5 Things to Consider Before Your First Empty Nest Vacation
The kids are gone and you and your mate find yourselves going on your first trip as “empty nesters.” No more choosing your destination based on what your kids want (and don’t want!) to do. You can even finally travel when school is IN session. Fall is ideal for most destinations and is often off-season so less expensive as well.
But after dozens of years thinking of family-friendly destinations and how to please the gang, how do you decide what to do?
As you begin your planning, here are FIVE things you should consider before heading off on that initial trip!
- Don’t assume your vacation needs to be sitting in the sun at the beach. Back before you had kids, wasn’t that the perfect trip? A week in Hawaii with a Mai Tai in hand at the swim-up bar? Although perfectly fine if you want to, more and more empty nesters are exploring a vast array of other options, including:
- Passion/”Bucket-List” Destination: Learn to cook by taking classes in Italy!
- Eco-tourism/Green/Responsible Vacations: Go to the rain forest or a nature preserve; mingle with the local culture, and do something to benefit the environment or the welfare of the local people.
- Educational Vacations: Where the emphasis is on learning. Learn to surf, to scout for bear in Alaska, to appreciate art and museums.
- Wellness Vacations: Pampering high-end spas, holistic retreats, or even weight loss clinics.
- Volunteer Vacations: Restore wilderness areas for the Sierra Club or go International with organizations such as Globe Aware. Help plant a community garden or teach English.
- Medical Tourism: Travel abroad and see the sights, then get a cheaper hip replacement or other surgery before coming home. Contact Joint Commission International to learn more.
- Spiritual: Take a religious pilgrimage, spend a week in silent reflection and meditation, or attend a yoga retreat.
- Travel Alone: You and your spouse have completely different ideas of the perfect empty nest getaway? Single? Lots of tours cater to single travelers!
- Assess your physical limitations and fitness level.
Before you go for that five-mile hike in high altitude, attempt scuba-diving for the first time, or join in some other fitness challenge that you are ill prepared for, do a little research and prep. If you know these activities await you, start a training program before you go on your trip.
When researching activities and companies that are offering them, check the company’s specified fitness level requirements, any restrictions relating to pre-existing medical conditions, and check what emergency procedures they have in place (to provide medical care and/or evacuation in case of emergency). Talk with your doctor about the activity, fitness requirement, anticipated weather, and any other factors such as altitude.
Travel insurance: Important if you are travelling out of the country or if you have medical coverage like Medicare or other that does not provide coverage outside the U.S.
Traveling to high altitude locations? Start a program pre-trip to increase your endurance (aerobics, walking). Give your body time to adjust to high-altitude locations. You can come down with mountain illness by going too high too quickly. Sleep issues become greater at altitudes of 13,000 feet or more. Plan to rest a lot while getting used to the altitude, hydrate and take frequent breaks. Be cautious if you’ve had a history of circulatory, heart or lung problems.
- Plan for Your Usual Dietary, Sleeping, Medication, Supplementation, Exercise and “Comfort” Habits!
You can make a few exceptions on the food and drink, but note that there are many daily habits that you should attempt to continue to adhere to, even on your vacation. From a planning perspective, this may mean packing extra items that you might be tempted to leave home.
- Supplements and medications: Don’t stop your routine. Medications are obviously important if you are taking them in the first place, but even supplements – in particular a daily probiotic or certain antioxidants (such as zinc, which is an antiviral and supports your immune system), can have an impact on how you feel and on your digestion and immune health.
- It’s always a good idea to let your doctor know you are traveling (Immunizations? Known health concerns at your destination such as bacteria, viruses or insects? Any issues relating to bringing in your prescription meds to a particular country?).
- There are supplements to help with high altitude destinations, and you may want to bump up digestive support (probiotics, digestive enzymes) if traveling to a country known to cause traveler’s digestive issues, or have issues with bacteria or viruses. Oregano Oil capsules can be helpful as a broad-spectrum antimicrobial; and can also help in cases of food pathogens. NAC (N-acetylcysteine) is a good supplement for boosting you immune system as well as preventing respiratory distress.
- Eating late dinners is hard on digestion. Lingering at the table will also result in more alcohol and you’ll continue to pick at your food even though you aren’t hungry. Move to a different setting and try to end the evening drinking just water.
- Ask for grilled veggies with every meal. Good calorie-wise and will help fill you up as well as keep your digestion moving along.
- Have diabetes or another disease? Have your doctor advise you as to what emergency provisions you should have on hand and while traveling (on airplanes, etc.). For diabetes, you may want a glucagon emergency kit, for example.
- Remember to hydrate! Especially if you are traveling to a different climate, altitude or will be more physically active than you would normally be at home. If you routinely carry around water in your reusable container at home, why would you suddenly stop while on vacation?
- Exercise: Normally hit the gym every day? Then experts say you should try to continue to incorporate that into your vacation. Search for a hotel with a gym (check extra costs!), and pack exercise clothes and athletic shoes.
- Sleep: Yes, you may want to party it up a bit to enjoy every minute. But you might not be the spring chicken you once were. Your body really needs a minimum of seven hours per night. And if you’ve changed time zones for your travels, your body’s circadian rhythm will already be impaired.
- Jet lag (especially for eastbound travel) can result in fatigue, insomnia and digestive issues and it usually takes one day to recover from each time zone you cross while traveling. Best way to deal with jet lag is to stay awake and on your destination’s local time. Getting out in the sunlight early each day can also help reset your circadian clock to local time.
- Bring over-the-counter melatonin, earplugs, and a sleep mask. Melatonin is a hormone your body naturally produces that regulates sleep/wake cycle. Short-term use before bedtime has been found to help with jet lag and insomnia.
- Diet: Yes, we know you are going to eat more on vacation. But take note of healthy things you CAN do.
- Restaurants add a lot of sugar to sauces, creams and dressings. Ask for these things on the side or skip altogether. Go with baked, broiled or grilled meats and fish when you can. Split dishes with your travel partner, especially desserts.
- Don’t skip breakfast! Eat a high protein, low fat breakfast (skip the carbs) which will keep you feeling fuller longer.
- Carry health snacks with you everywhere you go.
- Comfort: Your orthotic shoes may seem less than trendy than those sandals, but comfort rules if you’ll be walking! You’ll also be more prone to exercise with a pair of sneakers in your luggage.
- Be aware of the pitfalls of the All-Inclusive.
A lot of vacation destinations have something called the All-Inclusive. This means that food, alcohol and other miscellaneous services (water-play toys, fitness center or spa privileges, etc.) are included in a bundled price. You typically are issued a wristband and you get everything for free after paying the one bundled fee. Before going this route, research your destination and see if there are over age 60/senior rates for hotels, tours, and other activities. You may find that a cost-effective (and healthier) option.
For middleaged empty nesters (many of whom may have some health related issues including packing a few extra pounds), a warning should come with the All-Inclusive contracts that states something like:
“WARNING: The All-Inclusive means that you may be incented to”…
- Eat a lot more than you would otherwise do. A LOT more, including sampling every dessert item on every menu at the resort. If you feel it makes economic sense – that you’ll save money – by going inclusive, don’t fall into the, “I need to eat a lot so I am saving even more money!” mindset. You can split meals with your traveling companions to try more dishes. Some studies have shown that 61% of people gain weight on vacation. One of the main contributors to vacation weight gain is alcohol calorie intake!
- Drink a lot more alcohol. Not only will you freely order drinks, but you will order drinks that contain way more alcohol. A good way to prevent over-doing it? “The secret to pollution is dilution”. Alternate alcoholic drinks with water. Yes, plain old water (or bottled water if the local water source is known to be troublesome).
- Use more services such as room service, pool-service, and beach-service…after all; the drinks and food are free, right? But wait! The small print may state that there is an automatic gratuity attached, and these can add up (or you may be giving your servers liberal cash tips without realizing you are tipping twice).
- Miss out on local culture: As you are “incented” to stay at the resort since everything is included there, you may be less likely to go touring, thereby missing out on the local culture, sites, and foods. You may also be more incented to be less active. So if you do an All-Inclusive, plan a few day trips and take in the pool aerobics and other activities included at your resort or cruise.
- Plan for safety. Being older can make you a target.
Always research the country/state/region you are visiting. And as you plan activities, utilize online ratings, well-known travel sites, and other trustworthy resources to choose your tour operators, etc.
Check out the CDC’s Travel Health Alert and the US Embassy in the country you are visiting to research travel advisories relating to health issues, weather, terrorism, and other concerns.
Travel Documentation: Make copies (and pack separately from the real thing): passport, birth certificate, credit card #s, medical insurance, prescriptions, vaccination record, etc.
Talk with your hotel concierge and other staff regarding your planned itinerary and specific destinations (tour/activity) in terms of operator track record, compliance (licensing, etc.) and safety. Ask about restaurants and nighttime areas: some areas are perfectly safe during daytime but can become dangerous at night. Being perceived as more vulnerable, or if traveling alone, can make you a target.
The important thing is that you take this opportunity to enjoy your next phase of life! With a little planning you can ensure that first empty nest vacation is a wonderful one that you will completely enjoy!