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The Expert in Baby Boomer Travel

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If it’s Tuesday, this must be the Rue de Bouchers in Brussels. Photo from Shutterstock.

Today’s guest post, by Canadian resident Robert Waite, argues that baby boomers should slow down a bit in pursuing bucket list items and spend more quality time in a destination to absorb the culture and life of the people there.

As Bob told me, his piece is meant to stir debate,  and I found myself debating his points within my own mind —  which is exactly what a good piece of journalism should provoke.

I’ll share my opinions on this topic in a later post, but for now I’ll yield the floor to Bob:

By Robert Waite

Those of us of a certain age might recall the film “If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium,” a 1969 United Artists release that poked fun at American tourists for their penchant for rushing from European capital to European capital without so much as a moment to catch their collective breath.

This wasn’t a great movie – its one redeeming factor was that it featured the ever-perky Suzanne Pleshette – but it did contain a central truth: Travel should not just broaden – it should deepen as well. Skimming across nine countries is no more satisfying than speed-reading nine great novels.

Those Americans, of course, were our parents. And our generation, in this instance as in so many others, swore we would not emulate them.

Many of us managed to keep that pledge when it came to travel.

We took a semester or year abroad while in college; we backpacked at a leisurely pace, lingering when it suited us. We later might have taken our families or significant others to hilltops in Tuscany or to rented gites in Provence.

Like to ride a camel through the Hindu Kush? Contact Exodus Travels. Photo from Exodus Travels

Riding a camel through the Hindu Kush can be a rewarding immersive experience. Photo from Exodus Travels

Absorbing the Culture

In other words, we sought immersive experiences, absorbing the culture and adjusting to the tempo of a place.

But then something happened. We started to hear our mortality clocks ticking. Life, we realised, was a bit like an LP record – the needle moves slowly at first on the outer grooves, but then the pace quickens exponentially as it moves inwards towards the final cut.

This seems to have induced among many Boomers a sense of panic – the “so much to do, so little time” syndrome. This has been fueled by the popular media. We have been inundated by references to bucket lists and by books and articles touting some variation on “100 Places to See Before You Die.”

To which I say, “Get a grip.”

Seeing is not the same thing as knowing.

Yes, one option is to try to tick as many boxes as possible in whatever time you have left.

Every Country

The most extreme example is a fellow named Blaine Gibson.

As related in the July issue of Atlantic Monthly, this Californian is on a quest to visit every country in the world before he departs for the hereafter.

Madagascar can be a good place to beachcomb. Photo from Madagascar-tourisme.com

He also, more recently, became somewhat obsessively interested in the disappearance of MH370, the Malaysian Airlines flight that vanished just over five years ago.

He thus also became a beachcomber, specializing in aircraft flotsam and jetsam.

Given two plausible places to search by ocean current experts, he chose Madagascar – because it would represent his 177th country – and spurned the other, not because it was less likely, but because he had already been. (Fortunately, it worked out – he did, indeed, find the evidence he was looking for.)

Look, I understand the urge to tick off boxes – I have been guilty myself.

In 2017, driving from LA to Ottawa, Ontario, I made a totally unnecessary deviation into Idaho. Unnecessary, except that Idaho represented the last of the lower 48 states that I had yet to visit (in my lexicon, a visit must include an overnight stay).

Half Baked?

Idaho was lovely. There is a fun Idaho Potato Museum and Cafe in the town of Blackfoot.

But an extra night in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, might have been more soul-satisfying. And it might have also quelled my spousal unit from repeatedly observing that I was “nutsy cuckoo,” which I believe is Canadian for off your rocker.

The Idaho caper was an aberration. We normally go out of our way to linger in a country, trying get a real feel for its people and the place they occupy.

Taking more time on Hurtigruten ships allows you to explore coastal villages. Photo from visitnorway.com

One example is a recent trip to Africa – we spent most of our five weeks in just two countries, Namibia and Rwanda.  Both countries have complex stories to tell and a rich cultural heritage to explore.

Another is Norway. We did the Hurtigruten coastal cruise routine, but we got off the ship numerous times to stay a night or two before boarding the next vessel to come along.

We saw just as many fjords and maritime sights, but also got a sense of what a small Nordic town is like after a boatload of tourists has sailed away.

Can You Brag in Heaven?

For those of you who might have fallen into the bucket list trap, or have become obsessed with visiting X number of places before you die, consider this:

One, why are you doing this? Bragging rights in heaven?

Remember, you can’t take slide shows, videos (or anything else) with you when you go. And what do you do if the first person you run into is Ferdinand Magellan – or Neil Armstrong?

Two, rushing around from place to place is stressful. Savouring a location for an extended period of time can decompress. Stressing about ticking off bucket list items…could actually cause you to kick the bucket!

The bottom line – don’t become your parents. And if you do go to Belgium, spend a month of Tuesdays.

Author Bio: Robert Waite has written on travel for almost 50 years. A former Pacific News Service correspondent, he is a professor at Seneca College in Toronto and Managing Partner at Waite + Co., a communications consulting firm with offices in Boston, Ottawa and Toronto.

Readers: Which camp do you fall into — bucket list chasers or soul-satisfying lingerers? Your comments are welcome!

You might also enjoy Robert Waite’s previous posts on clarknorton.com:

Haida Gwaii’s Magical Mix of Culture, Adventure

Sailing the Magical Islands of Haida Gwaii

 

 

 

6 Responses to Are Bucket Lists Actually “Speed Traps”?

  • Great piece! This guy can write and capture the essence while you laugh yourself sick. Careful boomers – too much laughing….. well OK I can die now

  • Thanks for writing, Peter — and careful with all that laughing!

  • Neil Armstrong! Hilarious! This guy is terrific~

  • I think we fall into both categories. Most of our traveling has been on cruises, so time in port is limited. But we also try to pick origin and termination points of special interest, spending a few days in each before and after the cruise. Cruising is just so effortless. River cruises are the best.

    • That’s a great way to approach it, John. Spend time in your origin and termination cities as well as on the cruise itself. Catharine and I do the same. I also like river cruises the best, though smaller-ship sea cruises are fine, too. Thanks for writing — I agree, it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation between fulfilling bucket lists and spending more time in a destination. Do both!

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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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