Did you know that September 9th is Grandparents Day? In 1978, Jimmy Carter declared that the first Sunday after Labor Day be set aside to honor the enriching impact that grandparents have on our daily lives.
It is in this spirit that I turn to a very special guest for today’s blog. He is someone who is arguably the most well-traveled grandparent that I know – my dad. Hopefully his travel experiences and words of wisdom will be valuable to other grandparents itching to get out and travel the world.
When did you start traveling abroad?
In 1965, I spent a year as a volunteer teacher in Zambia. I was 18 years old and had never been to another country before. But I distinctly remember boarding the plane at London Heathrow in England and, 20 hours later (via a refueling stop in Entebbe, Uganda), arriving in Lusaka; the capital of Zambia.
Lusaka was big by Zambian standards, but not in comparison to the towns and cities where I grew up. For example it had one set of traffic lights, which were the only set in the country! By the time I reached Chalimbana (the place where I was to work) there were no tarmac roads and, if you climbed the tallest hill, you could not see any sign of civilization or cultivation in any direction.
If you had to guess, how many countries have you visited over the years?
At the last count, almost 40. This includes most of Europe and some time spent living in Japan. I have also been fortunate to visit countries like South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Australia and New Zealand (pictured above). And I’ve extensively traveled the U.S., Canada and the Gulf States on business.
What have been some of your favorite destinations and why?
It is hard to pick. I have been fortunate enough to visit many places over the years. Right now my favorite travel destination is California, because that is where my grandkids live. But some other standouts include:
New Zealand: The scenery in New Zealand is simply stunning and the country has great outdoor activities for all age groups. There are also plenty of good value hotels (especially outside of peak vacation period, between December and January). This means that you can book your accommodation on very short notice – even once you are in the country!
Another advantage to New Zealand is the fact that you don’t have to worry about language barriers. And driving is easy and stress free because the North and South Island have wonderfully uncongested roads. I also like the fact that New Zealand is so close to the Far East, thereby offering a chance to visit other countries on the way home – like Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.
South Africa: I’ve been to South Africa several times over the last few years. My wife and I are captivated by the awe-inspiring scenery and the endless opportunities to observe (in their natural habitat) the type of wildlife you normally only see in the zoo. Needless to say South African game reserves are a “must” and you can book anything from camping accommodations in Kruger Park to luxury boutique hotels in private game reserves like Tangala, Madikwe and Shayamoya.
My one piece of advice for those looking to travel to South Africa would be to try and time your trip towards the end of the dry season. In October the grasses in the game parks are not as dense as other times of the year, and the animals are more concentrated around the few remaining water holes and creeks.
Also, if you are worried about personal security, hire a local tour guide (which need not be expensive) and be sensible about where you go (particularly at night).
Thailand and Cambodia: Personally, I found Thailand to be incredible. My vacation represented a unique opportunity to experience an Asian culture that has flourished in a kingdom that has never been a colony of a Western power. The people are really hospitable and the vacation opportunities diverse – whether you seek a beach holiday in Pataya, a city experience in Bangkok, or a mountain-range retreat in the northern city of Chiang Mai.
I can also highly recommend a short trip across the border to Cambodia to see the incredible temple ruins at Angkor Wat. If you imagine an Indiana Jones movie you will get some idea of how impressive these temples are in their jungle setting, and it is easy to see why they are one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
France: France has always held a special place in my heart. French is the first foreign language I ever learned (aside from Latin). And the Benodet area (in Brittany) is also where I took my family for annual vacations when my children were little.
While many people head to either Paris or the South of France, almost any of the larger towns and resorts in Northern France will provide a stylish and refreshing break. And I can highly recommend visiting Le Touquet and Deauville on the Northern coast, or La Rochelle on the Western coast.
Maui, Hawaii: Mainland USA offers such wide diversity that many people miss out the Hawaiian Islands because of the extra journey to the mid Pacific Ocean. However, the combination of fantastic weather, relaxed lifestyle, great scenery and wonderful marine life are hard to beat.
Which destinations are still on your bucket list?
I have made brief business trips to Brazil and Argentina but, as is often the case, only really saw airports, hotel rooms and meeting rooms. I would therefore like to go back to both countries for a longer stay. I have been told that Rio and the Amazon Basin in Brazil and the central mountains in Argentina are absolute “must sees”.
What is your travel philosophy?
I always believe that it is important to touch normality in the destination that you visit. Don’t restrict yourself to just the tourist traps and don’t be afraid to try new things – including local culinary dishes, activities or customs. I also think it is a sign of respect to at least learn to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in the local language. This is certainly something that I have encouraged my children to do, and I hope it is a trait that they pass on to my grandchildren.
How is traveling different now, compared to when you were younger?
When I was younger, travel was either for business (with no time to spare) or family holidays (where events were tailored to include fun things for our children). Now my wife and I can be selfish and take longer trips catered to our own preferences.
What is it like when you travel with your grandkids and what do you enjoy most about those types of vacations – be honest?
Traveling with the grandkids makes us young again. And we get to witness and enjoy (for a second time) the fun and amazement that little ones have when they see and try new things. But, most of all, it gives us quality time with the grandkids.
What are your top 5 travel tips for seniors?
- Make sure you compare airfares for a variety of travel dates. You may have a limited budget, but hopefully you are not so restricted by timing. Moving your dates by only a few days can save you a lot of money.
- Don’t be driven to distraction by your deteriorating memory! Instead, allow for it! For example, print out all vital itinerary details in a single document (flight details, hotel bookings etc.) and keep two copies with you. Also take two credit cards and keep them separate. And consider scanning copies of your key documents – like passports, driving licenses, travel insurance etc. – and sending them to yourself over email so that you can access them online in an emergency.
- Don’t risk your back with heavy luggage because it can ruin your holiday. Pack two medium suitcases, instead of one large one. And, if you can afford it, use an airport porter.
- On the plane you can often get extra legroom (for a modest cost) by asking for an exit row seat.
- When you get to your destination don’t be shy about asking for senior citizen discounts. Lots of countries have these at restaurants and tourist attractions, but they may not share this information if you don’t ask.