A French worker gets paid for thirty days off each year. The US is the only developed country without any legally required paid vacation days. Is it any wonder that many American opt for an organized tour in order to cram in as much sight-seeing as possible into a one or two week period?
If you are retired or have time, why not spend longer abroad for the same amount or even less money? While visiting those “not to be missed” sights mingle with the natives. Learn their customs. Visit their markets. Dine on their authentic cuisine. These experiences could go a long way toward giving you a better understanding of the numerous ways to do everyday things other than the American way.
These six steps should get you on the way for your own store of “unforgettable memories:”
1. Browse through the library and bookstores guidebooks.
Look for those authored by non-US writers. (Both the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet series were started by young Brits whose clientele weren’t seeking luxury. They have a vested interest in chocking their guides full bargains.)
2. If you prefer cruises, you’ll find numerous options in these guides.
(Note the information given here isn’t verbatim, and the details included in parentheses have been inserted to assist the novice traveler with additional information as an aid to use while making their travel selections.)
a. To visit Luang Prabang, the beautiful old French city—recently named a World Heritage Center—hop aboard one of the salt barges that leave from Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to make the five-day trip down the swift flowing Mekong River, one of Asia’s major waterways. For around seventy-five US cents a night you’ll have memories that will last you a lifetime!
(You will spend both your days and nights sitting and sleeping on the wooden platform near the engine room. After mooring each evening, you will have an opportunity to enjoy an invigorating bath or swim in the river.
Food is available at the various ports of call. Perhaps you’ll be the lucky one invited to dine at the captain’s table on the last night of this cruise. Formal attire is not required.)
b. For the seventeen hours of this cruise you will have ample opportunity to mingle with the Chinese on one of their typical large one-room boats. You will then board a bus for a scenic drive through the Chinese countryside viewing rice paddies and will learn what life is like in rural China. The cost for the first boat and bus is what the French refer to as “three times nothing.” At Guilin, your destination, another cruise will take to view such highly touted karst formations as “The Yearning for Husband Hill” that are scattered along the Li River, another one of China’s outstanding attractions.
c. Any one of The East is Red ships is an inexpensive alternative to the numerous tourist boats on your not-to-be-missed visit to Three Gorges stretch of the Yangtze River, China’s longest waterway.
(There are no first class and only two second-class staterooms, but sharing a small room with seven or eight Chinese affords a unique opportunity to learn their everyday habits.)
3. If you prefer land-based destinations then consider these suggestions:
a. Before you leave Chinese don’t miss taking a stroll on The Great Wall and recalling the grandeur of the Ming Dynasty during a visit to their tombs. (If you don’t understand Chinese, your guidebook’s detailed instructions for getting to the kiosks where these less than a dollar tickets are sold, also lists all the salient points of these two sights. It’s also easy to eavesdrop on English speaking guides at the sight. )
b. The Trans Siberian Train leaves the Beijing station every Wednesday morning on it’s way to Moscow. It passes through Mongolia where one marvels at this vast pristine sandy landscape. You will rumble through seven time zones and cross four rivers, including the Volga, Europe’s longest river. The stone marker in the Ural Mountains delineating Asia from Europe is clearly visible from the train. (The price in the hundred-person dormitory is a much cheaper option than a flight if you choose it instead of a small second-class cabin that sleeps two for this five days trip.)
c. After checking out the tooth-pulling booth in Marrakesh’s square, stroll around the rest of this colorful Berber market. Notice the colorful array of spices used in their delicious cuisine. (Be on guard as you walk past the fortunetellers whispering secrets under their small umbrellas or you might find a harmless pet snake wrapped around your neck—an often-used ruse to demand money for its release.) The highlight of your trip is certain to be a camel ride into the Sahara to sleep in a Berber tent.
4. An even cheaper travel option is a visa length stay in a city or country of your choice.
(Thailand and Bali are favorites, but any country has a great deal to offer.)
a. Search newspapers, as well as the guidebook, for bargain flights. (Some airlines provide free overnight accommodations and food for long distance flights—quite a saving if you’re going to Southeast Asia.)
b. Lodging will be your main cost so search for alternatives to hotels. Guesthouses are a great recommendation for Thailand. (They have all the necessary facilities and with their constant turnover of young backpackers eager to share their latest travel experiences their recommendations are golden.
c. Search for alternatives to taxis such as pickup trucks with benches in the back. Motorcycles are easily rented, but helmets are not normally required. (Driving on the left side of the road can present problems for
Americans. It is often safer to be a passenger than a driver.)
5. Pack light, very light.
a. “Same shirt, different day” is a great byline to keep in mind for any type of independent travel as handling your own luggage saves tip money.
b. Clothes should be functional. Leave your expensive jewelry at home. It is an invitation a thief looks for.
6. Be flexible.
(If your carefully planned trip falls through, don’t fret—reschedule or forget it. Something else could be serendipity)
About the authors:
Bill Mahoney began hitchhiking across the country working odd jobs at thirteen. He sailed the Atlantic as a merchant marine and the Pacific in the navy. He also fought a professional fight. He hopped trolleys, trucks, automobiles, and trains. He graduated from an adult high school then earned his B.A. at UCLA and an M.A. at Boston University. He taught world history in Paris for ten years. His second book, Is Muldoon Still in Paris, recounts his delinquent childhood and a third book, Mission Paris will appear soon. Bill speaks five languages and can tell a story in a dozen others.
Ina Garrison Mahoney grew up in the small Texas town of Blooming Grove. She graduated from Southwestern University with a BA in speech and drama and an MA from the University of Houston. She went to France in 1958 with a one-year leave of absence from her teaching job in Victoria, Texas. When she returned to the U.S. to live five years ago, she had to begin learning how to live as an American once again.
Vagabonding Through Retirement: Unusual Travels Far from Our Paris Houseboat can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and through all major booksellers