I’m about to embark upon a great adventure to the land down under. Although I’ll be traveling as a single Baby Boomer, I won’t be alone-far from it. People take tours for a variety of reasons. Every aspect of it is planned for you, so it’s safer and more convenient to leave the transportation, side excursions, meals, and other details to the experts. They allow you some time to be on your own, but if you wish to go where ever you want, you may want to plan your own vacation. Although I’m satisfied with the value of this tour, you might be able to do better if you’re a seasoned traveler who doesn’t mind hostels, cheaper hotels, and unexpected changes. I prefer to know where I’ll lay my head most nights and that the service will be up to my standards. I’m at the age where I want to be pampered when I’m on vacation. I’m willing to pay for it even if it means spending extra for optional side excursions and tipping the Program Director, who I’m sure will earn every penny.
My adventure has been arranged by a wonderful touring and cruise company, Grand Circle Travel (GCT). The travel agents were personable, patient, efficient, and informative every time I contacted them. Their land tours don’t require a single supplement and neither do their sister company’s, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). This is a wonderful benefit for all singles who want to have their own bed and bathroom. I’ve also become a person who enjoys having some alone time, free from the need to make conversation or get dressed if I feel like just going to my room and getting into my favorite clothes, PJs. Don’t kid yourself and think it’s slow paced. After over 35 hours in airports and on planes, if I make all of the connections, I’ll have the evening to myself. Then I need to be up and raring to go by 7:30, which is around 3-4 hours earlier than I usually want to leave my home. However, as I was told on a previous tour by an 80+-year-old roommate, this isn’t a vacation, it’s touring.
Since I’ve only toured with this company, I can’t personally comment on the services provided by others, but I believe if you pay for the full package, you get a great many extra services and special attention. I should note that I bought the travel insurance after checking online to see if it was worth the substantial price. Every site I checked recommended it and even though I’ve never had to use it, there’s always a first time. The insurance will medevac you home and allow you to rebook a trip if you need to cancel. I’ve heard horror stories of people much younger than I having to undergo surgery in other countries. Just as a side note, I know from experience that Thailand and Japan have great health care and I’ve no fear of problems in Australia and New Zealand. However, it may be difficult to get Medicare or a Supplement to pay as they do in the U.S..
I booked my journey over eight months out to assure they had room for a single when the temperature was right for me and my travel plans in the Southern Hemisphere would be met. As an educator, I spent too many sweaty vacations in southern Europe, Asia, and the U.S.. I wanted it warm enough to snorkel off the Outer Great Barrier Reef and only wear a light jacket in Sydney and New Zealand.
When I reserved my tour and the flights, I asked a multitude of questions and was guaranteed all of my needs and wants would be met. I could’ve booked the airline myself, but after looking at airfare, I found they had the best prices. Having been disappointed by the airlines before, I requested an aisle or, as a second choice, window seat several times. After all, it’s a 15 hour flight to Sidney and then I had to go on to Cairn. If I’d been smart, I would’ve stopped off for a few days in L.A. or Hawaii, but like most of us single Boomers, I wanted the money for other things. I’d also told myself I’d never take a long flight in economy again, but I’m on a budget and have other trips planned in the future. Besides, I want to indulge in the local cuisine and some delicious Australian wine. Of most importance to me is the ability to sleep and get up to use the facilities or walk around without bothering my seat mates, so I’m hoping the aisle will be mine. If it isn’t, the airline and travel company will know about it and I’ll unleash my wrath, on social media. No, I don’t plan to end up on the No Fly List. I just want what I requested.
According to the travel company, which has sent me an itinerary for my tour, flight, and connections, my passage through Customs should be seamless if I follow their tried and true steps. I’m skeptical, because I know you can’t plan for every eventuality. I’m adaptable, except when it comes to middle seats, and resourceful with a good sense of humor. You need all of those qualities for international travel along with the ability to obtain good drugs for sleep and communicate using only hand signals. Since on this trip we should all be speaking English or some version of it, I shouldn’t have to resort to the latter. I have to say though, my experience teaching with people from down under while in Japan, taught me they have different words and pronunciations of words I’m used to using. I’m sure in the end I’ll have “no worries” when it comes to communicating. Luckily, I won’t have to drive. They may think they’re doing it right, but I beg to differ. I’ve never driven in any part of Great Britain or in their present or former territories, except Canada who agrees with me, and it’d be safer for everyone if I didn’t start now.
GAC even made sure I had the required visa for Australia. New Zealand doesn’t require one for U.S. citizens. It’s now electronic, so I didn’t have to send in my passport. My passport has a barcode and the Program Director informed us in his welcome letter that we could check- in at a kiosk upon arrival in Sydney. With luck, my connections will all be on time and the transfer of baggage will be easy, so I can try to do that. They’ve a company agent available at L.A.X. and Sydney, but not in the Customs area, so I’m on my own there. If you can fly out of an airport with international departures, you’ll avoid much of this hassle. They reminded me to ask the airline when I checked in if my bags will be checked to my final destination. If all goes as planned, they will, but since I’m flying out of a regional airport and using two different airlines, I’m not going to dilly dally getting through Customs and finding my next gate. Make sure your travel plans allow you ample time to do this. I’ll let you know in subsequent blogs if that happened. As I said, I’m resourceful and never afraid to ask for directions or question anything even if it’s just to clarify something I think I already know. It’s the airlines’, airports,’ and travel company’s job to get you where you need to go. Don’t feel stupid asking an obvious question. Also, remember if you need it, a wheelchair or motorized cart can be ordered to take you to the next gate. After having surgery in Thailand, I asked for this service. They were so friendly and helpful. I whizzed through Customs and security.
Check with your tour company or online regarding tipping. There are some countries where they can’t accept a tip, like Japan. There the gratuity and the tax are figured into the total cost. If you’re not aware of this, in some countries the waiter won’t tell you. The first time I went abroad, the waiters in Paris loved me, because I tipped on top of the gratuity that was already on the bill. You might also want to look at their currency, so you know what each piece looks like and it’s worth. The coins are the hardest for those of us who need reading glasses. Luckily, the Japanese are an honest people, because during my year there at times I just held out my hand and they picked the coins out of it.
Another thing you may want to consider is enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, STEP, a service of the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the U.S. Department of State. Go to https://step.state.gov/step/ for further information. It enables you to receive important updates from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions in regards to your travel plans. It also allows the U.S. Embassy to contact you in an emergency, whether it is a natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency and helps family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency. It may give your family and you peace of mind.
If you plan to book a tour with Grand Circle Travel https://www.gct.com/ or Overseas Adventure Travel https://www.oattravel.com/ , please give them my customer number, 092129487, and you’ll save $100 toward your trip and I’ll a get cash reward toward my next trip. I want to be a Vacation Ambassador and I’d appreciate your help. You can become one too and save on your next vacation.
They sent me a journal, so I’ll be chronicling my adventure and writing about it on this site. Watch my Facebook Page, “Single Boomer Life” for updates. Next week, I’ll discuss other travel preparations and packing. Every mode of transportation has some restriction and I want to give you advice from the professionals at GAC and other travel sites. I feel as if the adventure has already begun. Anticipation is an exhilarating part of the journey.
Continue the adventure!