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On The Fly: Does Aging Make A Traveler A Tourist?

02/28/2013 08:02 am 08:02:16 | Updated Apr 30, 2013

I checked my reflection in the mirror the other day and saw nothing different, but clearly something must have changed. Ever since I backpacked through Europe for a year after college with a copy of "Europe On $5 A Day" in my hand, I have lived for my next vacation. Work, however rewarding, was just what I did between trips.

My love for traveling is something I instilled in my kids. My children have been on multiple continents, slept in everything from a yurt to a five-star hotel, and believe that the purpose of a restaurant menu in a foreign country is to help you find something you haven't tried eating before.

We travelers explore the world; tourists, they just drive by it.

So why am I having such a hard time figuring out where to go on spring break? I fear that aging is a factor in my indecisiveness. I am caught between wanting to knock a few more travel spots off my bucket list and feeling overwhelmed by the hassles that are attached to getting and being in those places. Yet, I am unable to hit the "book" button for a week in a luxury resort on the Mayan Riviera where "all-inclusive" means you never have to step outside the hotel's gates.

The irony here is that just a few weeks ago, I got one of those survey calls that interrupts dinner. They said it was about travel habits, and since I was struggling with my own vacation plans, I thought, why not? I said sure, I'd answer a few questions. They seemed to be collecting data on the changing attitudes that people born from 1946 to 1964 -- boomers -- have about travel. While they were doing the asking and me the answering, I could surmise where things are likely to be going, literally.

Would you likely take more cruises if they were shorter? Personally, I wouldn't take a cruise if you held a gun to my temple. I guess that's a no. But without question, the cruise lines are changing. In the past, cruise lines offered trips of three weeks or longer with an eye on retirees who had unlimited time off and money to burn. Now, with more midlifers saying they intend to work longer, cruise lines are adjusting what they offer. Crystal Cruises, according to the New York Times, has increased the number of shorter itineraries it offers in 2013 -- and they were the cruise line best known for the long passages. In 2012, only three of Crystal's European cruises were shorter than 10 days. This year, 22 of its cruises in Europe are 10 days or less.

Please rate the following amenities in terms of their importance to you, with one being unimportant and 10 being most important. Funny you should ask! I had just rejected a Paris hotel because tripadvisor.com reviews mentioned spotty WiFi -- and that it wasn't even free. With some indignity, I had even hollered at the manager of our Las Vegas hotel over Christmas because the WiFi connection cked out after an hour and I had to keep logging back in. It was annoying.

But would I really not go on an African safari because I couldn't post to Facebook from the Serengeti? No, of course not.

On a scale of one to 10, how important is bedroom size to you?

I don't spend a lot of my vacation time in my hotel room. I care that it's clean and in a safe place. I don't like bugs and I don't want to walk past drunks and prostitutes to get to it late at night. But I don't really care how big it is. I'm not there to see the inside of hotel room; I'm there to see what's on the outside.

What SurveyMan didn't ask was about the bathroom. Now that, I care about.

He didn't inquire how I fared in China last summer where they still have squatty potties in lots of places. I could write a book about the strangest, filthiest toilets I used in my younger traveling days, but nowadays, bathrooms loom much larger on my scale of things that matter. Trough-style bathrooms kill my knees and no amount of stair-climbing and knee squats done in the weeks before China prepared me physically to be able to use them with ease. Once we got there, I quickly figured out that any door with the international symbol of a wheelchair on it had a Western-style toilet behind it. I just endured the disapproving looks I got and enjoyed the fact that my maxi-skirt survived another trip to the bathroom.

How many times have you been camping in the past year?
If by "camping" he meant staying at a Motel 6, then the answer is "just that one time when we were forced off the road in a blinding snowstorm and it was the only hotel option available." If he meant "camping" as in the thing you do with a tent, then the reply would be "not in several decades."

Early on, I learned that I am one of those people who doesn't function if I'm not well-rested. For midlifers, it's hard enough getting a solid night's rest under the best of circumstances -- which for me means my own bed, complete silence, windows open and no one fidgeting within a three-mile radius of my body. Sleeping on the cold hard ground isn't fun anymore. Concession to aging: granted.

Sleep quality matters to me and apparently I'm not alone. Glamping -- glamour camping -- has caught on. It's camping but more comfortable and with nicer amenities. I've read about wildlife-viewing luxury tents in Africa now with comfy beds, minibars, showers, air-conditioning and plunge pools. It sounds lovely, but not inexpensive. It also feels a little wrong, like maybe you are missing the larger point of going on a safari and should just go to the zoo instead.

In the next five years, how many multi-generational trips do you anticipate making?
If by multi-generational, you mean taking my kids -- well, we already always travel as a family. My kids are 12 and 15 and we have reached the point where sometimes two hotel rooms work better than one. Showing my children the world -- or more accurately seeing the world through their eyes -- has been one of my life's greatest joys. I would hope it continues and that they schlep me along with their own families when they have them.

Would you travel off-season if it meant lower rates?
Traveling off-season has always meant lower rates, hasn't it? It's why real travelers pull their kids out of school and tell the teacher that there are just some things you can't learn from a book.

I sensed that SurveyMan was going somewhere with this.

Would you and your spouse like an all-expenses-paid trip to one of the world's hottest tourist destinations in exchange for attending a 90-minute presentation ....?

Thank you Mr. SurveyMan for reminding me to both never again answer the phone during dinner, and that I am still a traveler, not a tourist. I may make some concessions to aging as things move along, but I won't be hanging my special dries-overnight-in-all-climates travel underwear on the door to the all-inclusive resort just yet.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

10 Things You Must Do Before You're Too Old