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/