When people ask me how baby boomer travel is different from other travel styles, my answer is always this: we want to travel in comfort. Gone are the days when we were content to lug a backpack through the city streets looking for a cheap hotel. These days, we want to get there and back without putting ourselves through hell.
“Travel in comfort” can mean many things, though. For some, it means flying first-class and taking a limo to a five-star hotel. Unfortunately, not many of us can afford to go in that kind of style. But there are ways to enjoy the kind of comfort baby boomers want without going all-out and breaking the budget. Here are 10 tips:
Take the easy flight
The biggest change I’ve made in my travel style in recent years is in selecting the flights I take. If possible, I choose a late morning or afternoon flight so I don’t have to drag myself out of bed at 5 a.m. to hustle out to the airport. These early-morning flights may get you there earlier, but they make for a long, long day. And that fatigue can haunt you for a couple of days.
Secondly, these days I will pay extra for a non-stop flight. Flying is an ordeal, and having to get off the plane, wander through a strange airport and go through the whole boarding process again makes it even worse. That goes double if the airport you’re connecting in decides to put you through security screening again – wasn’t the first time enough? And don’t be fooled: a “direct” flight is not the same as a non-stop flight. It just means the flight number doesn’t change while you’re boarding your second or third plane.
Stretch your legs
People are getting bigger these days – so the airlines are making the seats smaller. That means spending several hours crammed into a square metre of space for most of us. We could get ourselves a bigger seat by flying first class – if we had a couple of thousand dollars to spare. But failing that, there are a couple of ways to make ourselves a bit more comfortable.
You can choose a seat in one of the exit rows, if you’re fit enough to pop the exit door in case of an emergency. These seats have extra leg room, and in most cases they don’t cost more. If you do have a little money to spend, you can opt for a “premium economy” seat that’s a bit roomier (different airlines have different names for them). But the smartest strategy is to check in online as early as you can, and reserve your seat before the good ones are all taken. That way, you can be sitting on the aisle, or in a seat with extra leg room, while others get stuck with the middle seat. To make the best choice, visit SeatGuru and type in your flight number to see a diagram of the plane.
Get the right room
Hotels can be a real haven of comfort – or not. I’ve had both kinds, and these days I’m becoming very fond of the former. You can ensure a comfortable stay by booking an expensive hotel — but again, we can’t all do that. However, you can get the same kind of care at less expensive hotels if you shop carefully.
When you’re choosing your hotel through an online booking site, click the little link that says “room information”, or something similar. It reveals a list of the amenities in the room, like a safe, flat-screen TV, premium bedding, designer toiletries, and blackout curtains. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, try the hotel’s website; it usually has more details. Finally, check Tripadvisor for reviews from travellers who’ve stayed there; they can warn you of any problems that could spoil your stay.
Find some peace and quiet
Even if the room is a Garden of Eden, you still need to get a night’s sleep. And that’s pretty difficult if there are car horns honking in the street below at 5 a.m., or people playing loud music in the bar downstairs till 2. Again, check Tripadvisor for warnings about this kind of thing. If there is a problem and you still want to stay at the hotel, request a room off the street, or away from the bar. If all else fails, bring along some earplugs.
Seek the light
I don’t know about you, but I don’t read in poor light as well as I used to. And some hotels, especially older ones, don’t put an adequate reading lamp beside the bed. This is a hard one to anticipate, since it’s not the kind of thing the hotel listings tend to mention. So if you’re concerned, think about bringing a portable reading light; you can get compact ones that clamp onto a headboard. Or, load your reading material onto your digital device, which supplies its own light.
Take a cab
I’m a big fan of walking, but these days, even I find that my legs get sore after tramping all over a foreign city. Sometimes it just makes more sense to hop the transit, or take a taxi. It costs a little more – but not that much more over the course of a short stay. And it can end up saving you a lot of steps, since you’re less likely to get lost and spend a half-hour walking in the wrong direction. (Hint: find out what average taxi rates are in the city you’re visiting, to avoid getting ripped off.)
Take a tour
Planning and budgeting for a big trip can be just as tiring as taking one. One way to put the whole thing on cruise control is to take an organized tour. The tour company has already done the research, booked the hotels, and arranged planes and coaches to get you where you’re going. All you have to do is pick the tour you want, pay the bill and show up. Most tour companies use reputable, well-equipped hotels. But if you want extra comfort, choose a luxury tour.
Be good to your feet
Speaking of walking, one of the most important ways to travel in comfort is to bring the right shoes. If you don’t have a good pair of walking shoes, invest in one. And don’t embark on a trip until you’ve broken them in by putting a good few kilometres on them. It only takes a few hours to cause a blister if your shoes don’t fit properly. These days, I always bring a pair of sneakers as a backup in case I have foot problems. Some cushion pads, antiseptic ointment and band-aids are a good idea, too.
Take it easy
If you’re like me, you want to see everything in the places you visit – and cram it all into a few days. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned the value of taking a day off and just strolling the neighbourhood. Or sleeping in a bit, and lingering over brunch in that restaurant on the town square. Nothing raises your comfort level like just taking it slow. And it can pay dividends: very often you see things you’d miss if you were hurrying by.
Finally, if you don’t already, give yourself the odd little gift. If you’re in an inexpensive part of the world, try a night or two in a top-end hotel. Or take a meal in a famous restaurant, just once: they’re often more affordable at lunch than at dinner. I like to find a classic-looking coffee house and treat myself to a good cup of java and a delicious pastry – a small treat, but I enjoy it. Most of us travel on a budget, true. But adding a little extravagance gives the whole trip a comfortable glow.
There’s 10 tips on how to travel in comfort. If you’re a baby boomer traveller, I’m sure a few of them will strike a chord with you. At our age, travel takes a little heavier toll than it used to. So anything we can do to make it a bit more comfortable will also make it a bit more rewarding. And maybe we’ll be travelling boomers a little longer.
I hope this post gave you some ideas that will help you travel in comfort. And if you have any tips or tricks of your own, leave a comment and share them with us. We can use all the comfort we can get.