(In our previous post, a week of accumulated travel gotchas had left us pondering whether we had it in us to be the eponymous authors of a “No Pension Will Travel” blog. Read Part 1 here.)
The rain didn’t let up for the next two or three days. The tour’s biking was shortened the first day, and canceled on the second when the black downpour was lit up by lightning and drowned out by thunder rolling across the Camargue. We squinted through fogged-up windows as the barge eased its way up the rising waters of the canal, and we listened to our guide extol the beauties of a seaside town we might never see.
By the third day, we’d developed some perspective. I think the sun that broke through during the afternoon leg of our cycling made a shining contribution. The biggest factor was that, for the past few days, we’d been part of a group of twenty-odd travelers – in the same boat, so to speak. We’d had people we could talk to besides each other, some only in halting German or Italian, but many in English. Our sense of isolation had evaporated like the puddles in the afternoon sun.
In my single twenties, I’d been content to travel solo in Brazil or Germany. Likewise Cheryl with a girlfriend in Quebec or Maui. In our thirties, we’d reveled in multi-week road trips around Australia. In our forties, we’d loved our six-month family sabbatical on the back roads of Costa Rica with our two young boys. Most of these trips had involved significant linguistic challenges, and we’d risen to them admirably. We’d looked forward to more of the same in our retirement travel plans: learning one language after another, and hobnobbing with the “locals”.
However, while in Costa Rica, we had developed a sense that there was a certain isolation born of operating in a linguistic and cultural milieu in which we were only so-so competent. We’d even ruled out the possibility of full-time overseas retirement in Latin America. The potential isolation had swayed us.
We must have guessed our travel requirements were changing. This was our second bike trip in Europe and we’d tried both times to enroll a few cycling friends to join us – without success. In talking it over now, we realized how important our need for camaraderie had become.
We identified a few other travel discoveries.
We resolved to schedule “down days” while traveling. On a three-week vacation, it’s tempting not to want to waste a single day “doing nothing”. However, this kind of travel is demanding. It’s much more work than working. Trying to find one’s way around strange cities, attempting to be understood in one language after another, these tax the mind and the body. A day off is both earned and needed. It allows a different awareness – a time to integrate the deluge of new experiences – an opportunity for unexpected connections, like unexpected sunshine, to appear unbidden. Why not ensure we spend these breaks in an environment conducive to rest and reflection?
We learned, again, that much as we still love each other after thirty great years of marriage, we are not and cannot be all things to each other. Traveling as a solo couple through a non-English speaking country, we can put unrealistic expectations on each other to relieve the sense of isolation. When this leads to the occasional meltdown, it helps not to take it personally.
It’s our desire to engage some travel companions that will be a driver for some of our investigations. How can we travel more in small intimate groups, especially since recruiting from among our current circles has turned out harder than expected? Are there better ways to get a group of us traveling together? Do we need to find local clubs with a mandate for group travel? Are there ways to travel in small groups and stay in touch with the people we meet afterward? Can meeting new people this way also help our quest for new communities as we retire: countering the diminishing connection with our children, leaving our current employment circles, moving away from our current neighbourhood? We hope to answer these questions in the next couple of years.
We’d love to hear from you on this subject.
A couple of group travel options we’ve had some experience with:
- G Adventures – the great adventures people: we’ve done one trip with them, sailing the Greek Islands out of Santorini. We will no doubt do more. We have friends who’ve done several.
- Bike Tours Direct – One-Stop Resource for Bike Tours Worldwide: we’ve done two great European bike tours with them, and are already planning our third. Good service, great selection! Girolibero, the company running our Provence tour this year did an admirable job of mitigating the negative effects of some challenging weather conditions – hats off to them!
Two options we’ve not yet investigated:
- Odyssey Treks – creating local friendships through adventure travel.
- Probus Worldwide – activity clubs for active retirees. A group of 11 from a single Probus club was riding with us on the Provence bike tour.