Senior Travel Without Fear

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” excerpt from FDR’s First Inaugural Address 3/4/1933.

Seniors seem to be afraid of everything. Much of it can be blamed on our waning physical strength, our shrinking bones (I’m probably an inch shorter than I was when I went to bed last night), America’s greedy medical and insurance corporations, and the media. Not that I do, but watch television ads. You will see how seniors are targeted with fear.

‘Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!   “It’s a good thing I have this alert button to push so the paramedics can get here quickly.'” 

In mud at Caverna de Quiocta, Peru

In mud at Caverna de Quiocta, Peru

We’ve been led to believe that if we have an accident anywhere but in our home,

maybe break a leg or twist an ankle, or something bigger like have a  heart attack, or stroke, or (insert your greatest fear) in another country, we will be treated with snake oil by a shaman who dances round us with a painted face, shaking incense, or we will wind up in a hospital where we will be tended by incompetent doctors with inferior medical degrees.

We worry about the food. When we are in other countries, we’ll have to eat food that is not USDA guaranteed, food that has come straight from the field, is not genetically modified, a chicken or goat that has just been killed, or fish that have recently been pulled out of a polluted river, lake or ocean. We’ve swallowed the notion that in America we have healthy, superior food, even though we have more diabetes and obesity than any other country.

We believe we’re the only country in the world except maybe Canada, that has clean water to drink.  Besides we tell ourselves, even though there are inoculations for most water-born diseases, we could be THE person in 100,000,000 to get Hep A,B,or C. Or Ebola, god forbid, and we’re not even close to the African continent.

Then again, maybe we won’t get something quite so bad, just severe indigestion, or the runs, or a skin rash, or a tooth ache, and we won’t have our personal pharmacist -the one we see so often that she knows our name- to go to for advice. Maybe we won’t be able to explain the problem in another country. It’s pretty clear that our dentists are the only competent ones on the planet, and our medicine the best and safest. Otherwise why would they be the most expensive?

There are other fears, too, real fears that could happen anywhere, (losing our luggage, or wallet or our passport which means we’ll never be allowed to go home). If these things happen where we don’t have our safety net to fall into we won’t know what to do. Perhaps we’ll be forced to use our common sense,  or to  call on the kindness of strangers.

We could be robbed. It happens. Advice abounds on the internet about how to lessen the probability, but it still happens occasionally.  Again, common sense says leave your precious gems and Rolex  at home, don’t flaunt your large bills in public, never let anyone see where you stash your money, keep your wallet in the front pocket, your purse and pack in front, especially in busy places like bus and train stations, don’t walk home from the pub alone at night singing When Irish Eyes are Smiling off-key. Keep an extra credit card and cash stashed separately somewhere, and copies of your passport and visa if you have one.

And other things one doesn’t expect happens to seniors.Once when I was living in Mexico, I had a grandma moment while I was standing in front of the ATM machine. I completely forgot my pass code. I knew I only had three tries before the bank would lock the account, sending me up shit creek, as my mom used to say, so I tried the two combinations that came to mind. Nada.  Frustrated, irritated, and a little bit afraid that my brain had finally given up on me, I walked to my friend’s house. She was sympathetic. ” I always worry that might happen to me some day. I wish I had some money to lend you, but I’m broke.” I emailed my daughter from her house. Did she have my pass codes. “No. Sorry, Mom.

Of course, I have friends and family in the US who would, in an emergency, wire me money. But a grandma moment is not an emergency. It’s a fact of life. We have to get used to them-to cover our tracks. After this happened, I always leave a list of every pass code with my daughter which means I only  have to wait a day or two to get the information because she’s very busy, and I’m not her top priority. On the positive side of grandma moments, it’s been my experience they rarely happen at crucial times/places, i.e. I’ve never stood in front of a customs officer in a foreign country, say Morocco, and couldn’t remember why I was there.

Another fear high on the fear list is learning how to get from A-Z. “It’s easy for you, my friend said, but the rest of us have no clue.” That’s not fair. It’s not always been easy for me. I learned by asking. I’ve found that if you ask questions, people are more than willing to give advice-on any subject, in any country. Now, understanding them is another thing. From personal experience I’ve learned that If you ask a question in Spanish, and they answer in Spanish,  and your listening skills are not as good as your speaking skills, listen for key words and watch their hands. You might have to ask three different people, but in the meantime you have gotten closer to your goal because you turned right at the corner, or tienda, (or where ever the only words you understood sent you) and now you are closer. Don’t give up. Enjoy the walk.

In most countries, if you stand on the street with an open map in your hand and a puzzled look on your face, you will most likely draw a crowd of willing helpers. In China, the crowd can expand to as many as fifteen people who don’t always agree. Sometimes a trio or quartet of helpers who were ‘going that way’ will escort you to our destination. When you’ve reached the designated place. Someone else will take a picture of everyone together,  all smiling and satisfied.

When I was a young, attractive woman I understood that many men were wolves; that cultures had different norms of what meant ‘I’m available or not.’ Mostly I stayed awake and sober. I know the chances of bad things happening increase when you’re not paying attention. Through the years I’ ve developed an instinct that has served me well and, with luck, has kept me from being assaulted or raped. You cannot be naive in any country. It’s not our intellect that keeps us safe, it is our animal instinct. We must listen to it, it will not steer us wrong if we do.

Somewhere around the age of fifty, I realized that, with the exception of young men who, because I was traveling thought  I had money,  I had become invisible to most men. The young men were disappointed of course, and I hated to hurt  their  feelings, but where ever they are I’m sure they’ve adjusted by now.

I’ve made many male friends in many countries over the decades-as many as women I imagine. We became  friends because of our interests, not our sexuality. One of my friends puts a great emphasis  on being a sexual person over 65. I like sex, and I haven’t become a prune yet, but sex is not what drives me, or what attracts men to me and vice versa. It’s life. Laughing. The sharing of stories. Traveling.

Searching the key words solo traveler on the web, I came up with a tour site that advertises ‘solo, but not alone’. Tours are good for people who want someone else to plan their trip, or for folks who don’t want to explore on their own, who want to meet new people from their own country, or are afraid of being lonely. They are just not for me. I took  many trips with my ex-husband and lover of many years. We got along well, and respected each others needs and desires. But, for many years I have been single and I’ve grown accustomed to being solo, and I like it; just as I traded a sail boat for a  kayak. It only takes one person. I love the pace, the independence, the solitude. I’ve adjusted to my life’s circumstances. I rarely feel lonely.

I meet plenty of people on the road, I am an independent person. I want to go places when I want to go, or not. I like getting up or staying up as early or late as I want. I want to eat the food I have a taste for, when I’m  hungry.  However, I frequently take local tours, with local guides. I almost always meet people on these trips, but I sometimes like to be alone, to explore, to take pictures, to shop with no time limits, or to nap. I like to cook food in a hostel kitchen, write my blogs, talk to others who are traveling to find out where they’ve been or where they’re going. I like to hang out with people of all ages. They keep me young, sometimes I give them perspective.

My final thought is that when going to other countries one must give oneself to it. Trust you will be fine. If you get lost, and you will, someone will help you find your way. My best stories have happened when I’ve gotten lost, or missed a train. You can’t expect traveling in an unfamiliar  place to be like home. You have to look for the good, remind yourself that you are a guest, visiting, their country  and learn about the people, the food, the culture. The rewards are great. In giving you will receive. Buen viaje.








And money. According to ____People over fifty in the United States make up 5th largest economy in the world. We worked hard to get our money, and we don’t want it stolen by some jerk in a third world country who refuses to work hard enough to make his own money, or a low-life gang member, or..anybody for that matter.