Senior Steps: Get out the map

Susan Masson

You’ve got your diploma in one hand and a wad of cash in the other thanks to the good old graduation present parade. You’ve talked big about seeing the world, strapping on the backpack and hitting the road before joining the “real world.” So what’s stopping you? Nothing!

Here’s some info to help you start planning your great escape:

Decide where to go, what to do and for how long. If you’re not sure, get out the map, pick up some guide books, start asking your family and friends where they’ve been, read the paper, talk to a travel agent and basically do your homework.

Consider the length of time you have to dedicate to worldly exploration and be realistic about what you can see in the amount of time you have. You probably can’t see the whole world, but you can at least see some of the things about which you’ve been dreaming.

Determine your budget. Do you have the means to travel in style or do you need to explore some options that might allow you to do a little work to pick up cash while you’re on the road? Think about working or volunteering abroad to extend your time overseas.

Be smart and stay safe. In today’s political climate, you need to be well informed to stay safe. The U.S. State Department issues periodic travel announcements, cautions and warnings for American citizens abroad as well as excellent tips for travelers. Keep up with world events by following the news regularly. You’ll feel more comfortable on your grand adventure if you can keep up with the locals and their conversations about world events. If you’re considering more exotic locales (and even if you’re not), it’s a good idea to check with the Center for Disease Control about any recommended vaccinations. And remember, you are bound by the laws of the country you are visiting so know the local laws.

Get organized. Plan an itinerary, even if it’s a loose one. Passports can take up to six weeks and visas may be required to travel to some countries, even as a tourist. It takes additional time to get a visa and you must have your passport before any visas can be issued, so plan ahead. Price plane tickets early, especially if you’re traveling in the summer (peak tourist season in many areas). Determine how you’ll get around once you arrive overseas. Bus? Train? Rental car? Some combination? Keep in mind that more Americans are killed in traffic accidents overseas than by any other means. Cheaper transportation may not always be worth it. Also, where will you stay on your grand adventure? Hostels? Hotels? Campgrounds?

The difference between a great trip and a miserable one is often in the planning. Doing your homework doesn’t mean you have to be locked into a strict schedule; it means you know the options and how to make intelligent choices while you’re on the road.

One last bit of advice from someone who’s been there: bring comfy shoes and don’t pack more than you can carry up and down a flight of stairs by yourself.

Enjoy yourself and be safe! Bon voyage!