On my most recent assignment, I took a river cruise down the Danube on the River Adagio, a ship run by Grand Circle Travel. Founded by the same woman who created the AARP, the line caters to retirees and mature travelers. My husband Don and I were the youngest passengers on board, by several decades (I was told that the average age is 70 on most Grand Circle trips). To say that we stood out is an understatement.
As we met and mingled, many people asked us if the age difference bothered us. For the most part, it didn’t – I was working, after all, and I view those kind of trips much differently than I would a vacation that I plan on my own. Interesting people are interesting people, no matter what their age. And spending a 10-day cruise primarily with people who could have been my parents did give me some insights that I didn’t expect. Here are a few life lessons learned:
1. There’s no age limit on exploration. The majority of our fellow passengers had traveled with Grand Circle in some capacity, either on another river cruise or through OAT, its land-tour arm. And while most preferred tours to independent travel, many had explored some wonderful places, including destinations that I have yet to see. Machu Pichu, Africa, the Amazon, China – people on our ship had seen it all, many quite recently. It was inspiring to see so many Americans eager to explore other cultures.
2. Get fit now. The biggest difference between the seniors who were able to get around easily and enjoy the cruise to its fullest vs. those who weren’t was their overall level of physical fitness. Passengers who were more obese tended to stay on the bus instead of taking the time to walk around and explore the destination. It made me even more determined to get in better shape now while I still can – and to encourage Don to do the same.
3. Allow travel to change you. On almost every trip I take, I learn something that affects how I understand the world, be it through a conversation, an interaction or seeing something new. Our GCT cruise had a very strong learning component, with lectures, handouts and documentaries, in addition to all the group time that we spent with our local program directors. I don’t know how you could come away from that type of environment without some sort of enlightenment. Yet I routinely heard some passengers dismissing the local points of view, digging themselves deeper into an American-centric mindset. That’s hard for me to understand.
4. Small arguments aren’t worth it On most river cruises, lunches and dinners are extended two-hour affairs, where you make conversation with strangers. Since we didn’t have age-related circumstances in common, Don and I made conversation by asking the older couples, some of whom had been married 50 years or more, about their secret to success. To a person, they told us that the little quarrels – the daily or ongoing arguments where you feel like you have to be right – don’t mean much in the overall scheme of things. Compromise does.
5. My husband has my blessing to remarry. On our first night, we sat next to a widower, who was taking his first vacation since his wife died two years earlier. She had always wanted to take this trip, he said, and so he was doing it in her memory. He seemed forlorn as he looked around at the other couples having dinner.
Until that moment, I had always felt jealously petty about the prospect of my husband marrying someone else after my death. But after seeing the alternative, I’d rather that Don finds someone else, should I go before he does. I don’t want him to look as sad as that guy did. He feels the same way.
6. I might live longer than I think. My family and close friends know that I have a live-life-to-the-fullest mentality that has been exacerbated by various health scares. I’ve always maintained that I don’t want any regrets when my time runs out – and my quasi-morbid outlook has meant that I believed that would be sooner rather than later.
But I had an epiphany one night at dinner. As I looked at the faces around me, some almost double my age, I realized that there’s a good possibility that I could live into my 80’s. Maybe the question is not what you would do if you were going to die tomorrow. Maybe it’s more along the lines of this: What would you do if you had all the time in the world? I need to ponder that one.
7. Don’t mess around with plastic surgery. I’m sure more than a few women on the trip had work done. But I couldn’t stop staring at the overly puffed lips that one lady sported. They were huge and misshapen, like a nest of bees had attacked, and didn’t fit the rest of her face. And that wasn’t the only area that had been “enhanced,” according to my husband, who assured me that her top heavy frame hadn’t come from nature alone. Maybe that silicone-injected silhouette works for a 20-something. On a 60-something? Not so much. Bottom line: While I’d never rule out a nip or tuck, I’d be VERY careful who I hired.