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AARP Smart Guide: Travel

18 ways to fill your year with great adventure (at minimal cost)

view of desk from above showing a mans hands as he takes notes while planning a trip surrounded by a camera a map and a cup of coffee


Here’s a mindset we all should consider changing: That travel is about one or two big vacations each year. Whether you’re working or retired, there’s no reason not to blend in plenty of day trips, weekend getaways, even a few four-day jaunts to favorite cities, beaches or wildernesses across any given year. And if a big vacation is in the cards too, all the better! Planned far enough ahead, you can do it all on a tight budget too. Use these tips and suggestions, culled from interviews with over a dozen travel experts, to make 2020 one of your best years ever for out-of-house fun.


Start easy

Explore your hometown. Type in “Things to do in” + your hometown in a search engine to find museums, restaurants, historic monuments or parks you haven’t visited. Often, we don’t visit the cool things in our own backyards, says Veronica James, who with her husband, David, write their travel blog, “” “We lived in Nashville for 25 years and never went to the Country Music Hall of Fame until after we moved and were visiting Nashville.”

world map made of cork board with push pins on polaroid shots of different locations


Plan more hobby trips

Try to put together at least one themed trip each year based on a personal passion. For example, if you love cooking, consider signing up for a multiday cooking class in a city like New Orleans or Seattle, and between classes spending time at the city’s food markets and local eateries. Organizing a trip this way provides an opportunity to connect differently with a particular destination. Other travel themes could include:

Gift shopping for the holidays; antique shopping; studying architecture; attending a conference; visiting museums or art galleries; wine, beer or spirits tasting; learning about a person you admire; exploring universities or colleges; watching favorite sports teams; enjoying your fitness interests, like golfing, hiking or biking.

Look for greeters tours

“Always free, with no tipping expected, these tours are run by volunteers who love sharing about their home cities,” says Pauline Frommer. copresident of Frommer Media, publisher of bestselling guidebooks. It’s the perfect way to get introduced to a city you are visiting for the first time.

Don’t overplan your road trips

“It’s a good idea to have a destination in mind, but never a route,” says blogger Mike Shubic of “,” who has been road-tripping since 2010, when he left his marketing job to travel full time. “For example, I like to veer down side roads and go for short hikes, or stop by places where most people will drive right by while saying, ‘I wonder what that is?’”

Do a year’s travel planning (or at least most of it) at the same time

The most challenging part of travel planning is often just deciding whether to do it, so set a hard deadline like Jan. 15 to plan out your year’s travel. “Once you commit and just make that decision, ‘Hey, let’s go to Australia,’ then the rest of it actually just becomes making it happen,” David James says.

Study before you leave … 

“Many travelers have the mistaken notion that learning about the destination in advance of the trip will somehow spoil the fun of being there. Nothing could be farther from the truth! When you learn about where you’re going, you can interact with the destination intellectually and emotionally, rather than just witness it,” says Frommer.

… or read some fiction

Experience Spain through Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Visiting Paris? Pick up The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Visit Savannah, Georgia’s historic Bonaventure Cemetery after reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Fiction not only builds a sense of romance and intrigue about your destinations, but also often accurately details neighborhoods and famous destinations.

Ponder a risk vacation

Once a year, consider going on a trip that you have otherwise avoided because you weren’t sure it was right for you. James noted that she didn’t ever want to take a train-based vacation. But she recently took one anyway: a Eurail trip to Norway in the winter. On it she and her husband saw the northern lights, took a cruise through the fjords and visited a reindeer ranch. “It was a great trip,” she says. “The reindeer ranch was great — we were the only people at the lodge.”

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view of an airplane wing and the clouds and ground below taken from one of the plane windows while in flight



Book a.m. flights

Fly early in the day, notes retired airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in a travel story for the New York Times. “Especially in the summer time before the thunderstorms develop and the weather becomes more of a factor. If you take one of the first flights out in the morning, typically the airplane and the crew have arrived the night before. When you’re not waiting on an inbound flight, there are fewer delays.

A suitcase packed tightly with a swimsuit, beach hat and compass on the top


Stop checking your luggage

Roll your clothes and use compression bags to get your clothes to fill the bare minimum space. You’ll have fewer bags to carry, not worry about lost luggage, skip waiting at baggage claim and you’ll save on checking fees. “” blogger Tom Bartel says he packs two or three merino wool shirts, which compress down to almost nothing.

Do this if you’re flight is canceled

“The last thing you should do is stand in line to rebook. Immediately call the 800 number of the airline and ask to be rebooked on the next flight. If that flight is full, then say, ‘Can you 240 me?’ That’s a rule that says if a flight is canceled for any reason other than weather, they have to transfer you to another airline. Not every airline honors it, but the bigger carriers do,” says Peter Greenberg, who hosts the public television show The Travel Detective with Peter Greenberg.

Know the local emergency number

“911 isn’t a universal number. When you’re abroad somewhere and need to reach a country’s emergency service line, simply dial 112,” says Keith Bradford, author of Life HacksCollege HacksHoliday Hacks and the upcoming Travel Hacks.

Stretch every two hours

Wearing compression socks and stretching your legs aren’t just for long airplane rides; they make sense for any experience that keeps you idle for long stretches. “I sometimes set the timer on my phone to remind me to get up every two hours to stretch,” Tom Bartel says. “Lift your knees up and get the blood going in your legs. I always feel better after doing that.”

woman in car holding phone out the open window taking a photo of the golden gate bridge over the san francisco bay



Leave the new hiking shoes at home

A trip is not the time to break in new shoes — even if they fit properly, you can get blisters or pain as they go through the breaking-in process. Stick to shoes you’ve worn regularly for at least a month and that have proven to be comfortable and supportive from morning to night.

Take real steps to avoid illness

Germs can be different the farther away you get from home, making you more susceptible to illness. So wash your hands more than you typically do at home, and bring along hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. “Shaking hands with someone, touching an armrest, tray table or in-flight entertainment screen — points of potential contamination — should all cue a trip to the sink or the use of a hand sanitizer,” says David Hamer, M.D., coprincipal investigator, International Society of Travel Medicine. Also make choices that support good health, like getting a full night’s sleep, avoiding too much alcohol, and eating lots of healthy, natural (and well-washed) foods.

Borrow someone’s friend or relative

Ask your inner circle if they know anyone living in the area you plan to visit. “What I tend to remember are the people that I have deep conversations with. So nowadays I actively plan my travels so that I can meet these people. I’ll ask my Facebook friends to lend me their friends in destination X, and then take those folks out to dinner. Or I’ll eat at the bar, so I can talk with locals. When I’m able to connect this way, I feel like I was part of the community I was visiting,” says Pauline Frommer.

Add layers to your photos

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched people with cameras wait and wait for other people to ‘get out of the way.’ But having people in the picture can add a lot to an otherwise static image. By including a human element, you often get a much more interesting photograph,” says Susan Seubert, award-winning travel photographer.

Trail Ride, Patagonia, Argentina,  Great Places for a Multigenerational Vacation

Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

Keep memories fresh

When traveling with his family, Sullenberger writes down “the most surprising things that we saw, the funniest thing that someone said. It’s fun, especially now that our daughters are a little older, to go back and look at trips we took eight or 10 years ago. It’s kind of a gift that you get to keep enjoying as the years go by.

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