If you’re a pensioner who regrets not taking time out to see the world when you were younger, we have the perfect job opportunity for you. UK-based price comparison site, Compare the Market, has just launched a quest to find a lucky retired person to go off on what it is calling a ‘senior gap year’.
Email this pageAfter taking early retirement in their fifties, Faith and her husband, Alan, decided to retire to Mexico, but soon got restless. They now housesit professionally, moving from country to country for gigs—enjoying exploring the world and living a pared-down lifestyle out of one suitcase. Tell us a little about your background… I was…
How do you go from fantasizing about travelling to actually boarding a plane and letting your dreams take flight? You’ve been imagining travelling to a dream destination for years, but how do you make that leap from reverie to reality? Thoughtful planning and preparation are the keys to unlocking your fantasy vacation!
My husband Reggie, 76, and I, then 69, took that leap in April 2017. We’d been talking and dreaming about a trip to Hawaii for many years, but it always seemed to be one of those unattainable goals. Finances played a big part in our indecision. The priorities of helping our three kids pay for college, a mortgage, and just living expenses took centre stage. As the self-proclaimed family CFO of big financial decisions, I was the dream gatekeeper. But one day about a year and a half ago, feeling that we finally had some financial space, I turned to Reg and said, “It’s time to stop dreaming–let’s plan our Hawaiian trip!” And plan we did.
Where to Go?
So many places to go, so little time! Once you’ve made the decision to put travel on the front burner of your life, how do you decide the perfect place for your maiden voyage? Europe and Great Britain were at the top of our travel destinations, as well as the Azores, the birthplace of my paternal grandparents. One thing stood in the way: I hadn’t ever gotten around to getting a passport! We’ve been to Canada a few times, and Mexico, but that was many years before a passport was necessary. (I am happy to say that on my 70th birthday this past year, I finally got my passport!). Reggie, on the other hand, has been a passport holder since he was 23, when he went on a European tour as a percussionist with the Pittsburgh Symphony.
If you’re traveling alone, then it’s up to you to decide where you want to go, but if you are a couple, or travelling with friends, then sitting down and discussing several possible dream places is a good starting point. Once you’ve picked a few options that you agree on, and you know a preferred time frame, consider the weather conditions for each location. Next, research prices for flights, accommodations, activities, and highlights of each place–that will help narrow to down your choice. Since we’ve always wanted to travel to Hawaii, we only had to decide which islands to visit.
If you are fortunate and don’t have any need to be frugal, then you might be able to skip our first planning step: shopping around for the best miles card on the market. (And for UK readers, here’s a link to advice about the best air miles credit cards.)
Several years ago, as a gift from our children, we traveled to California. After our trip, we applied for and got Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards cards. We had heard good reviews about the airline and knew that plans were in the works to start flying out from the Portland Jetport, so we decided to plan ahead to be ready for our dream trip. There is a yearly fee, but we got bonus miles to get us started, and we made it a point to use our cards for everyday expenses. We used our miles to book our round-trip Southwest flights from Maine to California… for free! Even better? Reggie kept checking for the best possible prices and pounced when a flash sale popped up, so we were able to make our miles go even further.
Once our L.A. flights were booked, Reggie went online to find the best price for our flights to Hawaii via Hawaiian Airlines. He got a great price–$563 each–from California to the islands of Maui and Oahu and back. Those cards have served us well, and we’ll continue to use them when flying on Southwest Airlines. We’ve done a little more research since then, looking for a more versatile card, and got approved for a Capital One Venture Card. We can accumulate miles pretty quickly by using the cards for everyday expenses–even monthly bills–and as long as the balance is paid each month, there are no interest charges.
An essential financial pre-planning step is to get all your monthly bills paid or scheduled, so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night in your hotel room, or tent in the middle of a jungle, and realize you’ve forgotten to pay a bill. We didn’t need to stop our mail because we had a dog sitter staying while we were gone, but all of those details need to be considered as well. I think of pre-trip organization, including detailed to-do lists, as a “trip atlas”; it gives you the peace of mind to really relax and enjoy every minute of your vacation.
We booked our car rentals in a similar way to our flights. We weren’t existing Costco members, but they seemed to have the best rental car prices and didn’t charge cancellation fees, so Reg decided it was worth buying a membership to get the best deals. When he found a better price, he simply canceled and rebooked. Since he is retired, and I am still teaching voice lessons five days a week in my studio, I gladly left all that fun stuff up to him!
Choosing Your Accommodation
I was more involved in choosing accommodations because I had very specific must-haves After checking different sites, we found that Home Away VRBO had the best, most beautiful and affordable listings.. We decided on Kihei, Maui for our first location. Next, we decided to fly to the airport in Honolulu on Oahu (where we would be met by our friends, who, in true Hawaiian style, presented us with leis). Two nights were spent at their condo, before we headed off to our accommodations in Laie. Both places exceeded our expectations, one with the peaceful Zen setting and majestic gardens, and the other a beautiful place above the pounding waves of the Pacific Ocean.
On Maui, we found a ground floor condo for $109 a night with a stunning, peaceful Zen garden bordering our lanai (porch or veranda)–a perfect match to the online pictures and description. We enjoyed our morning coffee and meditation while sitting there, reminding ourselves that we weren’t dreaming; we were living the dream.
In Oahu, for $120 a night, we stayed in a second-floor, one-bedroom apartment with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean with its pounding waves crashing just below our balcony.
Prepare yourself for travel
This might not be something you would necessarily think about before traveling, but especially for advanced-age travelers, I think it’s very important to prepare physically and mentally for your trip. If you’re going on a very laid-back journey or a retreat, then this is less important. But if you plan on doing adventurous activities that you haven’t done in the past, then it’s a good idea to get a physical, make sure all medications are up to date, and that you have enough medications for the duration of your trip. If working out is part of your normal routine, and you plan on hiking, zip lining, rock climbing etc., then you should be fine, but if you’ve been pretty sedentary, then head to the gym or start an exercise regimen at home to build strength and stamina. The last things you want while traveling are an aching back, your legs giving out, or an injury!
Being emotionally ready for travel is also essential. Know your own threshold for when you need downtime, rest, or food to keep you from crashing. Travelling is fun and exhilarating, but it is tiring as well. Spending ten minutes to a half hour practising meditation daily, before and during our trip, helped us find the balance we needed to enjoy every minute, without needing a vacation from our vacation!
Plan some activities
Even if you are free spirits and enjoy being totally spontaneous, I suggest you put some time and research into at least planning some anchor activities and highlights. First, make a list of your interests, food preferences, special events, etc. Then, go to an online site like TripAdvisor, Trivago, Kayak, similar sites, or tourist bureaus to research them. Our anchor activity in Maui was a luau that we booked in advance. The Feast at Lele, in Lahaina was our choice because the pictures of the beach at sunset, the description of the Polynesian cuisine, the fully staged show, and the private tables set right on the sand made it irresistible. We wanted to go to ‘Mama’s Fish House’, but when I looked at the entrée prices online, I nixed it. Yet, as our days in Maui were waning, I felt an uncontrollable urge to go, and once again, I gave the go-ahead, feeling that we deserved this once-in-a-lifetime extravagance. Since our anniversary was in two months, I also figured it would be our 47th-anniversary gift to each other. The setting, ambiance, drinks, appetizers, desserts, and entrees were worth the nearly $300 tab. We were not disappointed!
Zip lining anyone? Hell, why not! You only live once! To ensure that we wouldn’t chicken out, we booked it ahead, at Climb Works, for our anchor adventure on Oahu
Some travel precautions
If you travel to Hawaii and plan to hit the beaches, only swim at beaches where there is a lifeguard and other swimmers. Don’t exceed your ability if you haven’t swum in years. Don’t turn your back to the ocean. Don’t stand on wet rocks. Learn about riptides—where they are and what to do. The ocean is much stronger than you, and it will always win! I can attest to this firsthand when a wave caught me by surprise and gave me quite a tumble. Fortunately, the worst that happened was that I mooned a few people behind me. Whoops. From then on, I was more respectful of the ocean.
If you decide to head for the hills and plan to drive on mountain roads, always check weather alerts for flash flood warnings. Oh and be sure not to leave any items visible in your vehicle – put everything into the trunk to reduce the risk of theft or break-ins.
‘Do you really need that?’
Reggie asks me this question whenever we travel–even if it’s a two-day trip. It’s just so hard to decide what you will to want to wear on any given day, so I usually over pack. It doesn’t make much difference for a road trip, but flying is a different story. We wanted to keep it to one checked bag between us, and a carry-on each. For our Hawaiian trip, I made a list and started practice packing a month before. Packing for a warmer climate made it easier to squeeze in more “necessities.” I would put items in, think about whether I could manage without them, and was able to eliminate a few unnecessary things. I also reminded myself that if I was lacking anything, it could be purchased there. I actually did end up buying a pair of very stylish but comfortable Croc sandals on Maui because the bottoms of my feet were burning. My feet were in heaven for the rest of the trip!
What are you waiting for?
So if you’ve been dreaming about a trip, and for whatever reason haven’t taken that leap to bring your dream to fruition, now is the time for action. Dreaming is the first step. Unless you open that dream jar, act on your fantasy, and make it a priority, it will stay a dream and fade away. Once we decided to make travel a part of our lives, I thought it would be nice to document our travels in a blog with prose and pictures. Did I have any idea how to write a blog, or if I could even put words on paper? Hell no! But I came up with a great name, “VagaBonnins,” opened a WordPress account, and just did it!
I haven’t been very prolific yet—I’ve written only two blog posts—but it’s a start. So what’s next? I’m happy to say that we are in the very early planning stages of a trip to England, Paris, and Amsterdam for this coming August. Once again, Reggie is searching for the best deals for flights and accommodations. Another dream has left the jar and taken flight, so I’d better start practice packing now!
You can read more about Gloria & Reggie’s adventures at http://vagabonnins.com/
I met my man when he was 50 and we married three years later when I reached my own half-century. Between us we have five amazing children – he has two boys and I have three girls, all now in their 20s. We had a great life in the UK. We both had good jobs, the kids all did well at school and college and were on a trajectory to fly into their own lives after University and professional training. So, you might think, what on earth did we want to change things for?
The sunshine. Pure and simple. I’m a proud Englishwoman, but boy does it rain. And somewhere in my DNA was a little voice calling me southwards, where the skies are blue and I don’t have to hibernate from November to March. Luckily for me Julian felt the same – in his case the call of the mountains for skiing in winter. The kids no longer needed us to be there in the same way so why not see what we could find while we were still young enough to really enjoy it?
We started exploring in 2011 when we took my little red sports car for a holiday in the Pyrenees, starting in San Sebastian, crisscrossing the peaks as far as Foix to the East then returning to Bilbao. I speak Spanish so the logical place to settle was on the Spanish side, but who’s following logic when you are looking for a home?
The rolling countryside around Carcassonne and Mirepoix in French Cathar Country captured our hearts. Panoramic views of the high mountains, medieval cities, vineyards soaking up the sun. We were entranced. We carried on researching, but nothing was quite the same – the high Pyrenees were just too high; the Black Mountains were too wet; the rest of the Languedoc down to the coast was too dry and windy. Starting to feel a bit like Goldilocks, we came back to the low Ariege and realised that for us, it was just right.
And so began a fact-finding mission to see if we could afford the kind of house we wanted. My dream for many years had been to set up a Wellness Centre in the UK, offering a range of complementary therapies, but importantly just a place for people to stop. To rest. To be. For one reason or another, it was never the right time, but this now was my opportunity. We wanted a small house for us, with gites for our guests and workspace for the therapists.
Julian is an ace organiser, and he had set up for us to meet an estate agent in Mirepoix. She threw herself into the task of finding us a place and spent all of Saturday showing us fantastic properties from mountainside chalets to fourteen-bedroom estates. But nothing was saying yes. As we looked at these remote houses we saw why. We wanted to be part of a French community, not in glorious isolation in the countryside. She had one property left for us to see. Not at all where we wanted to be, not at all the kind of property we asked for. But she persuaded us it was worth it.
Have you ever experienced walking into a house and knowing it was going to be yours? Well, that’s exactly what happened. Within five minutes, our fact-finding mission had turned into a ‘lets make an offer’ conversation. A year early. Not at all what we had in mind. More than we wanted to spend. Oops. But we made the offer anyway and after the usual to-and-fro we had an agreement.
The Gods of French Planning Permission intervened, and it took that whole year to get the sale finalised. I learned more about French law in that time than I ever expected to need to know. My rudimentary language skills got stretched to the limit and I now have septic tank vocabulary to match the best French builder. Until finally, in April 2016 we came over to get the keys.
One of the joys of those early months was what we came to call ‘indoor camping’. We brought over only the bare essentials of clothes and home comforts, and most of the car was packed with tools for the renovation. I made supper the first night using a Stanley knife as I didn’t have proper utensils and we opened the wine with an actual screw and pliers. It was idyllic. For two people meeting later-in-life, it was just like starting out as newly-weds with nothing. Making do and having fun.
The house was in great condition generally but to transform it into my Wellness Centre, it was going to need a bit of paint. Ten huge tubs of white emulsion to be precise. And interior scaffolding (the roof is 6m high in the main living area). And rolls and rolls of wallpaper. We added a wall or two and made some tweaks in the kitchen, but the main work was outside, creating a little paradise on the side of our mountain. And a vegetable garden that now grows monster pumpkins.
We’re at 600m and the view from our bedroom is of Mt Fourcat at 2000m. The little hill that is our regular walk goes to the height of Snowdon. Its big stuff here! There was an old tennis court in the garden that is the flattest areas for miles around, and we’ve transformed it into a three-roomed space with a gypsy caravan as my office, a tipi for group work and a fabulous day bed for relaxing and enjoying the views. The pool has had a makeover so we can use it year round and the pool house now has a yoga terrace.
To say we have landed on our feet in this community is the understatement of a lifetime. We have been welcomed by the village and feel so at home. We sing in the choir. We run a weekly ‘Franglais’ group where we teach each other our native languages. We take part in the village Cabaret in June (last year with our new Dutch friends we were Abba – white lycra and all). Our lovely octogenarian neighbour organises village group walks and picnics. If we had designed a life, we could have not done better than what we have found here.
And our children, I hear you ask, do they really not mind? We were advised by friends that we would actually develop a better relationship with our family than we had before, as when they come it is for a few days and not just the odd hour or two. They’re often here individually so we can devote more time to them than when we are a crowd. We still pop back reasonably regularly to visit, so no, they don’t mind. Free summer holidays. Free skiing. Great food and wine. They love it here too. And they love seeing us happy.
Our advice to anyone with a dream? Follow it as soon as you can. There is much to be recommended in living life to the full.
It’s hard to start any article written on the day I turn 60 without resorting to clichés and platitudes, so I thought I’d try a different approach. After spending a fair amount of time reflecting on life on a recent sojourn to Greece, I thought that I’d actualise some of those reflections and put myself on the casting sofa and attempt a few ‘Q&As to self’
Talking about Anita is something I have to do. I don’t want who she really was to be forgotten. People think of her in one way – a 60s muse, all that shit – but she was so much more than that. A really talented artist, a great actor, intelligent, funny, thoughtful, fearless… she truly didn’t give a fuck what anybody thought of her. I was desolate when she died. Until she got very ill, we spoke on the phone most days. I don’t want to sound sentimental or sappy, she’s worth more than that. She was so important to me.To be Keith’s moll was not necessarily her destiny at all. She was a really talented artistI don’t think we’d ever have become friends if it wasn’t for Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards, who became Pallenberg’s boyfriend after she dated another Rolling Stone, Brian Jones].
We weren’t naturally meant for each other, really, but because the boys were so close at the time, and spent so much time in the studio, it threw me and Anita together. We also took a lot of drugs.We had very different personalities. Anita was really sophisticated and elegant, all that, and she was very good for me on that level, as I was a bit hopeless. She would put me together, tell me what to wear, get me to look right. I’d give her books, and she’d like that. She was four years older than me – I was much more vulnerable than her. When I say she never cared what anyone said, thought or wrote about her, it wasn’t that she talked about it – it was almost if all that stuff didn’t exist. I was always so jealous of her being able to do that.
Anita was really well educated. She spoke five languages, and was a really good artist in her own right. She could have done a lot of other things – to be Keith’s moll was not necessarily her destiny at all. Keith is a very old-fashioned macho guy, who when he’s in love with a woman, wants her to be completely focused on him. I’m not putting that down – it’s just how it is. Anita rebelled a bit, of course. She did Barbarella when he told her not to. She did Performance when he told her not to [laughs] – for obvious reasons! But I have to say that taking drugs does not help your work. Don’t get me wrong, we had some wonderful times – like I remember being with Anita, Mick and Keith, [rock photographer] Michael Cooper, [art dealer] Robert Fraser, going down to Stonehenge and taking lots of acid. That was wonderful. But drugs blocked her, as they did me.
Anita started doing all the things she could have done after stopping the drugs. This was many years later. She did a fashion degree [at Central Saint Martins, London, in the early 1990s]. She started to paint again and did some wonderful watercolours – I’ve got a lot here. She did botanical drawing classes, and she was a wonderful gardener. She liked nothing better than doing the gardens for her kids. And her children [with Keith Richards] are wonderful people – her son, Marlon, his wife, Lucy, and Angela.
They were incredibly kind to me after she died, phoning me up, really making sure I felt like part of the family. Children of famous people aren’t always like that, I tell you. They had very difficult times. We all did – Anita could be a difficult woman, and I don’t want to idealise her. But once she got clean, things were so much better.Her getting ill was terrible bad luck. She got diabetes first of all, and when she was diagnosed, her nose was in the air about it. “I’m going to cure myself with diet!” she said. If only I’d said, “Are you out of your fucking mind, you nitwit!” If you don’t treat diabetes with insulin, it goes to your whole nervous system. She’d get things her body should have been able to ward off. Then she had to give in, of course, and she found it hard to inject. To be clean and have to take a drug was tough for her.I do wonder how her life would have been different, of course, but come on, she had a wonderful life.
I miss calling her up about a lyric, and her always saying something brilliant. I miss her more than I can tell you. Every morning, when I wake up, I read a poem that makes me think about her, Sara Teasdale’s There Will Be Stars. It speaks to me so much about her [reads]: “There will be stars over the place forever, though the house we loved and the street we loved are lost… there will be stars forever, while we sleep.” That’s Anita to me.
Somewhere between the main course and dessert at a dinner party, I became aware of a colossal chasm in the way my generation and my parents’ generation perceive sexual harassment. It was during a recent trip to my parents’ home in rural Warwickshire, England, that I found myself embroiled in conversations about sexual harassment and sexual correctness with women over the age of 50.