Travel Tips Needed
September 21, 2012 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Travel for Dummies filter. I am in my early fifties and have rarely travelled. I'd love to do more of it, but have a few health/financial challenges. Can you give me your tips for how you make travelling as easy and rewarding as possible? Bonus points for suggesting possible low-cost destinations or ideas.

My travel experience consists of day/weekend trips for family/business/professional development and six weeks for a course when I was much younger. I've flown a few times but mostly have driven.

I have two main challenges. First, due to a couple of ongoing health issues, I am often very weak or tired and have low stamina. I also have a low immune system, which means that periodically and unpredictably I can get hit with a disabling cold, flu, etc. I'm under the care of a physician and a naturopath and am managing things quite well--but some things can't be predicted.

Secondly, our financial situation is not great. We're in debt and although my first priority is paying it off, it will be quite a few years. I'm not getting any younger, and my health may worsen. I'd like to travel, even just a little bit, while I still can. But our finances obviously limit what I can do.

I say what "I" can do because my husband has never cared to travel and now has a disability.

So I'd like to have your input on three things:

1. Given my inexperience with travelling and my health, I'm wondering what tips you would have for enjoying the experience without exhausting myself?

For example, I know not to plan to do too much in one trip because I'll be overwhelmed and exhausted.

2. What travel hacks do you have just in general for getting the most out of the experience or making it run more smoothly?

For example, I learned early in my business travelling that it was important to take a few minutes to unpack as soon as I got to my hotel room because when I came back from meetings and dinner I would be exhausted and it was great to just walk into my hotel room and do my evening routine and go to bed (without having to unpack then).

3. Do you have any suggestions for where I could go or what I could do that would be economical? Realistically I couldn't take any more than a long weekend away from work. I am in Canada, and can figure out the normal tourist attractions, but would love to explore off the beaten path. I would also like to go to the US and would love to travel internationally some day.

Factors to consider: I like to admire nature but don't enjoy camping; wandering in museums/art galleries etc. exhausts me; I don't enjoy shopping; I love music but not live shows very much; I speak enough French to get by in a French-speaking environment; I'm an introvert who functions well in social situations but prefers her own company.

Any and all tips would be *greatly* appreciated.
posted by purplesludge to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
From an economical standpoint, it would help to know where in Canada you are -- a trip to Vermont is cheap from Montreal, but not so much from Vancouver.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:13 AM on September 21, 2012

You might want to look at the offerings from Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel. They offer a wide variety of trips all over the world with varying degrees of physical activity. They cater to an older crowd and so are used to dealing with various infirmities. My 78 year-old mother has used them for years and thinks they are a great deal.
posted by TedW at 7:15 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would suggest starting small. My husband and I really enjoy being local-ish tourists - that is, driving somewhere within a couple of hours of where we live, finding a cute bed and breakfast or historic inn to stay in, and spending the weekend exploring a new area that may not be overtly touristy at first glance. We always have a great time. If you've not traveled a lot before, starting with something like this will also help you figure out your traveling style and preferences.

Try going to your local library or bookstore (or and searching for books about Day Trips from your area. My library had a lot of information about local tourism available.
posted by something something at 7:15 AM on September 21, 2012

Rock Steady: I'm in Saskatchewan.
posted by purplesludge at 7:15 AM on September 21, 2012

In my experience, the easiest way to travel conveniently and cheaply is to base everything on your nearest airline hub. Or train service if you don't fly, I suppose. I'm not super experienced with long distance driving trips, but I still would assume that the easiest way to approach it is to start with where you currently live and what interests you that is convenient to drive to.

If you are talking about flying somewhere, one of my favorite tools is Kayak Explore. You type in your departure airport, and it shows you an interactive map of how much it costs to fly virtually anywhere in the world. You can limit the results based on ticket price, time of year, and activities associated with the area (for instance you can tick off beaches or skiing or the like).

In terms of travel costs, I personally like to spend a little more on airfare to fly somewhere that is cheap on the ground. That said, in a lot of cases, if we're talking about international travel, this results in mainly traveling to developing countries. Which might not be idea due to your health condition.

But there are some countries where you can still get a good deal by approaching things this way. For example in February I went to Turkey, which is still a lot cheaper than the US and most of Europe. I ended up just staying in Istanbul the whole time, and it was an extremely easy, relaxing, non-strenuous vacation. Istanbul is every bit as modern and safe and convenient as any other Western city. You might want to avoid eating street food and keep your sightseeing low key, but that's easy enough to do.

In terms of your illness, I think travel insurance is going to be your friend. You can buy insurance policies that protect you in case you have to cancel the trip due to illness, and some of them cover you in case you need medical attention at your destination and/or would be able to get you out of the country in a medical emergency. (Those latter ones tend to be more expensive, but possibly worth it if you're desperate to travel somewhere with abysmal standards of healthcare.)

It's also probably worth remembering that you don't have to travel in the way that other people you know travel. A lot of people are really into adventure travel, and in a lot of ways the travel industry frames everything around active sporty type stuff, like trekking the Andes in South America or rafting the Columbia River gorge in the Grand Canyon. But you don't have to do that stuff. You can travel only to cities and spend your time seeing museums and historical sites. You can go to the same places the trekkers and rafters go, but instead of strenuous activities just enjoy the natural surroundings. There's no rule that you have to push yourself to the limit if you want to travel beyond the local beach town.
posted by Sara C. at 7:35 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

"I like to admire nature but don't enjoy camping." Have you thought about the U.S. and Canadian park systems? The U.S. National Park system is generally excellent in providing less physically demanding options. There's almost always short nature walks through the most interesting parts of the area, and many parks have lodges or modern cabins at reasonable rates, though they often book up early, so try to plan ahead, and given your health issues, check on the cancelation rules. I don't know about the Canadian park system, but I'd guess they have similar types of services.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:37 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just ran Regina, Saskatchewan through Kayak Explore, and it looks like there are deals to be had to fly to most of the popular US destinations. It's not bargain basement cheap, but you could fly to any of the major East Coast or West Coast cities as well as Florida, Chicago, or the Southwest for under $500 round trip (that's USD, I think?).
posted by Sara C. at 7:40 AM on September 21, 2012

If you want to go somewhere that is more than a couple hours away: stick to train travel if you can.

You're in Canada so you don't have to deal with the TSA nonsense that we have in the States (at least, not at your own airport!), but even without that, I find train travel to be much more comfortable than air travel - more space, no distressing air pressure changes, easier to move around.

Same goes for long car trips - stick to the train. Driving is the most stressful alternative.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:47 AM on September 21, 2012

Chicago is a GREAT long weekend city - generally not hard to get to, lots of flights at various price points (don't forget to check O'Hare AND Midway), public trans you can take everywhere instead of cabs. Also, there are tons of great tours you can take in Chicago. I'd suggest picking a weekend with a music fest like Blues or Jazzfest, fly in, pick one museum and toddle around at whatever pace you'd like, get some deep dish pizza then head to Grant or Millennium Park to look at the skyline, enjoy the breeze off the lake, and people watch with a nice soundtrack. Next day maybe wander through Lincoln Park zoo (it's free!), take the El to an "ethnic" neighborhood and enjoy some authentic food, visit the Chicago historical society museum, then see what might be at a matinee/off time show at the symphony or at a Second City improv show. Chicago isn't cheap but I think it's mostly priced right and it's a fabulous city.

Also, I live in Whitefish, MT right now. I can't tell you how many cars there are here from Alberta and Saskatchewan. It's quite a drive (longer than a long weekend trip) but if you find extra time, you may be able to find some other folks looking to save money and split a ride. Whitefish gives you good access to Glacier NP and the Empire Builder Amtrak route that goes between Seattle and Chicago. (I'd suggest Chicago for you, though.)
posted by adorap0621 at 7:47 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you have special dietary needs or blood sugar issues or similar, take some food with you that you know works for you. For a day trip, packing a picnic lunch can both be a good fit for special health issues and also more economical than a restaurant or fast food.

For long car trips, plan to spend 30 minutes or an hour periodically (one ore more times a day) stopped somewhere and taking care of yourself. Depending on what's available, this might be an eatery or it might be a highway rest stop or something similar (city park?).

Due to special dietary needs and several people being prone to car sickness, my family did big breakfasts on the road at some place like Denny's. We weren't yet car sick and could get a big meal in, which helped enormously make the entire trip more bearable.

Preventative health practices can make the trip more bearable and reduce the odds of winding up too sick to enjoy anything. Be careful what you touch (I shake hands a lot less than I used to) and take any vitamins, herbs, OTC meds etc that are fairly benign and have a good prophylactic track record for you. More research and emphasis on this piece of it can leverage those benefits.

Avoid the crowds. I do really poorly in crowds. I have a compromised immune system and it just exposes me to too many germs. I quickly get tired and cranky in a crowd. Go during the off season or the slow part of the day. Being out of step, schedule-wise, with most of the rest of the world has been enormously beneficial to me. Have lunch after the lunch rush is over, before the dinner crowd begins. I went to Yellowstone in the dead of winter. Hotels were half price and there were no crowds. I could have done more outside if we had been better prepared in terms of clothing. But it was still a great experience and did not leave me ill.

Make friends (or at least contacts) with locals online before you go. Get the inside scoop. It is a great way to save time, money and hassle.
posted by Michele in California at 7:49 AM on September 21, 2012

Sorry to dominate the thread, but Mr. Know-it-some knows whereof he speaks. (Ha.)

When I was a teenager my family took a road trip across the US to the Grand Canyon, stopping at other national parks and historical sites along the way. My youngest sibling was very little at the time, so we couldn't do anything strenuous like hiking, climbing, kayaking, or intense backwoods camping. Instead we rented cabins, did nature walks and light day hikes, and just enjoyed the history, landscape, and culture of the places we visited. The facilities were great, and everything was extremely well catered for vacationers and people who aren't terribly experienced with being in the wilderness.

You could easily do something like this, especially being located in Saksatchewan. Assuming you're in the southern part of the province, you've got all of Montana and the Dakotas at your fingertips, and Minnesota, Wyoming, Idaho, and Nebraska aren't all that far.

Here are some US national parks in your rough neck of the woods:

Yellowstone, of course.

Badlands - also maybe paired with Mt. Rushmore? Is Mt. Rushmore in Badlands National Park? Not all that familiar with South Dakota.


Grand Teton

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Voyageurs, and Wind Cave are also not that far afield, though they sound a little less exciting than the others.
posted by Sara C. at 7:50 AM on September 21, 2012

I live in Regina too, so I know train travel isn't much of an option.

Take a look at Montana and the Dakotas for sure. Theodore Roosevelt National Part as Sarah C. mentions is a great place and so is Medora the little town that is right next to it. This is especially true if you're a history buff. If you're a history buff take in all the Sitting Bull sites, and also the Lewis and Clark sites. American historical sites are almost always very well-developed and have extremely knowledgeable guides with low admission charges. If you haven't been to North Dakota in a while be aware that the oil-rich regions aren't sleepy and agricultural like they used to be.

In Saskatchewan, nothing gets much international attention but there are some good places. Waskesiu and Prince Albert National Park are world class. With your health issues the mineral lake at Manitou (and the spa) is pretty awesome and very relaxing. The Cypress Hills are quiet and peaceful, and it's great if you're a stargazer because the population density is low and the skies are dark and clear.

Flights to Las Vegas are cheap (~$400 return), and the hotels are nice and can be very cheap during the week. You can site see in Vegas, and join up with bus tours to the Grand Canyon and other nearby places quite easily and cheaply.

All-inclusive resorts in Cuba are often about $600-$700 direct from Regina and you get things like snorkeling trips and tours of old Havana (awesome) from your hotel quite cheaply. Mexico on the Caribbean side is about $1200 (all inclusive) direct from Regina and you can trek off to Mayan ruins (including Chichen Itza) and snorkel into some very good reefs.

The cheapest way to travel is to volunteer abroad.. but you're going to need to have some skills and the living conditions won't be great.
posted by Intrepid at 9:08 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You say your husband won't travel with you - if you are talking about solo travel, that has a whole set of extra problems. If that's your plan, I would seriously advise you to find a friend to travel with. If you're tired and run-down, all the little travel hassles you would normally be able to laugh off can be quite upsetting if there's no one there to back you up.

I'm in my fifties, female, and have done a fair amount of solo travelling, but it's all been in Europe, so some of my advice might not be relevant to you. If you are going solo:
-Remember that while you're on the move, you'll have to keep your travel bag with you everywhere, including into the bathroom, so use the smallest and most manageable travel bag you can find. (Having someone to mind your bag while you go to the loo/stretch your legs/make enquiries at the desk is one of the biggest advantages of having a travel companion!)
-If you have some ideas for evening activities in mind, it's worth picking your overnight accommodation to fit the activity: if you're going to a theatre or a blues club or whatever, then choose a hotel that is on a direct frequent connection (if the place has good public transport) or is only a short distance away (if you're using a taxi). It's always easier if the last trip of the day is the shortest and simplest.
-Never plan to arrive anywhere tired and by yourself late at night. Leave for a long weekend early on Saturday morning when you're physically better able to cope rather than on Friday evening.

If you like nature, I'd be inclined to book an organized trip or course for a day or weekend. Whale-watching, rambling, mushroom-hunting, bird-watching are all activities where you're likely to get a lot more out of the experience if you're with a guide who knows the area.
posted by Azara at 10:46 AM on September 21, 2012

Thanks everyone! You've all been very helpful.
posted by purplesludge at 8:28 PM on September 23, 2012

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