The desire to travel is like the desire for sex. When you aren’t doing it, it seems like the most attractive thing imaginable. If you can’t fulfill your desire for travel—because, let’s say, you are working—it can grow into a mild obsession. Like sex. You start buying travel magazines. You visit travel websites then wipe your browser history clean so no one will come to you and say, in a doubtful but still accusatory tone, “Excuse me, were you just checking out plane flights to Kiribati?”
You dream of a time when you’ll be free to travel. When you have put in the hard work and developed the resources and now the playground is open. Again. New tastes. New excitements. This trembling anticipation is why virtually everyone expects to travel in retirement and why virtually every story about retirement planning references what appears to be a ubiquitous desire to leave the comforts of home and explore.
But nothing removes the desire for travel like travel. Like sex, no matter how strong the desire sometimes seems, you only want so much of it. (If you have a constant desire for either, you are labeled a tramp.) Like sex, the excitement of travel is powerful and gratifying and then it disappears. Like sex, travel can be hard work. There can be a lot of bending and joint strain. And you can make mistakes that have consequences. On the road or in bed, it is easy to make a fool of yourself and old retired people hate making fools of themselves.
And travel, like sex, can be tough on your immune system. The Wall Street Journal has a story today on the travel risks that older people need to keep in mind when planning that mountain bike adventure in Bhutan or a diving excursion to Indonesia. It’s a bit thin on specifics but a valuable reminder that the risks do change as you age.
As a youth, you’d probably want a vaccination before you visit a country where yellow fever is endemic (which includes large parts of South America and most of the middle third of Africa). But in your sixth or seventh decade, the risk of a reaction might exceed the risk of the disease. “Live vaccines such as the one for yellow fever can be risky for those over 60 or 65, Dr. McKinney warns, because of a higher likelihood of side effects. Patients taking steroids, which lower resistance to viral infection of any kind, are also less likely to have a good response to a vaccine.”
So talk to your doctor. And look at the CDC website’s page for senior travel. The advice is pretty logical and encouraging: “With a little planning and some caution, seniors can safely visit almost any destination.”
But we take issue with some tips. For example: “Don’t ride in cars after dark in developing countries” and “Avoid small, local planes.”
This is both impractical and timid. The appeal of travel (and sex) is equal parts lofty, life-affirming, transcendental growth and cheap thrills. You’ll probably remember the hush as your eyes scanned the shadowy recesses of Notre Dame’s vaulted ceiling, but you might mix it up with Chartres or even St. Peter’s because it was a long time ago and one buttress looks a lot like the other. Some of those lofty impressions fade. But say you ignore the CDC and clamber aboard a Twin Otter a few days after rebels were caught sabotaging the grass runway with a few well-place holes. The tug on your stomach as the plane barrels forward, the instant of weightlessness as it finally lifts off, and the sight of those receding palms—that stays with you forever.
Photo of Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp (1915) via Wikimedia Commons.