My travel planning experience goes way back to when I put together my first adult adventure, a trip to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada. I was a senior at Fresno State University and was waiting to hear if I had been accepted into a master’s program in Exercise Physiology and Sports Medicine at the University of Oregon in the fall. I learned that tickets for the Games were to go on sale at Montgomery Wards, a department store with a location near my parent’s home in the San Fernando Valley. I didn’t have a lot of money to spare, as most of what I earned working part-time for the LA County Parks and Recreation Department went to pay for my college tuition and expenses, but I saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity. By today’s standards, tickets were “cheap”, some costing as little as $2, although I did splurge and bought some for a medal round of track and field that were more in the range of $20. The expensive part was getting to Montreal (nearly 3,000 miles away). I recruited a friend from college and two of my cousins from Minnesota to help share the expenses. I bought a 10×10 canvas tent and a few accessories for the cross-country trip and secured a place for us all in a youth hostel in downtown near the subway station. I went to AAA and got a bag full of road maps, travel guides, and camp books. Even with a bicentennial add-on to New York and Philadelphia, the three-week trip cost us each less than $300. We never stayed in a motel. It wasn’t a glamorous trip, but oh what an adventure. I was hooked.
When I got married a few years later and we started our family, finances were still tight (especially with colleges down the road) so most of our family trips involved camping. We bought our first VW Weekender van (the back seat folded flat to make a large bed) just before our oldest was born and upgraded to a VW Vanagon Camper a few years after that. We stayed mostly in state or National Park campgrounds and cooked most of our meals at our campsites. I don’t recall taking a plane trip as a family until my son had an opportunity to participate in a summer program (AIM) at the Coast Guard Academy after his junior year in high school. The rest of us went along to check out the area (I was the only one who had ever been “east of the Rockies”). So it was a bit of a learning experience arranging for flights, airport parking/transportation, car rental, meals and etcetera. Although our finances had improved over the years, I still was concerned about getting good value for the money spent. On-line travel sites were in their infancy and I had zero experience with travel agencies so I had to piece together as best I could with the resources available. In the end, everything worked out fine and I gained some added confidence that would serve me well over the years.
A lot has changed since that first family plane trip to the East Coast. The 9/11 attacks took place just over a month after we returned from New London. Josh ended up earning a scholarship to the Coast Guard Academy and our daughter to the University of Maine two years later. Between friends and family weekends, sports tournaments, visits, graduations, and eventually looking for a retirement home in Maine we probably flew back and forth between the west and east coast more than a dozen times before eventually moving to our log cabin not far from the University in 2007. During that time, ubiquitous travel sites like Travelosity, Orbitz, Kayak, Hotels.com and Trivago exploded on-line. And while they can be helpful in comparing prices and services, there is no match for personal experience gained from past travel, both positive and less than. In the years since our “kids” have graduated and have moved around the country and the world for their jobs, we too have expanded our travels, not just to visit them in their new locales, but also to explore places in the world that piqued our interest and curiosity. There is no one right way to find or plan a trip and over time we have learned to be open to new ideas. Sometimes we use a trusted small-group tour company like National Geographic or Vantage who have taken us on wonderful adventures to Antarctica, the Galapagos, Africa and Norway as well as hiking adventures in Scotland and England. But we have also taken bargain trips to Machu Pichu, Iceland, and soon to Ireland, that we discovered on Travelzoo. The first big trip we took following retirement was a freighter cruise to the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific, something I was unaware even existed but that my husband had furtively always been interested.
There is as many ways to plan a travel adventure as there are places in the world to explore. I have had many great travel experiences that cost very little and others that we had to save money to be able to afford. All have added to the tapestry of our lives. Get out there and find your next adventure.