Extending your personal travel limits

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 88 of the February 2008 issue.

Sometimes when I write about issues facing travelers, especially international travelers, the topic relates to only a portion of ITN readers. This is one of those occasions.

Each individual adapts to the aging process in his/her unique way. Some travel-oriented individuals seem to gradually lose touch with their sense of adventure because more energy and effort are required for certain activities than when they were younger. Often, this can be rationalized by a wide range of age-biased clichés, the queen bee of which may be “You’re not as young as you used to be.”

Buying into this de-energizing of the psyche can set into play a state of increasing timidity, which often invades both the mental and physical planes of one’s existence. This is not a natural part of the aging process. It is simply giving in to negative age stereotypes. Intelligent aging requires paying as much attention to mental health needs as physical conditioning, with attitude being an all-important factor.

The age of senior adventure travel

Today we see increasing numbers of people traveling successfully, especially on group tours, well into their 80s. Companies like ElderTreks (an ITN advertiser) cater specifically to the age-50-plus traveler, offering a wide range of small-group (maximum 16) adventure-oriented itineraries, some to very intriguing, off-the-beaten-path, challenging destinations.

For each itinerary, ElderTreks provides an activity rating from 1 to 5 regarding physical difficulty, with a description of both the physical and mental challenges the tour provides. This is very helpful with self assessment and often is the triggering catalyst for important questions related to the traveler’s individual situation. Some other tour operators also provide similar rating scales for their programs. In my opinion, all should.

“Challenge” is not a dirty word

In a recent discussion with ElderTreks’ president, Gary Murtagh, regarding extending personal travel limits, he offered the following insights: “As a tour operator dealing with age-50-plus travelers for two decades, one of the most important and challenging aspects of what we do is qualify people to get on the right trip, not only in terms of their ability but also their desire.

“Over the years, we have found some of our oldest group members to be the most fit, active and inspirational of travelers. They see life as a challenge that they want to meet head on. I have also seen the reverse, where people are physically capable of doing something but the limitation exists in their own head.”

Gary advised, to my surprise, that one of their current popular programs is a rather in-depth tour of Iran. This is an example of a program that might provide a mental challenge for some. Some of the ElderTreks hiking tours are examples of programs that might provide either a physical or mental challenge, or both, for participants.

When operating my former tour company’s tours to Australia, I observed many 50-plus travelers facing and overcoming a range of open-water-related fears in order to experience snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. Those who did tended to be exhilarated by the experience.

For any adventure program being considered, a down-and-dirty, all-cards-on-the-table discussion with the tour operator or other travel provider regarding the physical and mental challenges is strongly recommended. By being objective, you can learn to trust your instincts regarding the responses you receive in terms of personal comfort level

Does the company, via their point-of-contact reservations personnel, seem to be more interested in insuring the right fit for each traveler and travel product or in just selling a program?

The bottom line

It is basic common sense that one should never attempt a travel program for which one is physically, mentally or emotionally unprepared. Having said that, we finally arrive at the primary thesis of this article: DON’T SELL YOURSELF SHORT!

“Challenge” is not a dirty word. Finding, accepting, dealing with and overcoming challenges is how we insure that we continue to grow as humans at any age. There is no “senior” exception to this reality. Assumption is no more valid as a senior than at any other age.

So here is my personal challenge to readers who are able: EXTEND YOUR PERSONAL TRAVEL LIMITS! Reach into your reservoirs of energy and undertake a travel program that will challenge you in the most positive sense of that word’s definition.

In terms of world travel, we are the beneficiaries of good fortune in living in the age we do. So many previously unreachable areas of the world are now accessible via reliable small-group touring. So take self counsel, then proceed not with reckless but confident abandon — and with a swagger in your step — beyond your previously self-imposed travel limits into the world of greater adventure that beckons.

Final caveats

In assessing personal travel options and limitations, it is necessary for travelers of any age to possess the wisdom to be able to differentiate between courage and stupidity.

This is especially important with senior travelers possessing physical and other limitations who are assessing adventure-oriented travel itineraries.

The refusal to be realistic about your capabilities can cause both you and your fellow travelers undue hardship.

Keck's Beyond the Garden Wall

❝ Suffer not the slings of veracious disdain
that from the pores of woefulness leach,
opportunity cast adrift in seas of doubt
Nay, with presence of self,
venture forth brave of spirit into the chasma,
Embolden the unknown. ❞
— Randy effusively espousing on the subject of this column