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Going Places : Taking Some Time to See a Few Other Corners of the World

March 26, 1992|Agnes Herman | Agnes Herman is a writer, lecturer and retired social worker living in Lake San Marcos.

I am a railroad man's daughter. Traveling was simple when I was growing up; limited free travel was a courtesy extended to company employees and their families. When I was ready to choose a university, I knew it had to be located on the New York Central Railroad line. Dollars were tight in those Depression/wartime days, but my rail pass enabled me to shuttle between school and home whenever necessary. There were no side trips, no sightseeing, just serious, school travel.

Things are different today. In every major city airport, students are on the move. And the "Shades of Gray" generation is there, too, traveling among them, not with railroad passes but with low-rate senior flight coupons. Grandparents now visit "the kids" wherever they live. Elder citizens take advantage of free time and reduced rates to explore the world. Our generation's motto: Have ticket, will travel.

Senior travel is big business. There are numerous books to whet the appetite of the adventurous and encourage the timid; books such as "Travel After Fifty," "Gypsying After Forty" and "Exploring the Travel/Retirement Option."

When planning a trip or having one planned, always consider pacing your experiences to allow for free time. It is not unusual, but it is kind of foolish to return from a vacation in need of a vacation. A fast-paced, frenetic tour leaves me, for one, breathless, sleepless and humorless.

There are some of us who arrive at a travel agent's desk with no idea concerning destination or cost: we just feel like taking a trip--anywhere. It is the professional's responsibility to make suggestions and assist in creating a comfortable plan. A couple looking for peace and quiet, for example, should not sign on to a cruise ship that caters to a younger generation.

Although there is no charge to the client for travel agency services, there are agents who charge a fee "up-front" before arranging a trip. Legally, that amount must be deducted from the final cost.

Some travel agents really do go the extra mile--providing courtesy limousine service to the airport or meeting clients at their homes to discuss travel plans. If you have special needs, be sure to discuss them with a potential travel agent. Don't be afraid to use his expertise, and you will both benefit if you give your return business to someone who has given you excellent service.

There can be a myriad of details to untangle in arranging a trip. Gary Wagner, owner of Get-a-way Travel in San Marcos, says that, although discount air fares have enabled seniors to travel extensively, there is more than buying plane tickets to traveling comfortably and efficiently.

Travel agents are sometimes able to save dollars on accommodations and sightseeing tours. Frequently, "bargain prices" are no bargain, though. The lowest-priced package is often sold out before you try to make your reservation. And who knows how many were ever available?

Inexpensive accommodations can be wonderful . . . or awful. Have you ever climbed to the third floor of a boardinghouse to discover that the heat, in December, never gets there? Travel agents often check accommodations by traveling themselves, sharing information with other agents and listening to their clients' reports. They are prepared to guide us around the pitfalls.

Agents usually advise those who have never been to a distant land to make that first trip with an arranged tour; going on your own is reserved for the experienced. I recall arriving in Turkey with my husband, on our own, at night. No one at the airport spoke English. Our stumbling, mumbling search for misplaced luggage, for a cab and for our hotel was an enormously exhausting exercise in frustration.

Cancellation insurance is a wise purchase, especially on "bargain" trips. We cannot always spot a scam, but we can protect ourselves with insurance. It provides for refunds should the trip be interrupted.

Getting to the airport from North County, if there is no ride from a friend, relative or travel agent, frequently requires a calculator to finalize the decision of "how to go." Parking fees at the airport and nearby facilities can range from $5 to $12 a day. The cost of a shuttle pick-up at your door is as low as $29 for one person and as high as $42 for two from most North County areas; the rates are one-way. A round-trip arrangement can result in some savings.

The various rates depend on which company you use and where you live. So, whether you drive your own car and leave it at the airport or are transported there depends, primarily, on how long you are going to be gone.

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