Travel: An Ontarion contrarian's view

Last spring, I read a comment in the Globe & Mail, in which a woman named Janet said,
"As a senior in good health, there is an expectation that I will travel. But I am content in my home, in my yard, in my neighbourhood, in my city and in my country. I have travelled and as my husband says, 'We were always looking for food when we were hungry and a bed when we were tired.' We are too old for that now and the idea of cruising the Danube with 100 people from Ontario has no appeal."

I enjoyed this rebuttal to the travel ethos promoted by travel sites, airlines, and those Instagram shots of a friend waving from her houseboat in Kashmir.

Le Duc is a tepid traveller, which has come as a surprise to me. Our honeymoon in Paris seemed an obvious romantic choice; little did I know it would be the sole destination that would truly please him for thirty-three years. "You'll visit any country that has Paris in it", his friend Mitch teases.

He has always encouraged me to strike out on my own, and I have. But I'm aware that travel is consumption, no matter how you frame it, and there are times when I have wondered, Was it worth it?

That value assessment is composed of both tangible and intangible factors. Huguette, who travels widely and often, took a cruise to Antartica last year. She spent over $35, 000 on a trip she concludes was terrible value. The activities were curtailed by poor weather (a possibility mentioned in the fine print). On board, her fellow travellers were unfriendly when not seasick, and on the land excursions, inseparable from video cameras.

Your travel preferences are a personal call, but one to make—and stick to. My no-go list includes destination weddings for other than immediate family; sporting events like the Iditarod (crowds, price-gouging); accompanying someone to a locale that holds no interest (Death Valley); and road trips with boring scenery, bad food, and dank motels. I won't sign on for hardship, danger or those trousers you zip off to make shorts.

Cost figures in the assessment. From airfares to lodging, prices rose in 2018, and once higher, rarely revert. I want to stay in a place within the same star rating as my home; I'm no longer willing to bunk on a friend's sofa with her eager Lab's snout in my neck. Other spending priorities may be more appealing; maybe Janet and her husband would rather have new high-efficiency windows.

Much is made of travel's broadening effect; recent articles on nationalist and racist attitudes assert that those are more likely held by persons who have never ventured outside their native countries. At the same time, some tourists stay so insulated from the host culture that they might as well be vacuum-sealed.

In Janet's comment, two phrases struck me; first, "I have travelled". This sounds as if a need has been met. It's so easy to fall into the what's'-your-next-trip conversation. Sometimes those sound competitive: your Kenyan safari trumps my weekend in Vermont—travel as status symbol.

Second, Janet quotes her husband about "looking for food when we are hungry... a bed when we're tired".

I can hear you thinking, There are ways around that. A Susanfriend spends months doing meticulous research as part of the joy of the trip; she arrives with lists of appealing restaurants, the bike rental locations, insider tips, transit maps.

Or, Janet and Mr. could book a tour, trading autonomy for ease.

Maybe their conclusion is, We can't travel like we once did, so we're done. A travel industry consulting firm divides seniors into two groups by attitude, not age: the Young at Heart, who want what they call "soft adventure", with local colour and plenty of activities, and the Old at Heart, for whom security and comfort count most.

Janet and her husband are Homebodies at Heart, bucking the stats. The industry knows that the rapidly-growing senior demographic is a prime consumer of leisure travel, and that senior women  travellers outnumber senior men by about three to one. A travel executive told me that "the women are more curious, more interested in experiences that immerse them in a culture."

Ghislaine spent every vacation for twenty years taking her daughter to visit family. Now, she has retired and her daughter is independent.

Ghislaine budgets carefully so that every late spring, she can trek one of the Camino de Santiago's routes. In May, she hiked the Camino Ingles, two weeks of challenging trail, rain nearly every day, mud, rocks and dormitory beds. I saw her the day after she returned, fairly levitating with joy. This year, she's taking the seaside route of the Camino del norte. (Here's a guide to the Camino's routes, with tips for hikers on the hiking-specialty travel side

The Camino is it, as long as she can walk. Ghislaine embodies the principle, Know who you are now.

Some of the worst disappointments happen when old dreams put a traveller in the wrong place, or in the wrong company. Bev no longer sees the brother with whom she climbed Kilimanjaro, after he engaged in unsporting behaviour to be first to summit.

Whether you're on a plane to see Aunt Anita in Spokane or trek up Machu Picchu, you are putting a load on the environment just by getting there. Le Duc is bearish for that reason, too. I rationalize occasional flights, and avoid especially fragile environments, but I'm not a wilderness adventurer anyway.

"I want to see the Earth before I'm under it", an elder woman told me at Elk Lake Lodge, as she shouldered her daypack, "and I consider 70 middle-aged."

As for the 100 Ontarions: should they cross your path, a sharp clap usually scatters them.


materfamilias said…
Brilliant line: "I won't sign up for hardship, danger or those trousers that you zip off to make shorts."
I've traveled a fair bit the last few years, and as long as my granddaughter is living across an ocean and a continent, I'll keep doing that, but we've sorted what works for us and while we're open to suggestions, I'm surprised at those who are committed to full-on conversion. We should try another country, or another continent, or we should try a tour, or we should do more AirBnB, or we should take planes instead of trains. . . Your homebody Ontarian has my sympathy -- and admiration, for knowing what she wants and staying constant to it. (
LauraH said…
Wonderful post, you must be a mind reader:-)

My travelling friends are a mixed bag. Some, like Janet, have been everywhere they want to go and are content to leave it at that, others are still raring to go.

These past weeks I have been thinking a lot about how to travel so it makes me happier. "Know who you are now" indeed. I have done small group tours and trips which I planned and did by myself. The solo trips were very enjoyable but something was missing. Ideally I would like to have someone to share the adventure, I have to admit it can be very lonely going on my own. So I will move towards the small groups to see if that gives me a better experience. And if not, well there's nothing wrong with enjoying my home and city right here.
Marguerite said…
Speaking of travel marketed to a definite demographic group, my spouse and I booked a Viking ocean cruise last fall. It’s expensive and very comfortable. However, after much post trip reflection, we won’t do it again. We found the itinerary too rushed. The very thing advertised, the cultural exposure, was almost non existent. You get off the ship. On a bus,off the bus. Then a few hours in an given port, sometimes, overnight. We have travelled internationally for years prior to this. We will figure out a way to make travel fit our interests, needs and ability going forward. The hand holding, big budget cruise isn’t it.
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: I don't know quite how to find the word, but travel to see family is a different experience than that whose primary focus is exploration, sightseeing or cultural activities, not that one can't blend the two. For me, the expectations are different, and I approach the trip differently from start to finish.

LauraH: When I was single, I would only travel alone for a part of a trip, making sure a good chunk of the trip was something where I'd join people people, even if they where strangers, e.g, to take a class. I needed at least some meals with companionship. You probably know the website Journeywoman, founded by a Toronto ex-journalist. Many agencies specializing in solo travellers advertise there and there are some mighty appealing trips. If I had the means for a dream trip I'd take one of Naomi Duguid's cooking classes/tours:

Marguerite: This sounds exactly like the mega-cruise a good friend took in the summer, almost a month long including a transatlantic crossing. One day in each port, toted around, everything a blur. She liked the at sea part, especially the relaxation and ample spa visits; her husband went nuts by the beginning of third week, felt captive. She said their new agreement was two weeks max.

water said…
What month was the Antarctica cruise, please? Seriously considering this one. In general I've done very little travel the last few years.
Claire R said…
What a wonderful and wisdom-filled post! I like going places. My husband is a homebody but has the ability to make places we visit into homey places. And I go on trips by myself to visit friends in other places and / or for a purpose, for a class, as you mention. Or to get some sunshine in the Seattle winter. Or to practice hearing people speak French. Or to swim a long distance in warm water, something that Seattle generally doesn't offer! One cruise w/family was more than enough. As long as we have the internet so we can make our plots and plans, and legs and feet that can walk or cycle, we'll head out. Thank you for your wonderful and smart blog, too! I look forward to reading it.
Puzzled said…
Oh dear....was it really necessary to characterize people who have not traveled outside their home countries as possibly holding a nationalistic or racist view? Wherever you saw that statement, was it truly vital to include it in this post? I am so tired of name-calling and pigeonholing of people we have no idea about. Perhaps some people simply can't afford travel, or have difficult obligations or circumstances that make travel impossible. In a subtle way and with a sly hand, you have made this competitive AND political. So disappointed.
Puzzled said…
Sorry...that just upset me.
In general, broad characterizations of large swaths of people annoy me these days.

I myself, have been involved in a love affair with Paris over the last five years...eight trips, the longest being one month by myself. This affair has not been can be difficult.

That said, I feel not one bit of smugness. Sometimes I feel downright stupid about it.

We know so little about other people's lives and why people do or don't do the things they do...or what they CAN or CANNOT do...I say, let's stop picking on people in these small, mean, subtle ways.
Carol in Denver said…
I don't travel and I'm not a racist. I have friends who travel lots and they're not racists either. I know people who travel and they are racist. I don't like being away from home but enjoy reading about other cultures and archeology. If I traveled, I'd want to go someplace and stay there, having an in-depth experience. Traipsing around, switching hotels, making unfortunate restaurant choices etc. have no appeal for me.
puzzled, you don't seem to have read the entire quote:

Much is made of travel's broadening effect; recent articles on nationalist and racist attitudes assert that those are more likely held by persons who have never ventured outside their native countries. At the same time, some tourists stay so insulated from the host culture that they might as well be vacuum-sealed.

The first part is a statistic and a generalisation. Obviously this include many people who have had no opportunity to travel.

Mardel said…
Hmmm. I completely understand about wanting to share my travel experience with someone. I still feel that way sometimes. But that alone is not enough to not travel. I think for each of us it is different. I can be content to stay home and everyone should be able to make that choice for themselves, including what suits them. As for me, I am learning that the things I thought I would want to do in my retirement and widowhood are not necessarily the same things I actually want and I am learning to make good choices. If something doesn't thrill me, actually perhaps even compel me for some reason or another, and I don't care if that reason is frivolous, I'd rather stay home. And so I do. That is where your list of things you refuse to sign up for really resonated. I am surprised however at how many people seem to think retirement is all about where I am going next. Perhaps it is also about wanting to stay where I am, contentedly.
Puzzled said…
lagatta…. you just made my point for me.

" A generalization" you say? That is my whole point. Why include this kind of characterization of people at all. Why is it necessary at all?

Madame Là-bas said…
Travel suits some of us and not others. Like Le Duc, my husband would rather stay home. I regret not having moved as a younger woman from the area in which I was raised. I like to go and try other lives for a while. I'm getting so that sightseeing and touring tires me. I'd much rather wander in a Paris neighbourhood, read in the parks and see a couple of exhibits. I'm able to volunteer in libraries in Mexico. Travel is consumption and a luxury. What a thought-provoking post! It's got me thinking about my own reasons for travel...Thank you.
AnnetteAK said…
Living in Alaska my husband and son and I usually make one trip south each year spending about 2 weeks. We travel to various parts of the US and Canada. All 3 of us search the internet for activities, places, and other interests that appeal to us for the places we are planning to visit. We put everything together and work out what and where we will be going. The planning is an important part and a necessary part 3 unique individuals with various needs and wants (my son is autistic and husband is 70+ and I am just shy of 70).
We always have a good time and have a trip to Hawaii in the planning stage. This is our 8th trip to Hawaii and we have found new things to see and do each time.
To us most places are warm. Seattle is a hub city we always spend a few days in mainly as a place to shop and visit with people we know.
Thanks for this post.
Annette, I have relatives very far north who find Ottawa and Montréal torrid in the summertime.

Puzzled, yes, but I don't agree with evacuating politics entirely from travel and life fora, nor see political as a dirty word worthy of scare quotes. For one thing, all forms of travel have an environmental impact, usually negative. Ironically much of my recent travel has been for semi-volunteer work at environmental seminars and conferences, which makes me a bit less guilty about travelling, say, from Amsterdam to Paris - by rail, not plane - once I've racked up more than my entire annual consumption otherwise with a single return flight across the Atlantic. Visiting Paris (and Italy) has mostly been for seeing very close friends; chosen family.

Fortunately I live in a place where there is a lot to see on foot, cycling, or via public transport. Though our winters are ghastly.

And we do have to remember that this is Duchesse's blog.
Puzzled said…
Yes indeed,lagatta...lets do remember that this is not YOUR blog.
Of course it's not my blog, and I'd never say or claim it was.

Duchesse said…
water: It was either late November or early December. Very rough seas, they could not begin trip until 3 days post scheduled departure.

Carol and Puzzled: Travel, especially exposure to other cultures, broadens persons if they are willing and open to that. We understand more about the world's wonder and fragility, our fellow humans and ourselves. Reading, films, lectures, all great too.

Exposure to other cultures is a resource for building tolerance and amity •if the traveller values that•, and I have seen the effect up close when I worked as a consultant to a major American tour company, and when I worked with Peace Corps volunteers. Now that I think about it, I also saw that when my Midwestern American family hosted a Mexican exchange student for a year. You may find this remarkable, but not one of my classmates had met a Mexican person before, nor had I.

Annette: It sounds like the three of you are sympatico travelling partners; enjoy every moment in Hawaii, such beauty!
Beth said…
Such a thought-provoking post. All I can say is that I came from a family that didn't travel, and a part of the world where few people did or wanted to, and that fact did a lot to shape their society and attitudes. Uninsulated, independent travel, which I had to learn to do, has been one of the great privileges and joys of my life; it inspires my art and writing, changes me, has brought me friends, and has made me more open and compassionate. Here in Canada, many young people travel in simple ways, regardless of socioeconomics, and I think this is one factor that makes Canadians so open to the world. The environmental cost is an important factor, though, and I think it's incumbent on those of us who do fly to work hard on environmental issues in other ways.
Duchesse said…
Claire R.: Thanks for your specific examples. I can fall into the e-mail about a seat sale and then ask myself, "Why exactly am I going •there• ?" and if the only answer is that it's 55% off, that might not be such a good reason.

Mardel: "I am learning that the things I thought I would want to do in my retirement and widowhood are not necessarily the same things I actually want and I am learning to make good choices." Well said. We are wise to choose based n knowing ourselves and like my friend Marcelle who left a too-demanding tour a few days early to decompress at a nice resort hotel, I believe we should also give ourselves permission make adjustments when needed.

Beth: Buying carbon offsets is one way to counter the environmental load, very good explanation of what to consider here:

Mme Là-bas: "Try other lives for awhile" is a beautiful way to put it and I too like to just wander a neighbourhood. It is not that Le Duc does not like to travel; there are several places he will go happily. Paris is his psychic happy place; like you, he just slips into living there. I think if he joined the community of beekeepers in the parks there, he might never return home.
But he's adamant about eschewing over-visited world sites where the environment has been endangered by the traffic. Volunteering at a local library, what a great way to spend your time!
Roberta said…
I've been VERY lucky to travel as much as I have. I admit I threw my credit card around wildly a couple of times. This past year it dawned on me that I did not have an infinite amount of time left to travel (nor $$). I made a list of fifteen spots I would really like to visit before I no longer can or wish to travel far. I figured I could have one serious vacation a year - meaning about $3,000 - before I turned 75. Then this fall I hurt my knee and needed surgery and wondered if my usual "tromp all over" approach would still work? I enjoy traveling alone, doing all the research, finding a tiny hotel room, and then striking up conversations along the way. But if I can't manage lots of steps, then places like St. Joseph's Oratory might be lost to me. Let alone the Appalachian Trail or the Camino de Santiago.

I took my first cruise - a great treat from a friend - two years ago, and it was . . . fine. I liked not having to pack and unpack between cities, and i loved arriving and departing by water, but the amenities (casino, spa, karaoke) on a cruise were wasted on me. I am doing another cruise later this year, again to multiple cities, and I look forward to that.

Truly, my dream is to go somewhere for a MONTH, and get to know the place, take day trips, find the best coffee, make return visits to museums. But I can't do that until I retire, so that is a dream deferred. If ever. As Mardel said, what will I really want and be able to do in five years?
KathleenC said…
Re: Not traveling and the open mind
Serious studies of voting patterns in the US have shown that people that have not traveled are more likely to be socially and politically conservative and vote accordingly. Source: articles/columns in NYT on voting

Water: Please, please, do not travel to Antarctica. To remain what it is, it must be left alone. It is frightfully delicate: a step off the path can destroy hundreds of years of growth/natural history.

Le Duc
Duchesse said…
Roberta: Fifteen places, and now I am wondering what they are! May you get to them. Some jobs allow for extended time off, whether built in some teaching jobs) or developmental leaves of a month to a one-year sabbatical. One way or another, a long trip is so different from a week or two.

And, a $3,000 budget per trip requires resourcefulness (even when I adjust for the currency rates.) I have sometimes had such a fantastic time on what is barely a "trip" because it is so relatively close to home, but is a change of scenery and pace.
François said…
This is a brilliant post, Duchess!

I have traveled to 45 countries (3 days to 3 years each) lived abroad in two of them. Four months each year in Montreal where I have had the pleasure of meeting you and Le Duc (my favorite flaneur). We want to take a cruise but have had a hard time "pulling the trigger" on any particular cruise. We average 73 years old, both in good health.. I think we would like to spend a month somewhere in a cosmopolitan city living in one place and getting to know it as well as possible. Someplace in the summer where the weather is not hot. Not seashore. We are unilingual, I am sad to say.

Duchesse said…
François: With all the travel you have done, is there nowhere that called you to stay longer?

London, of course, but you have likely considered that. Edinburgh and Dublin; lots of arts, culture, architecture and history...and also not far from other destinations if you want to take short trips from there. You can also get along in English in other temperate European cities: Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen.

A cruise is a whole other kind of travel, you do not generally get to spend much time at all in one place, the very thing that attracts some travellers might not attractive to you two.

Or do something completely different: Japan. Good English in the major cities and you can hire a guide if you need assistance in touring.

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