Tag Archives: Travel

Younger Next Year

Paul is almost half-way through his first year on the Younger Next Year program.  Here’s his interim report…

We were headed out on a multi-day hiking “summer camp” with our outdoor association.  For reading, I had along a copy of “Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge.

There must be some magic in the book.  Despite reading admonitions like the following, I resolved there and then to start the program.

“If you thought there was no easy answers to getting Younger Next Year … um, you were right. It’s a torture. And it lasts the rest of your life.  Serious exercise, SIX DAYS A WEEK, until death. How about them apples? How in the world do we sell a single book? But here’s the funny thing. We sell a ton of them and have, from the beginning. And readers write these amazing letters ALL THE TIME. About how much they like their new lives. And new waist lines. And the look. And the book. Weird.”

Cover of "Younger Next Year: Live Strong,...

Cover via Amazon

My experience has been similar.

I wasn’t exactly a couch potato six months ago.  Despite being a nerdy non-physical kid, long before my 60s, I was a committed exerciser.  I had acquired a Concept 2 rowing machine, which I used almost daily.  I aimed for and generally achieved three to four hours of aerobic exercise a week, and supplemented that with another four to eight hours a week of hiking and biking in the summer.  Getting out more on weekends got easier after we’d joined an outdoor club the year before.

Still, all this activity hadn’t been enough to combat the effects of growing older on maintaining my weight.  From around 155 pounds in my 30s (down from 175), I’d crept up over the years, and was on track to enter my 60s at over 200 pounds.  In 2010, I’d discovered alternate day dieting (a variant of intermittent fasting), and just before Christmas of that year, got back to 155.  I blogged that journey elsewhere.

Staying in that region for the next couple of years proved challenging, but possible.

Then, last June, a friend recommended Younger Next Year.  He wasn’t on it himself, but had received strong recommendations from others crossing the six-decade threshold.

By mid-July I was reading the book in the tent at the summer camp.  The prescription was pretty simple:

"Snow Camp": our group passing scattered snow at one of the summits in July.

“Snow Camp”: our group passing scattered snow at one of the summits in July.

One other feature was the concept of a “kedge” – as Younger Next Year defines it, “a serious adventure trip with friends. Hike, surf, bike, ski, run a marathon – whatever turns you on, even if you’ve never done anything like this before (maybe especially if you haven’t)  and get training.”  At the summer camp, we had the opportunity to do more mountain hiking than I’d ever done before, it was the ideal way to kick off the program.  I actually screamed and kicked very little.  I just started – with several 15-mile mountain hikes – and didn’t stop.

One of the finer points of the exercise program is the need for at least two of the daily exercise routines to be strength training routines.  I had no good options at that time, so I decided to postpone that modification until the Fall.  Meanwhile, between hikes and bike rides, I cranked up my rowing program to a minimum of 45 minutes a day – about 10,000 meters at my rate.

I was soon looking for alternatives to rowing, especially during our travel season when I was so often away from my machine.  I can’t run for miles without causing knee problems due to fallen arches.  A good  alternative is hill running or stair climbing, which allows me to get more exercise in a shorter time. By using a heart monitor, as urged by the book, I determined that I could keep my heart rate in the target range by finding a good hill or stairway, and alternating trotting down with climbing up as fast as I could.  One advantage:  it’s much easier to find a hill than a rowing machine.  We have a great set of beach stairs nearby – over 300 steps with a vertical rise of 150 feet.

By the end of the summer, I’d fallen into a good rhythm, and seldom missed a day – and never two in a week.  It was now time to take on strength training.  A shoulder problem showed me the way.  I’d been struggling with some rotator cuff problems since a game of trampoline dodgeball in the Spring.  Massage and physiotherapy were slow in making a dint in the pain and flexibility challenges.  My family doctor suggested strengthening my upper back muscles, so I sensed some synergy here.

I signed up with a very good local personal fitness trainer, and had her design for me a set of

Before I signed up with the personal trainer, Cheryl and I tried one of her boot camps. At the top of the beach stairs.

Before I signed up with the personal trainer, Cheryl and I tried one of her boot camps. At the top of the beach stairs.

strength training exercises I could do with little or no equipment.  I wanted a routine that I could take with me on trips, and not tie us to destinations with fitness equipment.  PJ came up with a couple of good one-hour high-intensity workouts that involve a lot of plank work, as well as one-legged and asymmetrical arm exercises.  One of its virtues – if you can call it that – is that it’s high enough intensity that I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself or even think about it much until it’s all over.

I’m now two or three months into incorporating these workouts into my daily exercise routine three times a week.  The results were apparent quite quickly.  Within a couple of weeks, I was making progress on both form and repetitions.  The icing on the cake came at the Christmas party for Cheryl’s swim team.  When her swim coach showed up, it was the first time I’d seen her since last year’s party.  One of the first things she said was, “You look like you’ve been bulking up.”  So, in just two months, I’d put on enough muscle mass on my upper body to be noticeable to a trained professional.  Sweet!

It’s a bit early for hard evidence, but I’m also expecting this routine to help with the weight control.  As I’ve been adding muscle bulk, I haven’t been adding weight.  So, my waist size is back at its lowest point reached three years ago, even though now I’m tipping the scale in the low 160s.  For just under six feet, that seems reasonable.

Meanwhile, we’re planning our kedges for the New Year.  We have a number of multi-day bike and kayaking tours arranged for the year.  The most demanding will likely be a week of cycling in Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands, with far higher hills than we’re used to.  Despite the challenges of a more time-consuming job, and despite her younger years, Cheryl has been hot on my heals in implementing the program.  And she’s way out front with kedges, signing up for her first half marathon, her third sprint triathlon, and her first open-water 3000 meter swim race this year.

Looks like the views in Dalmatia will be worth the 1600' hill climbs. This is the island of Vis.  (Photo: Bike Tours Direct)

Looks like the views in Dalmatia will be worth the 1600′ hill climbs. This is the island of Vis. (Photo: Bike Tours Direct)

My family doctor thinks this is a great program.  The only problem, he says, is where do you find the time if you’re not retired?  I’m convinced, and the book has played a big role in this, that it’s a matter of not burying one’s head in the sand about ageing.

I’m off to climb the beach stairs now.  What about you?  Will you be younger next year?

By the same author:

Learning Languages for Fun, Travel & the Fountain of Youth

Apart from his native English ability, Paul’s profile lists professional working proficiency in Portuguese and German, limited proficiency in Spanish, and elementary in French and Italian.  Here he hints at how he acquired these other languages and why he doesn’t intend to stop there. Do you speak a second language?  Why not? According to Science Daily, “The majority of people in the world learn to speak more than one language during their lifetime.”  However, I don’t think native-born North Americans are pulling their weight.

English: A USSR stamp, 70th Birth Anniversary ...

English: A USSR stamp, 70th Birth Anniversary of Nelson Mandela. Date of issue: 18th July 1988. Designer: B. Ilyukhin. Michel catalogue number: 5853. 10 K. multicoloured. Portrait of Nelson Mandela (fighter for freedom of Africa). Русский: Марка СССР Н. Мандела (1988, ЦФА №5971). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Learning other languages – even just a nodding acquaintance – makes travel so much more rewarding.  Opening a conversation with a few words of the native language transforms us from tourist to traveler in the ears of the person we’re addressing.  According to a Czech proverb, “You live a new life for every new language you speak.”  Learning other languages may even be the key to peace and reconciliation.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart” – Nelson Mandela

At my age, I’m often tempted to say, “I’m too old for this.  Our sensitive period for language learning goes downhill after age seven!  On top of that, my hearing is going, and even understanding English is getting harder!”  You look at initiatives like “Fluent in 3 Months” or “Fluent Every Year” and say, “Yeah, but, those are young folks!” If that’s your excuse, perhaps it’s time to set it aside.  There may even be more at stake than getting around Paris, Venice, or Dubrovnik.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Every year, new studies come out showing that learning a second language is one of the best ways known to reduce or postpone age-related cognitive decline – even Alzheimer’s.  A recent study in Toronto suggests that learning a second language can delay the symptoms of that brain-wasting disease for years.  Lead neuroscientist, Dr. Schweizer, said that a second language appears to delay the onset of symptoms by four or five years.  “This is fantastic,” he said, adding that no existing medicine is that effective.  Perhaps only social dancing has a stronger effect, but not every senior is able to take up dancing. There’s also good news on the other side of the equation.  New research in neuroplasticity is showing that the brain continues to develop throughout our entire lives.  Books like Norman Doidge’s “The Brain that Changes Itself” offer remarkable and inspirational stories about this phenomenon.  While we seniors may have to adapt the way we use our brains in order to learn new languages, such adaptation is possible, and science continues to understand it better.  This excellent if lengthy article, “Memory Problems in Seniors and Learning a New Language”, offers some surprising advice based on recent research.

“How a child learned this was from hearing and using the constructions thousands of times before ever beginning their formal education.  The child associates images with the words and phrases – he can use grammar correctly because he heard and repeated correct grammar over and over again!  What an adult does, most unfortunately, is not associate images with words and phrases in which correct grammar and vocabulary is learned, but rather tries to remember words and phrases in the foreign language as an association with words and phrases in his native language.  He is constantly, and erroneously, associating the foreign language with his native one.  This short-circuits the second language learning!

This emphasis on how children learn language is a key one, especially now that we know that we retain a considerable amount of the child’s neuroplasticity all our lives.  Not only does learning a second language keep us young, but also it may be necessary to “think young” in order to learn that language.

Practicing German with Swiss cyclists in Brisighella, Italy

Practicing German with Swiss cyclists in Brisighella, Italy

I’ve taken that one step further.  From my own experience, I’ve concluded that to learn another language most efficiently, you need to become as much like a child as possible.  In a blog post a few years ago, I recounted my experience learning my first foreign language in my early twenties.  The principles I distilled pretty much sum up the way a young child comes at learning their first language.

  • Put something at stake that’s more important than looking good.
  • Cut off all escape routes.
  • Stop trying to translate everything.  Learn how to think in others’ terms.
  • Trust the “music of the language.”  Don’t let the words get in the way.
  • Unleash your natural mimic
  • Relax and have fun!  Enjoy the game!

Perhaps the reason we adults have trouble learning new languages has nothing to do with our ability to act like children.  Maybe it has more to do with our willingness.  It’s just not cool! Others are saying much the same thing.  A new initiative, called Velocity Language Learning, has adult participants wearing funny hats and playing silly games as part of their strategy for getting them back into that childlike state of wonder and learning.

The cofounder of Velocity Learning models a hat

The cofounder of Velocity Learning models a hat

There are so many Internet resources for learning languages, it’s overwhelming.  I listed a few in my earlier piece on “The Language Lab of Life.”  I’ll list a few more links at the end of this article.  My advice is to use those that give you the greatest freedom and incentive to free your inner child – and set her about learning that next language the way she learned her first.  She didn’t engage endless vocabulary drills, or consult translation dictionaries and grammar texts.  Instead, she was born into the pool, and it was sink or swim – and if she was lucky, the adults around her paid more attention to what she was trying to say than how many mistakes she made along the way. So, throw yourself in the pool.  Go join a Meetup for your target language, or try an ESL one or polyglot one where you may find others willing to trade their language for English conversation.  Leave a comment on this post and let us know what you’re doing, or what’s working for learning your new language.

Our AirBnB hosts in Paris helped our French!

Our AirBnB hosts in Paris helped our French!

My own project for the coming year is to move my Italian to the next level for a return trip to Italy.  Some elementary Croatian would also be helpful for the bike tour we’re doing out of Dubrovnik on that same trip.  Beyond that, who knows?  To paraphrase Sandra Martz, “When I am deaf, I shall learn Sign Language.” A few more resources:

I fear that projects like SIGMO or Google Translate will reduce the incentive to learn other languages.  What will keep us young then?

Living inside a Bucket List

Paul was reviewing his bucket list recently – I wonder what he’ll be up for next? – and wanted to share some of his observations.

Film poster for The Bucket List – Copyright 2007, Warner Bros. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Film poster for The Bucket List – Copyright 2007, Warner Bros. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Bucket list: a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.”  From the phrase “kick the bucket”, slang for “die”.  The origin of this term is obscure, but I’m sure it was around before it was popularized by the 2007 film The Bucket List with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

Despite the end-of-life reference, you don’t have to be at death’s door to benefit from a bucket list.  For this reason, some refer to the concept as a “Life List”.

I started mine three years ago, after some inner wisdom and a wise coach pointed me in that direction.  I’ve been reviewing it lately as Cheryl and I prioritize some upcoming travel goals.  Should we climb to Machu Picchu, explore the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, go on a safari in the African savannah of Botswana, visit Lithuania and meet with someone bearing my old family name, or take tango lessons in Argentina?  Next, that is.

Creating a life list has had a big impact on my life, on too many levels to relate.  This blog is one result, both direct & indirect.  Others are more elemental.

Venice is the place to be if learning Italian's on your list

Venice is the place to be if learning Italian’s on your list

At the time I created the list, I wrote the following:

My list grew slowly at first.  I didn’t want to clutter my list with things I thought I should want to do, but didn’t yearn for.  No “nice ideas”;  no “everyone should want this.”  I was careful to make sure everything I added met the requirement:  was this honestly something I would regret not doing?  A final indicator was a certain feeling of “Yes!” when something passed the test:  it had been on my unspoken list all along.  After a couple of weeks, my list had six items on it.  Two weeks later, it had grown almost sevenfold.

Of course, using the list has led to some adventures.  I finally flew in a fixed-wing glider, after watching yearningly from below for over 50 years.  It was a great experience, and I’m keeping it on the list for at least one more ride over the mountains on thermals.  (Once Cheryl’s forgotten about that fatal glider accident last summer.)  Climbing the Mayan pyramid at Cobá led to an interesting episode, which I chronicled in another post.

Committed now and waiting for the tow plane

Committed now and waiting for the tow plane

My list also enabled me to take action on some health items I’d been putting off for years.  Losing over 40 pounds in 2010 gave me a great sense of achievement and inspired several friends to achieve their own weight-loss goals.  I’m sure it also contributed to my overall health as nothing else has.

Creating a bucket list also gave me much clearer insight about where I wanted my life to go in general.  Although it wasn’t foreordained, more than half of the item on my list ended up travel related.  The name of this blog is no accident!

But the outcome both memorable and unexpected is the quality of experience that a “bucket day” brings me.  On several days when I’ve ticked off an item, the ticking itself took only an hour or two, but the whole day was infused with a kind of magic.  Three years later, I remember vividly the sense I had walking to the bus stop to my appointment with Item Number One.  The whole sky was electric, the trees alive, my own steps a mix of excitement and trepidation.  In some ways, the event itself was anticlimactic.  While bungee-jumping is not on my bucket list – never say never – I can imagine that the split-second of commitment, the instant between starting to step forward and actually becoming airborne may be the moment one remembers best.

Item Number 5 - San Miniato al Monte, near Florence

Item Number 5 – San Miniato al Monte, near Florence

On a recent trip to Florence, Italy, I had a chance to tick off another item.  I had always wanted to visit the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte and ask for the keys to the church.  The reasons were somewhat obscure, and Cheryl would often rib me about my obsession.  Still, on a fine September day, we set out to make the ascent to the hilltop site overlooking Florence – Firenze in Italian.  As seemed befitting, I suggested we make the entire trip by foot, which had it take all day.  I remember that day like yesterday: walking along the banks of the River Arno on a Sunday morning while scores of fishermen relaxed on the grassy banks, encountering a colorful fund-raising run near the Piazzale Michelangelo, catching ever more breathtaking views of Firenze as we climbed the hill towards the Basilica.  The whole day was lit up, and remains my favourite day of our whole trip to Italy.  Even Cheryl thinks it was one of the best.

Once again, the moment of completion faded into relative obscurity.  Upon reaching the church, I located the first official I could find – the Olivetan friar who was manning the gift store – went up to him, showed him my ID, and asked in my best Italian, “Per favore, le chiavi?”  May I have the keys, please?  I earned nothing more than a bemused look from the friar, but what cared I?  My mission was complete!  Item Number Five:  Tick!

By that time, I had learned that ticking off the item on your bucket list isn’t the real juice.  It’s how life shifts the moment you add to the list, with the intention to make real, something you’ve only been dreaming about.

View over Florence from San Miniato al Monte

View over Florence from San Miniato al Monte

Ready to create your own bucket list?  Here are some resources to get you started:

  • One inspiring list-maker was John Goddard, who died this year at the age of 89.  Known as the “real Indiana Jones”, at age 15, he created a list of 127 far-reaching goals, and spent the rest of his life achieving a great many of them.
  • The end of another day of magic

    The end of another day of magic

    There are now several sites devote to publishing and sharing your life list – please let us know what you think if you try any of them:

And some contrary positions that may help you avoid some of the pitfalls.  I think it’s all in how you hold your list:

 

Back from Costa Rica, into the “Real World”

In the previous two posts, we talked a little about why and how we came to spend half a year in Costa Rica with our two boys, aged nine and 12, and touched on the irreplaceable education we all four acquired from this experience.  Here Paul talks about the aftermath.

All good things must end.

We ran out of money in Costa Rica perhaps ten days earlier than we’d planned, and so booked our travel back home around the time of the first few showers of the impending rainy season.  Including our air fare, as well as various tours and admissions, our average cost of living for the entire six months was about half of what it would have been had we stayed home.  Since we’d canceled our lease and put everything in storage, we had few other expenses during that time.  However, there was other financial fallout.

We spent one morning "helping" make caramelized sugar the old-fashioned way

We spent one morning “helping” make caramelized sugar the old-fashioned way

We quickly rented a new home, but before we’d even had the storage containers delivered, we learned that our company had suffered a major crisis in recent days.  My partners had taken the unprecedented step of laying almost everyone off – including themselves, Cheryl and me.  So there we were with a new lease and no jobs.  I won’t say it was easy to recover, but things did work out.  Cheryl, who had been the work-at-home Mom, eventually found a full-time job outside, and she still works there ten years later.  I picked up the slack at my former company by sub-contracting there part time, allowing me to take on more of the at-home parenting role for the next few years.  The company never fully recovered and we wound it down a few years later.

We had originally thought we might buy a house again, but the experience of being mortgage-free – together with our employment uncertainty – had us defer the purchase.  By the time our finances looked better, the real estate market looked overpriced and we stayed out.  We still rent – not a bad thing, as it turned out.

Packing up after our whitewater rafting adventure

Packing up after our whitewater rafting adventure

Despite all this, Cheryl and I never wavered.  This was one of the best things we ever did for our kids.

Still, I thought I’d best verify this again, and so I asked our two boys, now in their 20s, how they would sum up their experience.  (They had not yet read the earlier blog posts.)

Al, the younger, said emphatically that it was the best thing we’d ever done as a family.  It wasn’t just all those exciting adventures, including all those new animals he “never knew even existed.”  Most important, he said, was just that “time out of time”, when he and the rest of us could escape from the relentless schedule of everyday life, and for a few months, follow our spirits and our curiosity.

Dennis, who was still 11 when we were planning the trip, even wrote me something:

New friends visiting at our Costa Rican country house

New friends visiting at our Costa Rican country house

I remember vividly the day my parents told us we would be moving to Costa Rica for six months.  We were walking through our favourite city park when they dropped the bombshell on us.  I remember being pretty upset at first, especially when they said I couldn’t bring my Game Boy.  Fast forward 13 years later, and I can safely say I have absolutely no regrets regarding the trip.  I got to be surrounded by warm weather, awesome animals, cheap delicious food, and learn the Spanish language.  We lived on a farm, in an apartment, in the house of a Costa Rican family, in hotels, motels, inns on the mountain, bungalows by the beach, you name it.  I have dozens of interesting stories to tell from that six-month period, and it was definitely an experience I hope to repeat someday with my own kids.

Whew!  (I hope he still says that after he sees the picture in Part 2.)

Yes, it was worth it.  If you are reading this, and considering creating your own family adventure, and holding back … just go for it.

The beach at Manuel Antonio Park is busier than most we saw - and that means spunky monkeys!

The beach at Manuel Antonio Park is busier than most we saw – and that means spunky monkeys!

After I’d returned from Costa Rica, with the failing fortunes of our business partnership, I found myself years later confiding in one of my favourite career counselors.  I had the impression that my peers in the high tech industry looked askance at me because I had other interests – because I was willing to put my job on hold for half a year to go traveling with my family.  She told me that, in her experience, many parents work their whole lives, hoping “one day” to be able to do what Cheryl and I had done … and many never do.  It was good hear her acknowledgment.  Since that time, even some of my peers have admitted to taking inspiration from what our family did.  Some have admitted to envy.  Some have even compared me to the

A cemetery in San José, Costa Rica

A cemetery in San José, Costa Rica

fabled Mexican fisherman in this story.

I was reminded again of my priorities and Cheryl’s when I read “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, a short review of a book by the same name.  The author, a palliative nurse who worked with the terminally ill, had made a short list of the things she heard most frequently from those who were running out of time:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • Amazing butterflies seemed to be everywhere

    Amazing butterflies seemed to be everywhere

    I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Referring to the second point, she went on, “They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.”

During our family’s six month adventure in Costa Rica, we truly experienced each other’s companionship, our children’s youth – and, truth be known – our own.

What do you want to experience?  What will you miss if you don’t?

Travel the World without a Passport

In our previous post, we shared some of our experience staying overseas with Servas and Couchsurfing hosts.  This week, it’s our turn to host.

When Henry David Thoreau wrote that he had “traveled a good deal in Concord”, we don’t think he had his profile listed on Couchsurfing.org.  However, we’ve been able to experience some of the world’s wonder simply by offering hospitality and good cheer to wandering strangers.

We started by hosting a Couchsurfer who we knew from years back

Playing it safe: we started by hosting a Couchsurfer who we knew from years back

We started hosting with a listing in the Servas directory, and more recently added a Couchsurfing profile to our visibility.  In both cases, we hosted before traveling with these networks, but this is not required.  In fact, there is no explicit tie-in between hosting and traveling – save for conscience.

We felt confident offering short-term accommodation to visitors with Servas, knowing that they had supplied references and been interviewed to get their official letter of introduction.  As we gained hosting experience and became comfortable with the concept, adding couchsurfers to our guest list was not much of a stretch.  In place of references and interviews, Couchsurfing profiles have verification, online reviews, and “vouching”.

Do Couchsurfing hosts need to offer a magnificant guest suite as our recent hosts in Provence did?  No, as the name implies, even a couch will do.  Servas listings in Europe often indicate that a sleeping sheet or bag is required.  Our own offering is a little rustic.  We try to make it up by being informed guides and scintillating conversationalists.  We ‘d rather our visitors remember our kindness and wit than the ridge down the middle of the fold-out bed.

Relaxing after a local hike with a young visitor from Spain

Relaxing after a local hike with a young visitor from Spain

We’ve found the average age of travelers we’ve hosted to be younger than the hosts we’ve stayed with.  This is partly by design:  we often choose older hosts.  And youth is a time to “seek one’s fortune.”  For some of the oldest hosts we’ve met, their traveling days are behind them.  Hosting is a way to stay in the game, both by exposure to new people from new cultures, and by sharing past travel experiences with visitors.

We’ve enjoyed all of our hosting experiences over the years with Servas and Couchsurfing.  Each story is unique.  Our first visitor this year was Christoph, a young man from Germany completing his PhD thesis with a study of the North American distribution of an invasive weed species.  He had flown into Montana and was making a large circle tour that included our area.  He had chosen our home because we happen to live near a large infestation.  Who knew?  He explained that he had to pay for accommodation out of his limited research grant.  Christoph could only stay one night before driving several hundred miles to the next infestation, but we spent a great evening over a bottle of wine discussing everything from religious discrimination in Europe to crossing international borders with bags of weed seeds.

Local Renassiance Festival is a crowd-pleaser

Our local Renassiance Festival is a crowd-pleaser

Maud, a young woman from the French Alps, was traveling between long-term WWOOFing engagements on opposite sides of the country.  It was interesting to hear her first impressions of life on an organic farm in the New World.  In return, we showed her around the area, and offered her suggestions on where to stay when her mother came to join her.  Like most Servas and Couchsurfing visits, Maud’s stay was limited to a couple of days.  Servas has a policy of restricting stays to two days barring an unsolicited invitation by the host.  Couchsurfing has no official policy but recommends a similar time limit.

Have we had any troubling experiences?  Not really.  Once we had to exercise our “no” muscle.  A few years back, a young visitor from Prague broke several Servas rules when he asked, “Can I borrow the car?  Can you help me find a job here?  Can I stay longer?”  It is helpful to be able to

One of many local attractions

One of many local attractions

set clear limits without undue stress.  In our case, it wasn’t hard to say, “No, no, and no,” but others might find this challenging.  Our experience with this guest left us a little edgy, but with other positive experiences, we soon forgot this.  Until, months later, we received his unsolicited apology letter in the post.  Traveling is a learning experience for all of us.

Our most memorable hosting experience was non-standard.  Anaid, a young Mexican woman studying English on a student visa had been stranded here for several months by a travel snafu.  Her mother in Mexico had contacted Servas to make sure her daughter wasn’t left wandering the snowy streets.  Our local Servas coordinator contacted hosts with a special request for longer-term back-to-back stays to house the young woman until she could return to Mexico.  We chipped in about 10 days, and together with other hosts within a hundred mile radius, Anaid’s accommodation gap was covered.

As with traveling, hosting is about enjoying the unexpected.  Anaid’s letter of introduction – written no doubt by her mother – sported a grainy black and white photograph of a young woman with pigtails and a traditional school uniform.  However, when we first saw Anaid, she was wearing a backwards baseball cap and carrying a soccer ball – and her beaming smile revealed a tongue stud.  No doubt some of this would have been news to her mother … as would the news that Anaid had indeed spent at least one snowy night on the streets of the inner city.

A young student from Mexico at a local diner

Our young student from Mexico at a local theme diner

Anaid proved to be a delight.  She was helpful and easy-going.  She brought us some Mexican artwork, and our family still enjoys her easy recipe for enchiladas that she demonstrated for us one evening.  She was quite happy to accompany us on whatever we were up to, like spending an hour watching underwater coaching videos from Cheryl’s swim team.  Whenever we were tied up, she’d just pick up her soccer ball and head out, telling us she’d find someone “on the street” to play soccer with.  The first time we heard this, we were doubtful.  But she always found her game.  We suppose the young men in our town also fell under her spell.

A visitor such as Anaid lets us see our hometown in a new light.  Naturally, we took her to some of the local attractions we liked to visit.  We also discovered that her biggest unfilled dream was to see some of the filming locations for a popular TV series.  We looked them up and went on a tour.  Snapping pictures of familiar backdrops, she laughed, “I’m going to sell these for a million back in Mexico!”

Another visitor at the diner

Another visitor at the diner

As we’ve said, visitors are not expected to reciprocate with their hosts.  There is no requirement to offer anything other than a helping hand with the chores.  Couchsurfers can mark their profiles as “no couch available” or “currently traveling”, and even Servas hosts who are “receiving” are always free to decline individual requests without apology.

Still, most of our recent visitors have offered us accommodation back home and we’ve stayed in loose touch with many of them.  One offer in particular, we look forward to accepting before too long.  In a mid-size town in the Mexican mountains – “a place of eternal springtime” says she – a young woman named Anaid still lives with her very grateful mother.  We’ve promised to look them up when we’re in the neighbourhood.

Adventures in Our Back Yard

“Hey, this isn’t so bad!”

It was our first hike in our second season with the local outdoor club, and we’d just made it up to the top of a pretty big hill.  A mountain, in my lexicon.  (Technically, it was our second hike of the year, but we didn’t think the popular New Year’s Day “hangover hike” counted.)  Coming back down proved to be our undoing.  We limped around the house for three days, helping each other up the stairs.  By the next weekend, however, we were ready to try a higher peak.

The 'higher peak', seen from the 3/4 point

The ‘higher peak’, seen from the 3/4 point

Joining a local outdoor club was another of the fortunate steps we’ve taken lately as we try to replace our dwindling old communities … with surprising benefits.  Cheryl and I had been casual hikers, casual cyclists, and infrequent paddlers for years.  Fair-weather adventurers.  Our last camping experience – when the boys were young – had us wrap up the soggy tent after three days of rain, and buy a last minute special to Mexico.  We thought of ourselves as reasonably fit … “for our age.”

We did like to get out for shorter hikes with a few friends.  Now the years were taking their toll on our circle – with injuries, operations, and just plain lethargy.  At times, we couldn’t find a single person to accompany us on a weekend hike.

With some trepidation, we found and joined a local Outdoor Association and booked ourselves on one of their upcoming outings.  We fully expected to be the “slowpoke seniors” in a group full of energetic youths.

Hikers at Windy Ridge, overlooking the Mt. St. Helens crater

Hikers at Windy Ridge, overlooking the Mt. St. Helens crater

Much to our surprise, we found ourselves among the youngest on the trip – although it took us a few hikes to get past the “slowpoke” part.  As we’ve continued to do hikes and bike trips with members of the group, we’ve met close to 100 of the 250 members, and almost all of them are our age or older.

So many of these hikers and cyclists are inspirations!  It’s quite something to spend six or seven hours hiking up and down mountain terrain only to discover the septuagenarian we’ve been struggling to keep up with has two titanium hips or knees.  The senior hard on my heels has just done her 100th marathon.  Some members in our club, often retired for decades, have medical conditions that would keep most people chained to their easy chair – instead, they’re using a bit of chain to get past a few feet of scree on a mountainside.

A club cycle ride usually has 10 to 20 participants

A club cycle ride usually has 10 to 20 participants

So we’ve been inspired!  We’ve done a number of hikes we would never have done on our own.  We cycle 40 miles or more on a Saturday ride without giving it a second thought.  We’ve been camping again – so far just tailgate camping, with folding cots in the tent.

The surprise was how we fell into a new community of people in our stage of life, either retired or contemplating retirement.  Not a retirement of slowing down – instead, one of taking on new challenges and adventures.  Many we’ve met share our passion for “back roads” travel, and many of those have found creative ways to finance their lifestyle.

We’ve also been reintroduced to travel in our own part of the world.  In search of new horizons, volunteers in the club have put together multiday hiking or biking adventures in locations from the Mexican border to Alaska – plus the occasional one overseas.  Much as we’ll continue to visit other continents, we now foresee more travel close to home.

A happy wanderer, overlooking the North Cascades

A happy wanderer, overlooking the North Cascades

We’re also seeing that we won’t have to settle for being “slowpoke seniors” – we’ve got lots of counter-examples all around us, and we’re starting to catch up.  At this year’s “summer camp,” Paul read over “Younger Next Year,” and has started this program, using the burst of summer hiking as the “kedge” to jump-start his program.  Today, we head out to a four-day kayak camp.

For next year, we’re looking for a hike or cycle route that we’d feel confident leading.  That would be a first for us.  We’ve also found a some members who are interested in joining us on our next year’s European bike trip: a solution to the dilemma posed by our Provence trip earlier this year.

Exploring Mt. St. Helens beyond the Visitor Center

Exploring Mt. St. Helens beyond the Visitor Center

What can you do if you want to find a similar group to get you moving instead of slowing down with each passing year?  There are many options, but it may depend where you live.  We have no idea whether other outdoor clubs tend towards an older membership – ours didn’t advertise the fact.  The club is 40 years old and perhaps the membership has aged with it.  Still, retired people often have more time for such pursuits, and a stronger sense of “use it or lose it.”

We found our group by doing Internet searches for “hiking club” and the like.  It turns out there were quite a few in our City, including special interest groups like “dog-friendly hikers.”  We picked ours primarily based on the region it served.  We’ve since discovered that many members belong to more than one group, so finding one quickly leads to others.  Many states and provinces have umbrella associations for various outdoor groups, and often publish directories.

The view from the top always makes it worth the slog

The view from the top always makes it worth the slog

Another way to locate groups for outdoor activities is though Meetup.com (which we wrote about in our last post.)  In our experience, the Meetup groups tend to be looser, and some members are frustrated with a lackadaisical attitude towards event planning.  (Our own club is well organized, with a full executive, plus sub-committees for hiking, cycling, snowshoeing, and paddling.  Experienced members volunteer to plan and lead individual events, while newcomers learn the ropes.)

However you do it, joining an enthusiast group of active hikers or cyclists will get you out there when you just “don’t wanna.”  Try it out.  And see you on the mountain!

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

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.

Travel Technology Light

This is Part 3 of a post on “Travel Technology for Late Adopters”.  Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.

We’ve been exploring the theme of indispensable mobile technology for travel.  Our objective is to restrict ourselves to the minimum amount of technology that really enhances our travel, without creating a lot of unnecessary noise & interruptions, or excessive costs in time or money.

In Manning Park, overlooking the North Cascades - cellphone tower free!

In Manning Park, overlooking the North Cascades, elevation just under 6000 ft – cellphone tower free!

Having just returned from several days camping and hiking in the mountains – out of cellphone range – we’re  acutely aware of how great it is to switch the cellphones off and put all those inboxes on hold.  From the perspective of “Who needs it?!” we continue our personal investigation of travel technology.

In our previous post, we outlined the technologies that we’ve come to regard as useful for us.  As we travel more, and work more on the road, we’re considering a few more acquisitions:

  • Cellphone with removable SIM card:  Until now, we’ve left our cellphones at home, not wanting to find them unusable, or pay huge roaming fees.  Our next phone will likely be unlocked, allowing us to buy a SIM card in the locality we are visiting.  While skype is cheap and handy, it’s still dependent on WiFi, and a cellphone would be better for emergency calls.  We’ll continue to carry it switched off!  And no data plans – we can wait for a WiFi hotspot.
  • Kindle eReader:  At present, we’re using Amazon’s free kindle reader app on the tablet.  I tried a Kobo earlier this year, but eventually decommissioned it since it kept crashing while trying to sell me books I “might like to read” instead of the one I was unable to.
  • Quick-dry poly underwear:  “Better living through chemistry” may reduce laundry on the road, but we’re having trouble getting past the price!
  • GPS:  With the exception of onboard GPS in rental cars, we’re not convinced a GPS device is worth it for travel.  However, they’re fun for keeping track of hikes, runs and bike rides – for us, maybe they’re better dealt with under the heading of sports devices.  Coming to rely on them can be dangerous in some situations:  this past week, we watched serious hikers declare that their GPS told them the lake was just around the corner, only to hike for another mile or more.  Thankfully, we had other ways to orient in the woods.  Finally, Paul is convinced that learning your way around a strange city is one of those mental exercises that keep the brain young – especially if you have to do it in a second language!
  • Speech-to-text: I’ve been considering this for years, but never gave it a workout.  Would using speech-to-text in the tablet make up for the lack of 80 wpm typing?  Maybe no more emails that read like this: “Dermaryy, pl easemeeet usat trmnla 1 at airrport sundxxxSaturday setpembr 13 – scrtch lost date – sb next friday.. thx  Palu
Can any ringtone beat the sound of a loon on a deserted lake?

Can any ringtone beat the sound of a loon on a quiet lake?  This solo fisherman doesn’t think so.

And, hey, does Paul need his own tablet?  Maybe he’ll learn how to make it sing before the next trip and avoid a repeat of the Arles meltdown.  On the other hand, we still enjoy the old style traveling – sitting around at the end of the day discussing travel adventures, instead of everyone checking their email back home.  Whatever we decide on can’t interfere with being present to the journey.

While we ponder, we look for inspiration in places like these:

  • Alone Together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other”
  • Lifeboat: friends at their best.

What is your indispensable travel technology?  Any recommendations for us?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Travel Technology for Late Adopters

In our last post, “Trip Technology Meltdown”, we left Paul cooling his fevered brow in the barge cabin, wondering how he might rescue his relationship with the wireless age … not to mention with Cheryl.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, home of the world-famous Côtes du Rhône wine - and a pleasant bike ride from Avignon

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, home of world-famous Côtes du Rhône wine – and a pleasant cycle from Avignon

Evening drinks in an open-air bar in the old Roman Forum at Arles took care of the more important concern.  How to make wireless technology serve us without becoming slaves to its incessant demands is an ongoing exercise.  We hate it when interruptions from cyberspace keep us – or those we’re with – from being fully present to the joys and adventures of travel.  Every device we take with us adds to luggage weight – as well as increasing potential worry over loss or theft.  Traveling light and cheap has considerable advantages.

We’ve been using the Internet extensively to plan and research our travel for the past 15 years.  However, only recently have we counted on mobile devices on our travels.  In the past five years, we’ve rarely had a problem finding free WiFi during our time in Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean.  Payphones are another matter.

Here’s our current “Travel Technology for Late Adopters”.

  • Email: even before we had any mobile devices, we found it worthwhile to maintain a special email account for holiday travel only.  That way we can stay in touch with those we need to, and not be distracted by all the noise from our non-traveling lives.  With tiny mobile devices, we find this helps us spot what’s important.  We give out our travel email address sparingly – not even the spammers have it!
  • Tablet:  Cheryl bought herself at 10” ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime Android tablet about 18 months ago.  It’s adequate for on-the-road Internet research.  She also has a docking keyboard – in future, we may take it with us when we travel: the lack of a real keyboard was one of my meltdown triggers while in Arles.  As 80 wpm touch typists, we both have low tolerance for hunt-and-peck.  Before the tablet, we had an Apple iPod Touch, received as a gift.  While it was okay for occasional email, we quickly found the small screen to be too cumbersome for on-the-road researching.  (We’ll write about our essential travel apps and web sites in a future post.)

    Ruins of the Pope's "new castle" at Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

    Ruins of the Pope’s “new castle” at Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

  • Folding reading glasses:  I’ve had a pair like this for several years – one of the most useful pieces of technology I own for travel – makes the tablet or iPod or French menus usable!  Is this technology, you ask?  Yup, “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.”  (Another piece of indispensable travel technology is a key-chain battery holder for hearing aid batteries!  I finally stopped running out of batteries on the road.  Of course, Paul’s modern hearing aids are lead-edge technology, worth more than the rest of this list put together.  Bluetooth-enabled, I think they anticipate what’s going to be said.  Real-time language translation can’t be far behind.  Even now, they make it possible to understand a wide variety of voices and accents.)
  • Skype:  we’ve had good success with skype on the tablet and the iPod, just using a basic microphone.  We’ve used more skype-to-phone time than the free skype-to-skype while on the road, so keeping some phone credits in the account with “auto-recharge” is important.  That way we can easily phone home, or even make cheap local calls when we have to.
  • Digital camera: while most tablets and cellphones have built in cameras these days, we still like the feel of a real focusing camera with F-stops, wide-angle lens, and good optical zoom.  We currently use a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 that’s a few years old.  Taking the tablet’s docking keyboard will also make it possible to upload photos directly from the camera’s SD card – something we currently struggle with.

In our next post, we’ll mention a few mobile technologies we’re considering to make longer travel easier, and perhaps less expensive.  As always, we’ll be asking ourselves the “appropriate technology” questions:

  • An Olivetan friar in Europe: "Sorry!  Didn't recognize Your ringtone!"

    An Olivetan friar in Europe: “Sorry! Didn’t recognize Your ringtone!”

    Is this new gadget really going to enhance the quality of our experience?  Take a deep breath and a “time out” – now, do we still think so?  Ah, come on, really!?

  • What’s the cost?  In up-front money?  Ongoing payments?  Disposal costs?  Security concerns and risk?  Baggage weight?  In time?  In unwanted distractions and information clutter?
  • Are the costs really worth it?  Once the novelty has worn off?  After next year’s model comes out?
  • Can we replace another device rather than just adding one more – and a bigger bag to carry them all in?

What is your indispensable travel technology?  How do you keep information overload at bay and manage the balance between instant access and over-accessibility?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Trip Technology Meltdown

“And they all moved away from me on the bench…”  Alice’s Restaurant it was not, but rather the dining room on a Rhône river barge.  Through the haze of my technology-induced rage, I sensed our cycling shipmates looking sideways at me.  Cheryl urged me down into the cabin.  As Betsy Talbot of MarriedWithLuggage.com has advised, when traveling as a couple, only one partner at a time can have a meltdown.  This one was mine.

For the past half hour, I’d been fighting Cheryl’s tablet computer, trying to navigate the website of the French national railway SCNF to find a train stop closer to some suburb of Avignon that I’d never heard of.  The technology was winning.  Apart from my not knowing how to approach the route question, the web site kept timing out, and my fingers were struggling with the touch-screen keypad.

Two of our cycling group ponder the Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard.

Two of our cycling group ponder the Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard, a short distance from Arles.

The sun was now warming our cycling days, but the rains of earlier in the week had now swollen the Rhône to the point where authorities had halted all passenger boats.  Our accommodation and transport were stuck in Arles – a wonderful place to be stuck, but stuck nonetheless.  A day and a half later, our most generous Couchsurfing hosts from the Avignon area had promised to meet us at the pier near the Phillipe-le-Bel tower.  Now we had to do something involving trains instead of ships, and I was determined not to make it their problem to plan our route change or to drive even farther to pick us up.  Hence my doomed attempt to find a train station closer to their home.  I felt I had to do it quickly, since our only communication channel was the Couchsurfing website, and time was running out

Cheryl in her current role as the non-meltdown partner suggested I settle for telling our hosts we’d be at the Avignon main station and leave it to them to suggest any alternative.  Obviously, she was right.  In the end, that’s just what happened.  They met us at the station entrance, and we enjoyed two wonderful days of French food and conversation – relaxing and sightseeing in Provence with two wonderful people.

The Roman amphitheater in Arles is now used for Provence-style "bloodless" bullfights.

The Roman amphitheater in Arles is now used for Provence-style “bloodless” bullfights.

The episode with the tablet started us thinking it was time to update our relationship to technology.  If we were to be traveling longer and more often, we would need this kind of last minute planning to be easier.  There are better uses for travel meltdowns.

Having written my first computer program in the late 60s – and still coaxing computers for a living – I should be versed in all the latest gadgets.  However, with Cheryl and me both in long computer careers, we’d made a conscious decision to govern the rate at which electronics entered our family life.  We never had cable TV and we still don’t.  For years, the family had a “screen-free” day every weekend.  We resisted cellphones until we could no longer find a payphone, and even now, we often carry them switched off.  We don’t value being contactable 7×24.  We spent many summer holidays with our boys at an off-grid island cottage, and I left “Search and Rescue” as my contact info for the office.  It worked for us!  You might call us Technology Late Adopters – and only when we think the technology in question enhances our quality of life.

Meanwhile, technology for travel was undergoing a transformation.  In the 70s, the only technology I needed was how to find the metal fiches for the payphones in Europe or South America.  When our family traveled in Costa Rica for half a year in 2000, spending an hour a week in a crowded and sluggish Internet cafe was about it.  Asking directions used to be one way to interact with residents with traveling, and maybe practice some Spanish.  On recent trips, however, people just started telling us to Google it. “No lo sé. Búscalo en Google.”

Our Couchsurfing hosts explained that the dancing was under not on the Pont d'Avignon.

The famous Pont d’Avignon.  Our Couchsurfing hosts explained that the dancing was under not on the bridge.

We’ve been using the Internet extensively to plan and research our travel for the past 15 years, but it looked like it was time to consciously accelerate our entry into the wireless age.  Marital harmony required it.

(In our second half of this post, “Travel Technology for Late Adopters”, we’ll talk about the wireless technology that works for us, while we continue the good fight against the growing tendency to be “over-available”.)