Hints for Senior International Travel

Jul 13th, 2011 | By James E Becker | Category: Senior Travel

Many seniors will be traveling this summer and fall.  This senior citizen will be too. I love to meet people.  I get that from my 92 year old mother who, like Will Rogers, “never met a man she didn’t like.”  She can get along with just about everyone and interact asking good questions.  Problem is…she might even ask some not so good questions like, “How much money do you earn?”

When abroad, do not avoid contact with the natives.  It is helpful to learn a little of their language and use it.  For more information on learning another language, take a look at my 14 language websites.  It might be fun for you just to “play around” with several languages, as one is never too old to learn another language.  Learn how to say Hello, Goodbye, Thank you, Please, My name is, Do you speak English, Where is the bathroom and a few more.  Write them down on a small card and carry it with you.

Make it a point to meet people, regardless of the language barriers. You will find that some of your most memorable experiences abroad will be associated with folks you meet there. The cultural wall between us is only about a foot-and-a-half high: easy to step over with just a little effort.   Use as good an approximation of their language as you can, and listen intently to their broken English — share freely of yourself and take freely what they’re willing to share with you. Otherwise, it’s all just a bunch of pretty photos. Try repeating what you hear the locals say and the way they say it. That’s a good starter. And then…

Do: Get used to local currency
Every country has its own standard, and getting used to the currency of the country you are in is a big step towards understanding the local mindset. The British pound = $$  the Euro = $$? Etc. Some folks carry a small currency converter with them. (See Magellan or Travelsmith)

Do: Dress Well
Everyone can recognize an American tourist on the street, before she or he even opens their mouth. Our standard travel uniform is jeans or shorts, a t-shirt, sneakers, and a baseball cap on men; on women, it’s a short skirt, jeans, or shorts and a sleeveless top, along with a pair of sandals. I saw a guy once with a huge Texan hat smoking a cigar inside of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. I could have killed him.  That’s a good example of “the ugly American.”  They seem to be everywhere abroad.   Be a “good American and a considerate individual.”

Do: Pick up a small guide book, not a big one
There are some great guide books out there.  I’m partial to the Lonely Planet and Michelin books myself.  A good guide book gives you not only an idea of what to see and where it is, but background information about the culture, history, and language of the places you visit. The problem is, they’re huge.  You don’t want to carry that big heavy thing all over the world with you. Pick up one that you can easily carry in your pocket.  Barnes and Noble is loaded with them.

Do: Learn several useful phrases
One thing that contributes strongly to the poor image Americans (and to a great extent, Britons and Aussies too) have abroad is our relative ignorance of every language but English (and let’s face it, we’re no great shakes with English, either).  While you can’t be expected to learn the native language of every single country you ever visit, you can at least make an effort to pick up a few pleasantries.

Do: Try disposable underwear
One way to lighten your load as you travel is to take all your worst underwear with you — the ones with holes, sagging waistbands, etc. Don’t ever throw away old underwear if it’s at all still wearable and you plan to travel ever!  Instead, take it on your trip and, as it wears out completely, trash it. You were going to throw it away at home, anyway. Both Magellan and Travelsmith carry these products.

Do: Take the bus!
Take the bus or other public transportation whenever you can.  It’s a great way to get your bearings in a strange city and to see the sights, including a lot of points of interest that might not have made it into your guidebook. To be honest, this is a pretty good idea in the US, too.  It is a great way to interact with the locals, see the city, take a cheap ride and to enjoy the city via bus routes.  Besides, if you get lost, you can always take a taxi back to your hotel.

Do: Be creative
Travel is all about creativity, so always keep your eyes open for neat ways to deal with whatever a new culture throws at you. I recently read an article that stated…” Follow tour groups.” Whenever you happen across a tour group in museums and even on the street, adjust your path so that it just happens to coincide with the path the tour group is taking. You’ll get a little piece of history from someone who knows pretty well that they’re talking about. You don’t have to follow the entire tour, just take advantage of someone in a public space talking about whatever it is they’re showing off.

Hope these are of use to you. jeb



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