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0b4623e5-a51d-46e8-8c66-a40b164f4a3fI recently came across a clever ad that I love. It’s from a North Carolina- and Italy-based tour agency called Italian Journeys, and the ad is called “Italy Aptitude Exam.

It features a number of “exam” questions that, in a humorous way,  are designed to get you thinking about whether you’d rather spend this January in Italy — on their 10-day tour of Rome and Naples called “Fundamental Italy” — or back home in the U.S. in the dead of winter.

Illustrated with photos old and new, the exam asks you to choose between, among other things, shoveling snow or standing in the sunshine overlooking Rome’s Tiber River; having a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee or a cappuccino; eating American fast food or Italian pasta; and viewing a smoggy American city or what looks to be a dreamy photo of the Isle of… Continue reading

The view from the fortress above Nafplio is stunning. Photo by Clark Norton

The view from the fortress above Nafplio is stunning. Photo by Clark Norton

Although I’d been to Greece twice before, I wasn’t familiar with the town of Nafplio (also spelled Nafplion) until four members of my family and I spent several days there recently to attend a baptismal ceremony and celebration for the baby daughter of some friends. (More on that in my next post.)

Nafplio is  about a two-hour drive from the airport in Athens, and is located at the northern end of the Peloponnesian Peninsula, where the Peloponnesian War pitted the Athenians versus the Spartans in the 5th century BC.

The militaristic Spartans prevailed over the once-dominant but philosophically minded Athenians, dealing a fatal blow to the golden age of ancient Greek democracy.

It was kind of like the Michigan State Spartans football team taking on the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. Ouch.

Nafplio,… Continue reading

Fourth in a Series: 

The entrance to one of our favorite tavernas on Milos, Merthismeni Politeia. Photo by Clark Norton

The entrance to one of our favorite tavernas on Milos, Merthismeni Politeia. Photo by Clark Norton

During my week on the Greek island of Milos, I saw no Mexican restaurants, no sushi bars, no French bistros, or even a Chinese take-out joint.

Yes, there were casual cafes that served pizza, burgers, or crepes as part of their offerings, but no dedicated ethnic eateries or American fast-food places.

All this was fine with me. My family and I ate Greek food three times a day — more if you count the occasional snack — and never got tired of it.

Not only was it almost invariably fresh and delicious, but the variety in selection  and  preparation  far surpassed what you might expect to find in a Greek restaurant in the United States. Our diet went way beyond the familiar gyros,… Continue reading

An ancient Roman amphitheater on Milos comes with water view. Photo by Catharine Norton.

An ancient Roman amphitheater on Milos comes with water view. Photo by Catharine Norton.

Second in a Series: 

Driving on a Greek island is easy — if you let your spouse take the wheel.

I’m fortunate, in a way, that my wife, Catharine, gets a bit nauseous if she tries to read anything — such as a map — in a moving car. That means that in unfamiliar territory without a GPS, I get to navigate, and she has to drive.

Getting to our house on Milos — which we had rented for a week’s vacation with our son, daughter-in-law and six-month-old grandson — was something of an adventure.

Driving up from Adamas, the largest town in Milos and site of the ferry terminal and waterfront marina,  required following a winding road up through the hills while cars zipped around us, passing on blind curves. Catharine stuck… Continue reading

A whitewashed church overlooks Milos' harbor. Photo by Catharine Norton

A whitewashed church overlooks Milos’ harbor. Photo by Catharine Norton

Milos — one of Greece’s sun-soaked  Cycladic islands that include the better known Mykonos and Santorini — had not been on my radar until a Greek-American friend of ours suggested it might be the perfect place for a three-generation vacation.

The three generations? My wife, Catharine, and I — first-time grandparents as of six months ago — our son, Grael; daughter-in-law, Nona; and our young grandson, Conrad, making his first trip abroad, brand new passport in hand. (Well, not in his hands — though he would have liked to have gotten hold of it, along with anything dangling and shiny.)

Because we’d all be traveling with a baby, we didn’t want anything too hectic and crowded — that eliminated Mykonos and Santorini — but we did want a good choice of lodgings, restaurants,  cafes, and beaches, as… Continue reading

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- part of a trend? Photo courtesy of Mandarin Oriental.

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — part of a trend? Photo courtesy of Mandarin Oriental.

First, let’s establish one thing: I’m not a particularly  affluent traveler, certainly by U.S. standards. I don’t really know where I fall in the spectrum of what I spend roaming the world , but I know that when I’m traveling on my own dime price is definitely an object.

Sure, I like to stay in a five-star hotel, dine in a Michelin three-star restaurant or fly first class as much as the next guy, but only if someone else is paying for it. As a consequence, I’ve stayed in some real dumps, eaten any number of meals in greasy spoons, and sat cramped in coach for up to 14 hours at a time on hundreds of flights, all to feed my travel addiction or in furtherance of getting a… Continue reading

This is one of the beautiful images you'll find on StrideTravel.com. Photo by Dennis Cox.

This is one of the beautiful images you’ll find on StrideTravel.com. Photo by Dennis Cox.

“The Savvy Path to Breathtaking Travel, Without the Hassle”

“Less Planning, More Experiencing”

“A Journey of a Thousand Smiles Begins With a Single Click”

These are some of the taglines that express the essence of the new travel website, StrideTravel.com, where I worked for more than a year as Content Director. (My job is now in the capable hands of Content Coordinator Samantha Scott, who, together with co-founders Gavin Delany and Jared Alster, comprise a formidable team.)

In practical terms, Stride aspires to be — and in many ways already is — the best place on the Web to survey the wealth of multi-day, pre-planned trips that are now available from hundreds of travel suppliers around the world.

“Pre-planned trips” may encompass guided group or private tours as well as independent journeys… Continue reading

Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday — falls on February 9 this year, and is celebrated in America most notably in Louisiana.

In my limited Mardi Gras experience, I’ve noticed that Louisianans like to dance to Cajun music, dress up and ride in Mardi Gras parades, catch beads, drink copious amounts of liquid refreshments, and eat crawfish.

I love seafood, but when I was presented with a heaping platter of boiled crawfish in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a few Mardi Gras celebrations ago, I was a little intimidated.

While crawfish look like little lobsters, they’re way too small to crack in the same way. So how do you eat them without making a fool of yourself in front of the locals?

A mess o' crawfish.

A mess o’ crawfish.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s what I was taught by a local expert (and it works!):

1. Pick up one fully boiled crawfish.… Continue reading

Yu Sheng, the salad that Malaysian Chinese toss to ensure prosperity for the coming year. Photo by Jade Chan.

Yu Sheng, the salad that Malaysian Chinese toss to ensure prosperity for the coming year. Photo by Jade Chan.

Chinese New Year (also known as Spring Festival), starts on February 8 this year and continues for 15 days.

It’s the most important festival time of the year in China — when millions of Chinese travel to their home villages and cities to be with family or friends for holiday reunions.

This is the Year of the Fire Monkey: a combination of fire — one of the five primal Chinese elements that include wood, earth, fire, metal, and water — and monkey, which is one of the 12 rotating Chinese Zodiac signs.

Chinese New Year is now celebrated by parades featuring dragon and lion dances and fireworks, family gatherings and feasts, and, on the 15th and final day, a Lantern Festival featuring illuminated red lanterns.

According to legend, Chinese New… Continue reading

Tuvalu will become a center for Climate Change Tourism. Photo from Timeless Tuvalu

Tuvalu will become a center for Climate Change Tourism. Photo from Timeless Tuvalu

Peering into my crystal ball for 2016 — which due to budgetary concerns is more like fiberglass this year — I foresee the following top ten developments in the ever-changing, sometimes wacky world of travel:

Try to pare this down to wallet size, please.

Try to pare this down to wallet size, please.

  • A 747 will be diverted from Omaha to New Orleans overnight because passengers in seats A and B get into a spat over who can claim the middle armrest. Oddly, none of the hundreds of passengers aboard complain as they gobble down their jambalaya and beignets.
  • Spurred by the success of a tour agency named “Toodle-oo Tuvalu” and a boutique hotel called “Sinking Along With the Breeze,” Climate Change Tourism will be huge, in which ghoulish travelers will journey to low-lying Pacific atolls soon to be inundated… Continue reading

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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