pompeii, Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal and a phenomenon called Aurora Borealis?  Think of the money you will spend as a small investment for your mind and spirit.  Many years from now if you end up in a nursing home and cannot walk anymore, you might still remember those amazing trips that you took in your youth and tell stories of your wonderful experiences to anyone who would be kind enough to listen.

DIDO’S Summer 2009 Travelogue

Travel is one of the five things I love doing most in life.  This summer alone I logged in over 50,000 travel miles.  But the way I see it, there is the “good and the bad of travel”. The good part is seeing all those wonderful places, different sceneries, different people, different cultures, the food, the aroma and the environment in those beautiful new places.  And the bad part is the trip to the airport, the airport scene, the plane ride, ground transportation to the hotel and the hotel stay itself.  To put it another way, travel would be more enjoyable for me if I can be tele-transported or beamed down to my destination then sleep in my own bed each night.

I hate the airport traffic, the long lines at the security gates, the cramped airline seats and toilets, the airline food if any, rude flight attendants, crying babies and 400 pound seat mates.  For me, this is purgatory…sort of the hell I have to pass through to get to those heavenly places such as Interlaken, Dubrovnik, Amsterdam, Bristol, Prague, Istanbul, Sabah and other popular tourist destinations.

This year I have been fortunate enough to travel first or business class on trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights which made the “bad of travel” more tolerable.  With all the miles under my belt, for me, the worst of “the bad of travel” is the plane ride.  The take offs and landings terrify me.  I call all on all the saints for intervention and silently pray several Our Fathers and Hail Marys during take offs and landings.  The moment I get on the plane it seems a dark cloud follows me.  There is always something.  I often get a seat next to a woman with a crying baby or next to a 400 lb. lard ass.  On the first leg of my trip to Brunei, I got a seat next to a Chinese man wearing a surgical mask who kept coughing and who kept monitoring his temperature.  On the flight back, a grungy looking Japanese guy who must not have showered for 2 years sat next to me.  Why can’t the airline god give me a break once and seat me next to Paris Hilton?  Yes, I can never get a break. I can't even count the number of times when the flight attendant runs out of food just before she gets to my row, then skips my row entirely after replenishing.  There have been many times when everybody’s TV monitor works except mine.  There were times when I asked for beef and all they had was chicken but when I got up to the lavatory after the meal, I saw the flight attendants eating my beef dinner.  Oh, I hate that!

Since I hate flying so much, I avail myself to everything the airline gives for free.  Heck it’s all included in the fare anyway.  I do not mean the airline blankets, pillows and ear phones which some passengers take home with them.  What I really mean is that before the plane even gets off the ground I would have 3 glasses of champagne and two sets of hors d’ouvre.  The moment the “fasten seat belt” sign is turned off I ask for a double gin and tonic, martini or scotch depending on my mood.  Then a few glasses of wine with my meal followed by an Irish or Mexican coffee with my dessert.  A short while later, a few shots of brandy nicely fall into place.  If an airline such as Lufthansa, Qantas, Cathay and Singapore Airlines offers caviar or foie gras, God help them because I will keep asking for more until they run out of it or until the plane lands. I am shameless and guiltless when it comes to getting my fill.  My rationale is that I’ve paid for it.  Despite all the alcohol I find it hard to sleep more than 1 or 2 hours even on long trans-oceanic flights and even on relatively comfortable fully reclining sleeper seats.

I hate stop-overs for connecting flights.  Oftentimes they require you to go through airport security again which can become very stressful if you have too short a connection time between flights. Amsterdam’s Schipol airport is a strange one because they make arriving passengers go through a security check before leaving the airport which does not seem to make sense.  But I will tell you why I do not mind stop-overs in Narita, Nagoya and Osaka.  It is not just because of the pretty, young Japanese girls in the airport shops who keep bowing, seemingly eager to take care of every man’s needs.  It is because of the Japanese toilets.  Unlike the airport toilets in America which generally are not so clean, quite stinky and open enough for your next stall neighbor to measure your stride, Japanese toilets are clean, almost odor free and privately enclosed down to the floor with the door tightly fitted to the jambs.  No weirdo can sneak a peek while you are busy doing your business.  In addition to the cleanliness and privacy, most of their “western type” toilets are equipped with a water spray, with optional perfume, perfectly aimed “at the spot” which is triggered at the push of a button.  You can also increase or decrease the pressure of the spray.  It makes going to the toilet a pleasant experience.  I have been successful in timing it perfectly so as not to go for number 2 in those midget airline toilets.  I hold it and run to the airport toilet, after which I am well and good and smiling again ready for my connecting flight.