A lot of people say they want to travel when they retire. It almost seems as if travel is a prerequisite for a fulfilling retirement, like it’s part of the package of the successful middle-class retirement lifestyle.
I’ve been to Costa Rica and Ecuador, people tell me, walked the El Camino de Santiago, and chartered a river boat down the Rhine. Where have you been?
And I mumble in return, Uh, I was in New Jersey last weekend.
I admit that I don’t really like to travel all that much. And when I do travel I mostly stay close to home.
Does that make me a failure at retirement? Do people feel sorry for me, because I can’t afford to travel, or don’t have the imagination or the curiosity to want to visit strange, foreign lands?
For one thing, I do not like to fly. There’s getting to the airport. Then the crowds. I don’t like being herded through security and corralled into a narrow aluminum tube. You squeeze into a narrow seat, and a stranger guns the engines and you start trundling down a runway, hoping the heavier-than-air machine will actually lift off the ground before it smashes against the fence at the end of the pavement.
No, I don’t like to fly. And when I do, I pop a couple of pills, taking advantage of a little psychological aid called Lorazepam. Some people take Xanax instead. I wonder … do you rely on a mood-altering drug when you fly, and does it help ease anxiety?
Honestly, I don’t really like to drive either — dealing with the truckers, the speeders, the lane-changers and tailgaters. And then the hours and hours of sheer boredom as you sit there staring out the windshield at the ribbon of road ahead of you.
All of this is worth it if you really, really want to be where you’re going. And I do confess I’m ready to put up with the inconvenience of traveling when the weather gets cold in January, and the sun has disappeared, and my fingers are cracking from the cold, dry air — and I just have to find a warm, tropical environment to bask in for a little while. I usually drive to Florida, where I take respite in the sun and the moist air for two or three weeks. A few times, I’ve bitten the bullet and stepped into an airplane for a flight to California or Arizona. Sometimes you just need a change of pace. And an airplane does get you there faster.
But traveling to Europe or Asia or South America. Why? They don’t even speak English there!
Seriously, when I was younger and more adaptable, I traveled to Europe several times. I spent a summer in college bumming around Europe — Spain, Italy, France, Germany, England and Ireland. But that was when I didn’t mind sharing a bathroom with random strangers, and it didn’t phase me to arrive in a city and not know where I’d be sleeping that night. I didn’t mind struggling to communicate with people in a different language. In fact, I enjoyed unpacking my high-school French to see if it would work in the real world.
And I do remember, later on, vacationing for two weeks in France with my wife. By the end of our stay, in Paris and beyond, and after a couple of weeks of practice, we could actually hold something that resembled a conversation with real, French-speaking people.
But now? It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken any French, and I only remember a few words, and the prospect of struggling through the language while impatient French people roll their eyes just seems like an unecessary annoyance.
And forget about trying to navigate a vacation to Eastern Europe, South America or Asia, where I have no idea what the language is all about. Yes, some people speak English. But mostly it’s the people who deal with American tourists, and it’s their job to talk to you. To me that seems artificial. You get the tourist experience, but not the experience of the people who actually live there. Not to mention the fact that you don’t know what they’re saying behind your back!
Besides, being a tourist doesn’t appeal to me. You stand around and watch things. You go somewhere else and watch more things. Then you go back to your hotel (or cruise ship, but don’t get me started on cruise ships!) and bed down in a generically furnished room.
I once proposed to my wife that after she retires we could take a trip around the world — but only go to countries where they speak English. We’d go to England and Ireland, Israel, South Africa, India, Hong Kong, Australia. I thought it might be fun. And I wanted to prove to myself that the world is actually round. But my wife scoffed at the idea. She wasn’t interested … and probably thought I wasn’t being serious anyway.
To retirees who like to travel, I say more power to you. I admire your sense of adventure. But as for the rest of us, we shouldn’t feel that we’re missing something by not liking to travel. We shouldn’t feel that we’re somehow cheating our retirement years. Travel is one thing to do in retirement; but it’s not the only thing, and it’s not something we should feel required to “check off” in order to fulfill our retirement dreams.
Besides, I say there’s plenty to see in the world, even if you never travel more than a couple of hundred miles from home. For me, I can go to Boston and Cape Cod, to Vermont and New Hampshire, to New York City and the Hamptons, to Pennsylvania and the Jersey Shore and Washington DC. We’ve got the mountains and the beach, the city and the country, and all the cultural enrichments anyone could possibly want.