As I wrote in a recent post, I’m off to Ecuador in January to cross a big item off my bucket list: a visit to the Galapagos Islands. This was one of several options for using a Delta Air Lines voucher I’d been saving, and I chose it for a good reason. It’s a relatively strenuous trip, and I’d rather do it when I’m still young and fit enough to get the full experience. As well, there’s no telling when tourist pressure and climate change might restrict access to the islands themselves.
And that brings me to the subject of this post: if you’ve spent years dreaming of taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip, to Africa or the Galapagos or Antarctica, the time to take it is now. The world is changing, and so are you.
These days, the changes in the world around us are happening faster and faster, and for us boomers, the physical changes are accelerating too. Here’s a look at some of the reasons I think it’s better to strike while the iron is hot. I call it “Five reasons you should travel now”.
You’re not getting any younger
Research shows that while travel is a top retirement goal for baby boomers, most of the travel is actually done during the first 10 years after retirement. That’s partly because as you get older, physical ailments start to crop up, and it’s a lot harder to travel the world with a wonky knee or a heart condition.
So if you’re in or near your retirement years, don’t leave those bucket list trips too long, or you may never get to take them – at least, the way you want to. You might want to leave some big trips for the future, to give yourself something to look forward to. But make those the low-impact ones, like taking a Mediterranean cruise, or visiting your long-lost relatives in the old country.
The world’s climate is changing
The world is undergoing changes too, and they’re going to make a big difference to some of the places you might want to travel. Steadily warming global temperatures are causing major problems all over the globe. Island retreats like the Seychelles and the Maldives will be under water in the foreseeable future if sea levels continue to rise at current rates, and recent reports say cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha may one day become too hot to live in during the summer months.
There’s change happening in the cold parts of the world, too. On a cruise back in 2009, I witnessed the sad spectacle of glaciers in the Chilean fjords (seen here) disappearing before my eyes; they probably aren’t there today. The temperature rise has had other effects: Greenland is now warm enough to grow crops like strawberries and lettuce that could never survive there before. That may have its benefits, but the Greenland you see today is not the one most Greenlanders grew up in.
The crowds are getting bigger
Tourism is already a huge global business, and it’s only going to get bigger. The baby boomer generation is huge, and you know how we love to travel — four or five times a year, according to a study by AARP. As well, the newly affluent Chinese are starting to travel more, and when that giant wave hits, it may be hard to find any room at the inn.
The bottom line is: expect more competition from other tourists in future, wherever you go. Already, major attractions like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Acropolis in Athens are perpetually mobbed – will you have to take a number in 10 years? And more and more cruise ships are being launched, year after year, to ply the world’s oceans and rivers. In some ports they’re already lined up like bumper cars.
Western culture is taking over
Even if you come from North America, you don’t travel the world to see American culture. But increasingly, that’s what you see. Western culture is penetrating to the farthest corners of the earth. On my trip to Beijing last year, I was amazed to see how thoroughly people had adopted Western brands: Calvin Klein, Nike sneakers, Pizza Hut, Coke. Everywhere I looked, I saw one familiar face looking out at me. Mao? Nope – Colonel Sanders.
Almost universal access to the internet and satellite TV has created a kind of global village, at least where popular culture is concerned. It hasn’t brought world peace, but it has changed the way people live. Old customs have been lost in favour of the modern, Western way of life, and in many countries they exist only in shows for the tourists. In another 10 or 20 years, they may be considered ancient history.
The ground is always shifting
If you keep even a casual eye on world affairs, you know that despite the best intentions, stuff happens. Countries have quarrels, revolutions break out, wars are declared. And those can all turn a formerly friendly country into a no-go zone. Those of us over 50 can remember a time when Tehran was a hangout for backpackers and Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East. Nowadays, they’re seen as perilous destinations.
So if you want to go to some exotic location and there’s a hint of political strife down the road, best to go now while the going is good. You never know when it might get tougher. And if you want to see some famed religious site or natural wonder – like the Galapagos – see it before the administrators start worrying that the hordes of tourists are going to destroy it.
Those are my five reasons you should travel now rather than later. I’m taking my own advice by seeing the Galapagos this winter, and maybe Africa the next. And I’m going to Cuba one more time before the door is swung open and American tourists start streaming in: as I wrote here, this could be the last chance to see Castro’s Cuba, with all its beauty and its quirks.
Of course, it doesn’t take much to send baby boomers – and those who are a few years younger – off to see the world. But I’ve found there are always a few bucket list trips you put off because of the cost or the planning involved. Maybe it’s time to tick them off the list.