This is for my fellow boomers who have never traveled to Europe, or who have, but only in the traditional tourist mode. Here’s a perspective that’s a little different from what you’ll get from most travel sites and blogs. Those websites are all wonderful, but they’re almost all written by millenials or even younger people.
They’re not thinking about this one thing, but we are. Or at least I am.
So here it is.
We ain’t gettin any younger.
The time is now! Seize the day!
As life begins to change for us in our sixties and seventies, our perspective should change with it. Mine sure as hell did.
Life Changes Us, We Should Change Our Lives
In May of 2015, at the age of 64 1/2 I was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
It was a shock, but not as much of a shock as the prostate cancer diagnosis I got in December 2013 when I had just turned 63.
So in May 2015 I was reeling from 2 different, unrelated, cancer diagnoses in 18 months.
First, I had gotten the bad news that I had prostate cancer in late 2013. I researched the various treatment options and prognoses for the disease. WIth that information, I decided to simply follow the active surveillance regimen. That just means doing nothing, but having biopsies or scans once a year to determine if the cancer was growing or spreading. Meanwhile, I consumed lots of the foods and supplements that various preliminary studies had shown to fight prostate cancer.
So far, so good. Nearly 6 years later, none of my annual scans has subsequently turned up any trace of the disease. I began to suspect that the initial diagnosis was wrong, but several urologic surgeons, and primary care physicians told me that they never make mistakes, LOL. The initial diagnosis was correct, they said. Who am I to argue? And I guess it’s good news that they could not find any cancer since then.
The kidney tumor news came in May 2015. This was scarier, but again, I did the research. The research findings were were similar to those in my readings about prostate cancer (PC). Only 2% of kidney cancers are aggressive and will kill you. The other 98% are slow growing and don’t spread.
But the literature recommended surgery for people of my age. Unfortunately, if you’re in the 2%, surgery and aggressive treatment usually don’t help. So you may as well live life to the fullest while you can, either way.
The problem then in mid 2015 was that I was uninsured. In June, after numerous medical consultations I was still 5 months away from Medicare. One surgeon told me I should have the surgery right away. Two others told me that I could safely wait until I reached Medicare age in November 2015.
That concurred with all the research findings I had read. So I rolled the dice and waited.
That was nerve wracking. But I waited. And the instant that I went on Medicare I had the surgery. It was successful. My scans have been clear ever since. Phew!
But This Is a Travel Website, Not an Old-Age Medical Complaints Site
Now, what pray tell, does that have to do with long term travel?
Because after that surgery, my wife (now my ex, sadly) said to me, “You know Lee, we’re not getting any younger. We should travel now while we are still healthy enough to do it!”
She wanted to go to Spain for a long stay. Meanwhile, I had been working 50-70 hours a week in my online business writing financial newsletters for the last 20 years or so. I really never thought about going overseas. I was too immersed in my work.
But there I was, just out of cancer surgery, having already dealt with 2 kinds of cancer. So, despite my benightedness and workaholism, it dawned on my that she was right.
The time to travel was now! My work could go with me, and I could work a little less on the trip. Being 6 hours ahead of New York time would give me 6 hours a day extra to work, and still have a full day of experiencing foreign life.
Ha Ha. Right. It’s called burning the candle at both ends. But in truth, being 6 hours ahead, and having other things I really wanted to do, did give me a different perspective about when to work and how to focus on what’s really important. Invaluable perspective.
Skipping ahead to the present, now I work a lot less. Except on this website!
Back to the story, we left on January 3 on the Queen Mary 2. We had a great voyage across the stormy North Atlantic! What a fortress that ship is! We experienced 40-50 foot waves for several days and the ship barely rolled.
I repeated the trip twice more after that. I’ll give you more info about taking a Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic Crossing, in a post to come one day.
On that first trip, we landed at Southampton, UK a week after embarking from New York. We then started our travels at nearby Stonehenge.
Which I found underwhelming by the way. Not all travel experiences live up to what you expect them to be. 😉
But still, it was Stonehenge. I could say that I had been there. I crossed one of the Wonders of the World off my checklist. Over the course of the rest of that trip I also crossed off Big Ben, The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Mona Lisa, Notre Dame, The Alhambra, the French Riviera, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colisseum, Tuscany, the David, the Vatican, St. Peters, Venice, Pompeii.
Seeing the great sights of Europe that I had learned about growing up in school was unquestionably a thrill. I think that the greatest excitement I felt was upon seeing the Eiffel Tower, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But I was equally in awe of Barcelona’s Sagrada Famiglia, which I had only barely heard of before my trip.
In any event, there’s definitely something to be said for a conventional tour of the great places in Europe. Seeing those places filled me with awe. But in between those high points, I was equally joyful with the experience of all of Europe’s less well known gems. They are everywhere!
Fast forward to the end of the trip in early April. We had been through Spain, the South of France, and Corsica, and were then in Italy, on Mt. Vesuvius.
“Healthy” is relative. Little did I know just how unhealthy I was.
We had just taken an old school bus, then an old military half-track to within 200 meters of the summit. The last stretch was a walk up a path that circled the summit, definitely uphill all the way.
At 65, I was hardly the oldest guy on the that walk. But despite having walked all over Europe for 3 1/2 months, I was fatigued and out of breath. I was the last guy to get to the summit.
Why was I so tired?
Fast forward again. On April 9 we left Italy and headed home to Florida. Less than 3 weeks later, on April 29, I had a heart attack.
What to Do if You Have Severe Heartburn – Travel? No, Take Aspirin!
At first it felt like severe heartburn from the spicy Thai food I had just eaten. But I suspected, given the fatigue I had felt, that maybe it was a heart attack. So having seen the commercials, I chewed 5 low dose aspirin. The store brand, of course. Never pay retail for name brands. Even if you might be dying. Saving money comes first! 😁
Meanwhile, baseball being my religion, I thought, “Three strikes and you’re Out!” I had felt lousy twice before, that week. So I sat down on the bed and I dialed 911. The EMTs came in minutes. A few minutes later they were rushing me to Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm, sirens blaring.
I was already feeling better by the time they got me in the ambulance. I told them so, but they were having none of that. They had already taken my blood and run an ekg. They gruffly told me, “You’re having a heart attack, buddy. You’re going to the hospital!”
And off we went, sirens blaring.
Now, I lived then in a Florida retirement community, just like Seinfeld’s Del Boca Vista. We had ambulances coming in every few days. And whenever they did, I’d start humming this.
So as I laid there in the ambulance I could just imagine my neighbors all lined up on the roadside, arms folded, tapping their toes, and humming along.
Meanwhile, I got to the hospital, and there was no fooling around. A team was waiting for me at the door. They whisked me in, took my blood again, and hooked me up to machines, including an ekg.
Then I had a cat scan.
After that battery of tests, the doctor told me that it was a good thing I took the aspirin. Otherwise I’d be dead, she said. The aspirin had dissolved enough of the clot that was causing my heart attack, to allow sufficient blood flow to my heart to keep it, and me, alive.
Otherwise it would have been curtains! CURTAINS, I tell ya!
By then they thought I was no longer in an emergency situation so they held me for the weekend for catheterization and possible stent on Monday. I felt fine but they told me to stay the hell in bed.
I didn’t listen.
Comes Monday, while beginning the cath procedure the doctor discovered that my widowmaker artery was 90% blocked. He had to stop the procedure. They told me that I had to go on a heart pump right then and there so that they could keep me alive overnight to transport me for surgery to the heart center at JFK Hospital 20 minutes down I-95.
The next morning I had life-saving bypass surgery, barely 3 weeks after feeling so fatigued at the top of Mt. Vesuvius.
About 10 days later, one of the cardiologists from the group that cared for me visited me at the rehab facility where I was recovering. He told me that I had had a near-death experience. In other words, I had flatlined in surgery and they brought me back. Apparently that’s not uncommon in open heart surgery.
So Before You Bite the Dust, Think About Taking an Extended European Trip
At our age, we begin to face the reality that this life of ours doesn’t last forever. And so I realized after my heart surgery that spending the preceding 3 months in Europe before nearly croaking was perhaps the smartest thing I had ever done. It took two cancer diagnoses, one cancer surgery, one heart attack, and one coronary bypass surgery to convince me, but convince me, it did.
And because I took my wife’s advice and we went to Europe, I fell in love with the place. I thank my ex to this day, and will thank her forever, for getting me to take that trip.
There are lots of great travel blogs and websites out there. Most of the writers are under 40. Many are in their 20s. They’re great. They’re adventurous, informative, and often funny and charming. The photos, videos, and stories are eye opening. There are tons of useful travel tips. They are a great place to start researching for a travel adventure.
Long Term European Travel from a Boomer Perspective
But do we really want to carry backpacks and sleep in hostels? Do we want to sign up for a couple dozen credit cards to collect points and get airfare deals? Do we want to sleep on people’s sofas, or swap our house or apartment for someone else’s?
Hell, I’m 69 years old. Who has time to fill out credit card applications? And I like privacy and creature comforts. Moreover, while I don’t mind carrying a small backpack at times, I sure don’t want one that weighs 50 pounds on my back all the time. No sir.
We want things just a bit easier. We still love bargains as much as our kids and grandkids might, probably more actually, but we’d probably choose convenience and comfort over the absolute cheapest way to do things. I’m not telling you not to stay in hostels, mind you. I’m just saying it’s not for me. I’m not a hippie any more. Not that I ever was.
What we should have in common with our adventurous younger counterparts, our children and grandchildren, is the willingness to explore and experience. And the greatest joy, the greatest sense of accomplishment, is in doing it ourselves!
We are not sheep. We don’t need sheepherders to hurry us down the road in a group. We can find our own way. And if we make a wrong turn occasionally, so much the better! Just be sure to always have that GPS on your phone.
Which reminds me, the first thing you do when you get over there is find a phone store and buy a European sim card. And before you go, be sure that your phone is unlocked! There are instructions online. I’ll write a post about that at some point.
Self Guided Long Term Travel in Europe is the Icing and the Cake
With all of the travel tools now available to us online, there’s no excuse to pay someone to lead you around by the nose. Because our financial resources are limited, we can and should do this huge thing by doing it ourselves. Hell, the dreaming and research, the planning, is half the fun. The doing is the icing on the cake. And once you’ve done it once, each time after really does become a piece of cake.
My health problems forced a reality check on me. If you are healthy, don’t wait for that reality check! Do it now. Just be sure to buy travel medical insurance before you go. I recommend Insuremytrip.com for that. It’s a great comparator site where you can be sure to get the best coverage for the lowest price.
Even if your health is questionable, that’s all the more reason to go now. Take your time. Stop and smell the roses. Instead of doing something completely crazy like 47 cities and towns in 200 days, do 2 in a month or two and immerse yourself in those places. A couple of weeks in a seaside Mediterranean town will do wonders for your health and outlook. You won’t regret it.
As I develop this website, I’ll write more practical articles on just how to do it. From buying that all important travel health insurance because our blessed Medicare won’t cover us once you leave the US, to all the ways to find your way around and places to stay, I’ll have you covered.
But if you’re already chomping at the bit, and you can’t wait for me to get this information out, there’s always Google, and Lonely Planet, and The Culture Trip, among many other travel sites. Don’t wait for me! I have kilometers to cover, photos to take, videos to make, and stories to be written. This undertaking will take time, and I want you to get started now.
The Life of the Solo Traveler is a Good Life
Finally, I just want to talk about one other thing. Traveling alone. I’ve done it both ways–with a partner, and alone. There’s something to be said for shared experience. If you are married, in a relationship, or have a friend to go with, great!
But if you don’t, that’s just as good, even better in some ways. Most of Europe is very safe, much safer than the US. Do your homework about great neighborhoods to stay and visit – The Culture Trip has great posts on neighborhoods in virtually every town you’d want to visit.
And don’t worry about being lonely. Sure there will be times I’ve wished someone was there to share with. But I always had Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger to talk to my friends and family back home. I did that a lot. And I met and made friends with people along the way.
The sheer joy of unfettered discovery, not having to worry about someone else and whether they were enjoying themselves, is incomparbly fulfilling. Solo travel is amazing. Don’t fear it! Embrace it!
Seize the day! Time is growing short!
Meanwhile, I’ll get started on my 200 Days In Europe. I can’t wait to tell you all about it. And I’d love to hear from you about your big trip!