Tag Archives: Group Travel

Meeting Up

As described in our last post, Cheryl and I are looking at our options for finding or building a community to live in.  While working on that, we’ve made some progress in more limited community aspirations.  Here’s one of them.

Last year Cheryl and I decided to form a local Meetup.

Meetup.com claims to be “the world’s largest network of local groups.”  As the company advertises, “Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face.”  (Meetup’s mission is to “revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize.”)

A beach bar at Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic became our Meetup emblem

A beach bar at Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic became our Meetup emblem

Paul had been attending Meetups related to his profession for several years.  Last year, we decided to investigate groups more in line with our hobbies, travel, and retirement plans  Since then we’ve joined about ten communities related to travel, travel writing, outdoor activities, photography, foreign languages, and small-business networking – in fact, so many that we have yet to actually meet with some of them.

There was one topic we had trouble finding, and that was the theme of creative retirement around which this blog is centered: “adventurous financial independence without waiting for a net worth of two million dollars.”  We didn’t have a lot of friends who wanted to investigate these kinds of ideas so we decided to form a local Meetup for just that purpose.

A year and a bit later, with very little direct publicity, our Meetup has over 100 on its mailing list, and – pretty much every month – some 15 to 20 of them get together in an informal venue for presentations and discussion.  We’ve covered topics such as Collaborative Housing, Financial Independence, Life Transitions, Making Travel Pay, Financing a Travel Lifestyle, Planning a Round-the-World Trip, and various other travel secrets.  In addition there have been social nights and photo nights with no set agenda.

Our AirBnB evening was at an official accommodation

Our AirBnB evening was at an official accommodation

Meetup.com has been a helpful platform for organizing, advertising, and managing these events.  By means of a suggested $5 donation at a member’s first meeting of the year, we have covered all expenses, including site fees, with a small contingency fund carried forward.

Along the way, we made several discoveries.  One thing we learned was that most of our peers were not familiar with Meetup.com.  Many of our new members had never joined a meetup prior to ours.  As such, they are sometimes hesitant in coming out to their first event.  We’ve found that pre-screening new member profiles and requiring pictures helps put people at ease.  (Before we started pre-screening, we did have one or two incidents involving inappropriate spam from new members.)

Another surprise was how far people were willing to drive to attend a meeting.  We’ve had participants from as far away as a 90-minute drive – and return the next time!  For Cheryl and me, a 90-minute drive usually leaves us scanning AirBnB for overnight accommodation.  There is clearly a real hunger for this kind of face-to-face connection.

Writer Darlene Foster introduced members to the joys of travel blogging

Writer Darlene Foster introduced members to the joys of travel blogging

The most pleasing discovery was how well people fit together.  Our Meetup members coming together around a common theme seem to feel relatively at home, and open up quickly.  Many of our meetings have the flavour of old friends coming together, even when half the participants are first-timers.  We’ve been able to schedule events with no agenda and expect that good conversation will develop.

Of course, it takes some effort on our part to make sure new people feel welcome, and are introduced to others when they arrive.  We also make sure that everyone has name tags – a helpful icebreaker.  A realistic program and agenda helps manage expectations.

Thankfully, we’ve had several members offer to host meetings.  Most of our events have taken place in private homes, or sometimes in apartment common rooms – although we have rented rooms for larger events.  As the number of members continues to increase, we expect to investigate other venues such as area restaurant meeting rooms.  We know of some that only have a $5 minimum per person for such uses.  For now, we can usually squeeze 18 or 20 into most of the living rooms in the area, even if some of us are on the floor.

Even more important, most of our presenters are “home grown”.  While we have brought in outside experts for some topics, many have been ably handled by members.  Often we’ll have two shorter presentations in one evening.  We’ve attracted an eclectic mix of people in various stages along the retirement path, and many of them have complementary skills or learning that they are willing and able to share.

One of our speakers described a tiring retirement project

One speaker described a tiring project

For our minimal troubles, we’ve met a collection of interesting people – and get together with some of them on a regular basis.  We’ve learned some very helpful information about traveling cheaply and making money on the Internet.  We’ve had a chance to reflect on some of the deeper issues of ageing and retirement.  We have a sense that we’ve helped others expand their retirement horizons.  All at very low cost, and with a good helping of fun.  In the future, we envision  joint travel opportunities, and maybe some long term friendships.

Starting a Meetup was definitely a good idea.  We’d definitely recommend joining one or two – or a dozen – and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, then why not start your own?

Meetup:  “using the Internet to get off the Internet.”

Let us know how it goes.

Why Travel Alone?

Part 2:

(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.

Les Baux-de-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur

Les Baux-de-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur

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?

En route to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur

En route to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

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.