Middle aged walkabout suggestions
April 21, 2019 3:46 PM   Subscribe

I have had some intense shit go down in the past month and I would like to take a life affirming trip and am looking for travel suggestions.

In the last 30 days I got unexpectedly laid off from the job that completed me and that I had planned on doing for the rest of my life, had a a cancer-scare surgery (benign!), and quit smoking after 30 years.

I have a generous severance package and no family obligations and am trying to plan a magical midlife journey to renew and reset myself before I tackle finding my next job. Unfortunately, the one thing I lack is a clear plan and I am starting to feel like I’m not going to be able to make it happen because I can’t choose.

I would like to leave by early/mid-May and be gone for a month or so. I am a 51 year old woman traveling alone, I have travelled internationally before, but not by myself. I am not in great shape but should be all healed up from surgery by then. I like wine and good food and meditating and mother ocean and beauty and gentle walks and art and peace and being able to talk to people but have lots of alone/downtime.

Some of the things I am considering: river trip on the Danube, except I don’t really like chitchatting with strangers. Meditation retreat in Thailand, although I think it’s going to be too hot to do that. A month in Bali, although I loved doing that when I was a young person I’m not sure I want to repeat. Renting a villa in Spain and practicing Spanish for a while, but I don’t know where to go. Portugal? Greece? Turkey is probably not safe enough. I want to get out of the US. I considered walking the Camino de Santiago or the Kumano Kodo, but don’t think I’m physically up to it right now. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan or Greece, but I am getting lost in details, which is why the river cruise was appealing, someone else handling most of the arrangements, except there’s the whole don’t want to feel trapped into talking when I need peace thing.

My budget is kind of flexible, I would prefer more like $5k, but can go up to $10k if I found something that rocked my world.
I realize this is an incredible privilege and rare opportunity, but I am kind of frozen by the endless possibilities.
What should I do? Where should I go? How do I figure it out?

TLDR: what would you do if you had a month and could go anywhere but had to leave pretty soon and weren’t too good at planning?
posted by eggkeeper to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered New Zealand? Don't have specific suggestion, just wanted to bring it up.
posted by pyro979 at 4:05 PM on April 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Go to Valparaiso, Chile. You can find a place to stay for about $1000, it's on the beach, tons of culture, you can even practice your Spanish.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:35 PM on April 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Since you mention Greece, I'll recommend that first. Rent a house or apartment on a lovely island for three weeks, stop in Athens on the way there or back to see the antiquities and the vibrant street life. Bring books, for instance books about living on a Greek Island; Lawrence Durrel, Henry Miller and Elizabeth David all stayed there during WW2, and have written about it themselves + the biography on David is great. Greece is very safe and very cheap, and people are very nice. I have mainly traveled on the mainland and only been to Egina, which is fine, but friends have recommended Santorini and Lesbos strongly. Maybe do both and sail from Pireaus out there, to make a less socially committed cruise.

You also mentioned Japan. Japan is amazing, and like Greece a fine place to travel as a single woman. I recently saw a documentary about the Kumano Kodo, and it was fascinating. You don't have to do it all; combine with Kyoto for at least a week and maybe Naoshima for some days. Travel slowly from place to place, seeing things on the way, for instance Mount Fuji. Bring In Praise of Shadows and any Murakami, though my personal experience was that I read less in Japan than in Greece because I couldn't get enough of walking around just being there, so I was tired when I was in my room. (In a good way; I am a 50 + overweight woman and not suggesting marathons). Getting to Japan is expensive, but being there isn't.

Both Japan and Greece have delicious food and drink. Maybe you need to be a little bit more alert of tourist traps in Greece than in Japan, but compared to many other places, it's rare to get a really bad meal. Both places, healthy food and good (but not stressful) daily walks will make you feel better in every way.

Regarding planning: keep it simple. Get the plane tickets. Find a hotel for the first couple of nights when you arrive (if it's nice you can then book for a layover on the way back, or you can look for something better while recovering from jetlag). Book rentals from home if you are staying for a while, your choice of long-term rentals diminishes if you book them on arrival. Everything in between you can manage when you are there. When you travel from place to place, make sure you don't arrive in the new place too late if you haven't booked in advance, so you have time to find a place to stay you like. In both Greece and Japan, hostels are fine, clean and with single rooms, and can be good if you feel a need to be social/ do some laundry/ cook a meal.
posted by mumimor at 4:39 PM on April 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

Those river cruises are heavy on the retirees, so might not be your jam (nothing against retirees, but being surrounded by a group that is mostly people of a different life phase for several days can be a bit much).

Why not a meditation retreat in Japan?
posted by praemunire at 6:10 PM on April 21, 2019

Japan would require a lot of planning. It's also experiencing a tourism boom, so it would be hard to find a good place to stay. I'm also not too sure how good the meditation retreats are in Japan. Very touristy.

If it's Japan, why not try to do a "farm stay"? It's a slower kind of travel, and you can probably find a place that takes care of your lodging and and your meals.

There are a ton of links for "farm stay Japan" out there so you can take a look and evaluate which one seems the best fit for you.
posted by JamesBay at 6:42 PM on April 21, 2019

Sacred Valley in Peru
posted by sacrifix at 7:37 PM on April 21, 2019

Walk the Camino de Santiago. That is basically what people do when they have been laid off, get a cancer scare or more. You can practice spanish on the way and meet others on a similar path (literally and metaphorically). It will take you a month to do and May is a perfect time to go.
posted by Toddles at 7:42 PM on April 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

At this time of year, I'd find a last minute deal on an Arctic cruise, probably to Greenland leaving from Iceland. Lots of opportunity to meditate with the ocean and environment, and so much beauty.

Alternatively, Tasmania, Australia with a hire car has magnificent wine and food and nature.
posted by cholly at 3:18 AM on April 22, 2019

Since it sounds like specific cities might be helpful in narrowing down the field:

Japan - my dream is to live for a few months in Arashiyama, the cute town near Kyoto. Parts of it are pretty touristy, but there are big chunks of houses and good walks and just small eateries. Here’s a random airbnb I found in Kyoto proper that’d be $1600 for a month. Since Kyoto is relatively expensive for lodging, it makes me optimistic you could be basically within budget for the month (as mentioned, food in Japan is reliably good and can be found easily for cheap!)

You could also find a smaller city to stay in for the month. Tradeoff is less of a beaten path for stuff to do, but it’d be less touristy and less expensive. I happened to stay briefly in Okayama and liked it, but you could pick any city with photos that captured your imagination. Wikivoyage is a good resource here for browsing. Click on any city, scroll to the bottom of the page to the Go Next section, and then click on random city names and see what strikes your fancy.

For Greece - I lived for 2 months in Nafplio, a beautiful seaside town. Here’s a list of walks. My sense is walking is not a big part of the culture, but it looks like there is some good variety.

Wildcard suggestion: I really loved Hanoi. It sounds like you’re after peace and quiet, and Hanoi is loud and bustling, but introverted me found it really energizing.
posted by estlin at 5:59 AM on April 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am kind of frozen by the endless possibilities. What should I do? Where should I go? How do I figure it out?
Your next question does ask for more options, but I know this feeling and I have to preface it by saying that I am not looking for more ideas when I am telling someone about my problem. First, try to reduce the guilt over the privileged aspect of this. Your hardest struggle is your hardest struggle, and you've had a hard time lately. You really do deserve this and the guilt may be a big part of the emotional block you are having in making a decision. Next, spend some time accepting that all of these places will be great and you don't have to pick the perfect one. It won't be perfect and there will be someone annoying, you will lose something and you will get frustrated at least once during your trip. Those things will fade and you will be left with your cherished memories and photos.

Greece is high on my personal solo vacation list, but I think you would also enjoy the Amalfi coast in Italy or the Azores. When it comes to planning, there is nothing wrong with finding a recommended itinerary and just following it for as long as you want. You will still have your own personal experiences.
posted by soelo at 6:27 AM on April 22, 2019

I think you could have a great time doing a meditation retreat in Thailand and then having some peaceful times walking along the beach, eating good food, maybe visiting the temples of Ayutthaya or Luang Prabang in Laos. But it is really, really hot right now, and May will probably also be really, really hot, maybe a little less hot but with more sporadic thunderstorms. If you're not happy with temperatures of 38-39C or even higher then I would wait for another, cooler time and pick a different location.
posted by penguinliz at 8:56 AM on April 22, 2019

I think the idea to go to Greece, and spend most of your time somewhere lovely by the sea*, is perfect. You could rent an airbnb/VRBO on an island for three weeks and then do some sightseeing on the mainland for a week. I spent 4 days on Naxos and sometimes daydream about going back for longer - it's gorgeous, with a great mix of town, villages, and beaches. Crete also sounds nice for this. Matt Barrett's Greek Islands guide is excellent for finding what you're looking for. I also had a really lovely, and quite spiritual, experience visiting Delphi. Greece was just wonderful overall for relaxing and appreciating beautiful scenery, delicious food, and great wine.

If you're interested in a yoga retreat, a friend really liked Sivananda in the Bahamas. Might not be quite as hot as Thailand at that time (I've been to Thailand in April/May and ... yeah, it was brutal).

*I would not recommend Santorini though - I was there in May and it felt completely overrun with tourists, and depressingly geared towards tourists as well. I think most of the other Cyclades islands would be great.
posted by lunasol at 1:53 PM on April 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Camino de Santiago de Compostela. See the movie The Way with Martin Sheen. It is somewhat grueling and you need to be in shape but a great experience. Walk 15-20 km per day. Great places to stay and great Basque food. Start in St. Jean de pied de port and cross over Pyrenees to Roncevalles. Then on to Pamplona/Iruna. You can do it in parts other years.
posted by madstop1 at 7:51 AM on April 24, 2019

Hello, your situation sounds perfect for living on a Greek island for the summer. Here are some suggestions from a previous question. In your shoes I would want a smallish place where you could really feel like you have “your” beach, coffee bar, taverna, etc.

For a minimally touristy and cheaper option, Nafplio as mentioned by estlin above is gorgeous. I’m here right now for Easter and it’s dripping with bougainvillea, full of happy people anticipating a warm summer. But if you come you’ll probably need a car. It would be a shame if you couldn’t get to Candia Beach.

(PS my two cents: Santorini is not what you’re looking for but might make a fun day trip if you’re in the Cyclades anyway.)

I hope you have an amazing getaway wherever you end up.
posted by Concordia at 11:38 AM on April 26, 2019

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