It’s one thing for teenagers and college kids to pack up their backpacks and set out to explore parts unknown, but it's not such a given when you’re over 70, like me. Many of us are armchair travelers rather than real-life travelers. Yet for the last several years, I’ve tried to go at least once a month to a place I’ve never been before — recently, that's included Greenland, Lebanon, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Portugal, North Carolina, Slovenia, Albania, Uruguay and Austin, Texas. To help make it affordable, I often travel on a tight budget, staying in youth hostels, eating simple meals and using local mass transit.
I don’t plan itineraries ahead of time and rarely consult with travel agents. Occasionally, I join an organized tour, but most of the time I book a flight, pack a bag of clothes and guidebooks, and travel alone. Staying home would be easier. “Why put myself through this?” I sigh, grappling online with overseas timetables. But for me, traveling is always worth the effort. Here are a few reasons why.
It offers unexpected thrills. Among them: A bungee jump off a mountain in New Zealand, whisking through the Everglades in front of the giant fan on an airboat, balancing an egg on end at the equator’s exact point of zero longitude, wading up to my knees in the water off a Maldivian island to hand-feed the comical, slippery stingrays that show up hungry every evening.
It makes the world more interesting. Firsthand knowledge of a country intrigues me to keep up with its politics and news. Back home, I find myself reading up on elections in Lebanon and the economic woes of Brazil, engrossed in accounts of the coup attempt in Turkey, and keeping abreast of China’s “One Belt, One Road” revival of the Silk Route.
It keeps my mind active. On my way to a new town, I study the layout of its hotels, public buildings and tourist spots so that I arrive with a sense of how to get around without getting lost. Plotting out routes calls for juggling bus/train/metro schedules in mental exercises as beneficial as any sudoku puzzle or game of bridge. Grappling with currency exchange rates maintains my math IQ.