If one hasn’t reached the last of Shakespeare’s seven ages—“sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”—traveling can be as pleasurable for senior citizens as it is for younger folk.
This we can attest to—two sisters and their spouses, ages 61 to 77—after 23 days on the road from London to Worcester in England, Brecon and Monmouth in Wales, and Belfast and Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
Still, seniors have quirks I don’t remember seeing in companions of earlier days. Pack patience in your luggage, and remember:
1. Seniors slow down, particularly in 5-degree weather, which was wet and wretched throughout our stay. Sonnet 18 speaks of winds that shake the darling buds of May; we caught the winds, but missed the darling buds. Britain’s forests, lakes and pastures are breathtakingly lovely, but they are outdoors, best explored on sturdier legs (and stronger bladders).
We reached, but dared not attempt, even a fraction of the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway on the Irish coast, or the 177-mile earthwork Offa’s Dyke, ancient demarcation between England and Wales.
We settled for a more sedate stroll through Kew Gardens in southwest London, the world’s largest collection of living plants. The four of us took turns on a mobile scooter.
2. Seniors use up less energy, therefore eat less, therefore save money on food, much of which we try to avoid anyway, on doctors’ orders.
In the land of steak and kidney pie, a full morning meal at a farm bed-and-breakfast (designed for farmhands who get up before dawn to toil with the herds and are ravenous at breakfast) consists of bacon, sausage and tomato, cereal and toast, butter and jam, potato pancakes and eggs, fruit juice, and coffee or tea. Consume the lot, and you are immobile for hours. Eat more sparingly, and at lunch a bowl of soup and a buttered scone will do nicely.
Restaurant portions are hefty; two people can share one order of fish and chips. But staying away at teatime from a bakeshop display of hot cross buns, teabreads, crumbles, puddings and treacle tarts requires an iron will, or diabetes.
3. Senior males hate asking for directions. Our group’s oldest member was also its most indispensable, as he was the lone Brit, and licensed to drive on the wrong side of the road.
But he was a) helpless without his SatNav, which got intermittently confused when he punched in the wrong settings; b) capable in the countryside, but apt to get cranky at any city intersection with more than three roads to choose from; and c) implacably opposed to seeking advice, even when a passing postman happens to be five feet away. It’s a man thing; my wife saved the day by insisting on refueling, then asking questions at the petrol station.
4. Senior females love shopping, and grieve when they pass up any supermarket, farm stall, tourist trap, thrift shop, or boot sale. Some of what we buy we actually consume, like pear cider; much becomes pasalubong for kinfolk, friends and colleagues—chocolates, bath soaps, toiletries, fridge magnets, baseball caps, blouses, playing cards, keyholders, bookmarks, souvenir pins.
Invariably, when we get home and allocate the goodies, my wife makes the anguished discovery that someone has been left out of the gift list.
5. Seniors lose things. Each day’s scintillating dialogue features lines like “Where’d you (never “I”) leave a) the car keys, b) my morning pills, c) the book I was reading, d) tickets to the Titanic Museum, e) the address of the next B&B, f) my cell phone, and g) my cell-phone charger?”
We left more than our carbon imprint in Europe. My brother-in-law John lost his aviator cap; his wife Emilie, a bonnet and a paring knife; my wife Cynthia, a treasured manicure set. My mint-green T-shirt turned up in someone’s car, so I may get it back by September.
Traveling with seniors has its share of fumbles. Best to do it in the spirit of an Irish proverb: “The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.”