How do you make your travel plans?
Sometimes we decide where to go based on where volunteer placements are available. Other times, the determining factor is where we can get cheap flights. I often do searches on the Web for "cheapest fares." If I find a great deal to southern Chile, we'll be there in two weeks! No itinerary, no reservations, no return tickets: earmarks of being retired and footloose, free of any time restraints. This is such a luxury after spending our entire working lives planning vacations that fit into our work schedules. No more of those debates about whether it's better to come back home on Saturday to allow for a day of rest before returning to the office Monday morning, or to stretch the vacation and fly back late Sunday night.
Now we think about the places we want to visit on any given trip, formulate a general plan that makes some geographic sense, book a ticket to the first destination, and set off. On a trip to West Africa, we knew we wanted to go to Ghana and Senegal but weren't sure about the other countries there in terms of interest and safety. Our only predeparture purchase was a one-way ticket to Accra, Ghana's capital. For us it's almost always better to play things by ear. This way we're without restrictions on destinations or time, and we can use ground transportation more often, which is more interesting and cheaper than flying.
One of the advantages of staying in budget accommodations, as we do, is that it's easy to meet like-minded travelers and share information. We stayed in Ghana for five weeks, using Accra as our base, and from there traveled by bus in different directions to places we wanted to visit, such as Cape Coast and the Volta region. Sitting around in the evenings with our fellow guests, we exchanged suggestions of where to go, stay, and eat, not just in Ghana, but all over West Africa. Stan and I used this information to plan our travels in Togo, Benin, Senegal, and The Gambia.
How do you stay in touch with family and friends?
We have two grown daughters and—as with many people we know that have grown kids—the parent-child role seems to have reversed in recent years. For the peace of mind of our daughters, we do the following:
- Keep them informed of where we will be. This is sometimes difficult, especially when we are in remote areas, but we do our best. Even some of the smallest towns have Internet cafés, where we can send and receive e-mail.
- Let them know that we check our e-mail regularly and can always call them if they need us (or if we need them).
- When we fly, we give them our flight information.
- If we're someplace where there's an internationally reported incident, we let them know right away that we're all right. When the tsunami hit Southeast Asia in 2004, we were on the east coast of India, and we immediately contacted our family, as well as our friends, to tell them that we were not directly affected.
We also send a more-or-less monthly e-mail newsletter to all our friends. We find that so many interesting things happen to us every day, especially on volunteer assignments, that people are happy to get these letters. Many have told us that they feel connected to what we're doing, and in the days following one of our letters, we get dozens of return e-mails. It means a lot to us to hear from those at home, no matter what is happening in their lives, so we encourage them to write.
How times have changed…during our earlier travels, we hand-wrote all our letters, sending them to family members to photocopy and mail on to our friends!
How do you determine what to pack?