Last month, my husband and I traveled abroad for almost three weeks. We spent a magnificent week with family in the Lake District in England. It was a wonderful big group including two sets of grandparents, four children, two grandbabies and assorted friends. It was a memorable gathering in a majestic old manor with seven bedrooms and a huge dining hall. We spent a joyful week together going on walks, sharing meals and taking photos of the ubiquitous sheep. (They are everywhere!) We piled into vehicles and toured the breathtaking countryside and even took a train to Edinburgh.
Traveling is what retirees are encouraged to do, with the unspoken caveat that we should travel before we’re too old to manage it. The clock is ticking we are tacitly reminded. See the world while you still can, we are gently urged. There is some truth to this. Travel tests our mental abilities and puts our problem-solving skills to work. We didn’t have to worry while we were surrounded by family in The Lakes.
Most were English and they carted us around in a hired minivan. This was their home turf and we had very few decisions to make. But then my husband and I launched off on our own — a day in Stratford-Upon-Avon, two days in London and a week in Dubai. We had to depend on one another to catch trains, check in at airports and negotiate ground transportation. We had to set a daily plan and determine how to complete it.
Traveling is interesting, invigorating and inspiring, but it’s not without frustration. We’re out of our comfort zone and daily routine. Navigating unfamiliar languages, currency and localities makes the simplest task stressful. Errands we took for granted at home now required a concentrated effort to complete.
These days, digital resources make things easier. When our mental math skills were overtaxed converting dirhams to dollars, we simply used an exchange rate app. In unfamiliar neighborhoods, we used the Google maps walking feature, although we frequently had to pause as the fickle directional pointer capriciously spun us in one direction, then another before making up its mind.
We had to face that mishaps are inevitable, and to be resilient when adventures took a downturn. In Dubai we wanted to visit the Spice Souk, a marketplace in the old part of town. We determined that this involved crossing the Dubai Creek by metro. Of course, we could have just paid a taxi or private driver to take us, but where’s the adventure in that? It was our personal challenge to successfully navigate public transportation, and we did cross the river. But the way back was not as smooth.
We had hoped to return via a pedestrian bridge, but we could find no way to access it from where we were. After walking for miles we located a ferry, but the dock was on the other side of the freeway. As Murphy says, “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” We settled on the least adventurous option. We walked a mile to the metro station, and took it one stop back across the river.
You have to have your wits about you when you travel. No slipping into auto-pilot. Somebody’s got to figure out how to get us back to the hotel! I always say that if we can just have two good eyes and one good brain between us, we’ll do all right. I might add two good ears because invariably when we ask for assistance, we have each heard something different. If we’re lucky we can cobble together a plan with the different bits each of us has remembered. He missed a sign that I saw. I misinterpreted an instruction that he correctly deciphered. Neither one of us can figure out whether the arrow on the mall guide is pointing upstairs or straight ahead. It takes two of us to get where we are going.
Despite the sometimes irritating challenges and personal squabbles with partners, traveling is transformative. It feeds the human need for discovery and exploration. Travel expands our world view, keeps our mind sharp, and promotes flexibility in the face of setbacks. It also solidifies the bonds in personal relationships. In the end, if you don’t kill one another, it’s a memorable experience to share with a partner or friend. We’re planning our next trip before we get too old.
Mary Petersen is a retired COC English Instructor, 30 year SCV resident, and two-time breast cancer survivor.