Good planning, not good luck
If there’s one thing Kevin Briggs really dislikes, it’s when people call him “lucky” because he travels.
“We make it happen,” he says. “We thought when we retired five years ago that maybe we could get away every two years, but in fact it has been at least once every year.”
Tip 1: You don’t have to be a millionaire. Travel is much more affordable these days, it’s just a case of wanting it badly enough.
The 65-year-old retired school principal and his wife Anne, 63, also a retired teacher, head offshore for an average of two months a year and agree that it helps that travel is something they are both passionate about – and have been for decades.
“I’m lucky to have a partner who also likes to travel,” Kevin says. “I think it also helps that we travelled when we were younger and we don’t find it daunting to head into the unknown, but once you do it once, you soon get a feel for it.”
Tip 2: Travel with someone who shares the interest and finds it adventurous, especially for when the road gets rocky.
Their first taste of travel was in the early 1980s when they visited Hong Kong and Singapore. They were bitten by the bug, but their first real travel lesson came in 1988, when they booked a Eurail trip through Europe with their two young daughters, aged eight and two. That turned out an adventure because despite must-have Frommers’ guide Europe on $10 a Day, they still over-ran the tight budget. It was the days of traveller’s cheques so it wasn’t as simple as pulling money out of a wall.
“If we had known just how expensive it was going to be we may not have gone, but then we learnt a lot of ways to save money on the road, so it turned out to be a good thing,” Kevin says. “We weren’t going to let kids stop us, so I carried the baby on my back.”
Tip 3: Budget but be prepared for the unexpected and how to survive on a loaf of crispy French bread and a lump of cheese … and wine of course.
Fortunately their jobs allowed them to make an international exchange and they lived in England and taught at an inner London school in 1992-93. After that there were regular trips to Europe and a decade later, with their children grown up, they continued on the path – they’ve now been to Greece seven times and know the islands well.
Tip 4: Retirement means you have more flexibility on times and can travel outside of peak season well away from school holiday crowds.
Their interest is always the people and the culture and they tend to “centralise” by booking an apartment for a week or more and moving out from there to really get to know an area, the neighbourhood and to live like a local.
“We took an apartment on the Cinque Terre and really indulged in the local culture. We were able to communicate even without language. It was a great experience,” Kevin says.
House swapping has been another way to pursue that interest and it has worked well. It means they can base themselves in one spot and stay longer.
On the other hand, hotels have the advantage of language – the manager can point the best direction and explain where and how to find things, especially pharmaceutical items.
“We usually travel three-star and just like it to be safe and clean and we need our own bathroom,” Kevin says. “If booking a hotel we try to find one that has breakfast included and then we really only need something light for lunch and only have to buy dinner each day.”
Tip 5: Explore accommodation options, but you have living costs at home too, so the food budget is going to be similar.
Not a lot has changed now that they are past 60, although these days they organise a stopover on the long-haul flights. They also have changed their travel times and will only take a 6am departure or a red-eye if there is no other choice, even if it means paying a bit more. They are also more aware of safety and if they feel unsafe, will forget the local buses and take a taxi – “once, we never would have done that”.
Tip 6: Go with whatever airline works for you on price and convenience and know your limitations. You don’t want to start the trip exhausted at midnight.
They have also tried a few cruises – the Baltic and Alasaka – and appreciate that if there is limited mobility it is good not to have to live out of a suitcase. But they do organise their own tours from the ship. It’s often much cheaper. But having said that, they also find there are a lot of advantages in booking through a travel agent.
“We often do our research online and then go to an agent. We have found that they are often able to match or beat the accommodation prices we can find. There is also extra security in that as they know the areas to go to,” Kevin says. “It doesn’t always pay to do your own bookings.
Tip 7: Price and location knowledge are two good reasons to use a travel agent.
They are off to the US for Christmas where they will meet with family before heading south to Central and South America which they say will be out of their comfort zone as it is an area less-explored. Then they are planning Italy for next September and October and have a house swap organised for England.
Choosing a destination has been random and generally they play it by ear, seeing what comes along and what takes their fancy.
“You don’t have to plan every detail,” Kevin says. “We usually pick destinations at random, in countries where we know we can do it by ourselves. Anne likes to paint water colours so if she finds something with buildings she likes, we will go and see them.
Tip 8: Experience is a false argument. It is not hugely expensive or cost as much as you might think.
Now seasoned travellers, they have the art of packing sorted. Luggage will be 18kg at the very heaviest and they carry one suitcase and a small backpack each. Packing for a cruise with something more formal is different to lounging on a Greek island in summer and if travelling between climates, they will use “packing pods” to fit the cold-weather gear. Kevin is diabetic so he likes to keep his medication close in his carry-on bag, along with a letter from his doctor and a list of the medications.
Tip 9: If you can’t lift it, then don’t take it. Watch the weight, carry medication with you and be security conscious as some countries can confuse medication with drugs.
Kevin and Anne plan to keep going while they still can, although they admit there could come a time when they won’t want to do the long-haul flights anymore.
“We have to make the most of our time now so we work around it and do things a little bit differently to what we did when we were younger,” he says. “We are always on a countdown to our next holiday.”
Tip 10: Just be confident. You can do it and do it on your own. People like Australians.