Hiking, cruising in Europe

By Christine A. Holliday

In record numbers, those 65 and older are taking off on cruises, hiking adventures, visiting historic site, and traveling overseas, all helping them keep active and stay involved in the world around them.

JoAnne Wayton, 73, of Lambertville, MI, is one such traveler. She recently joined a group of high school girls and her daughter to see sites in Spain and Italy. As it turns out, she experienced hiking, cruising, lots of history, and overseas culture as the group spent nine days on the go. She walked on the cobblestone streets of Zaragosa, hiked up the hilly streets of Toledo, Spain, and enjoyed an overnight ferry ride from Barcelona to Rome. She visited museums, cathedrals, plazas, and palaces, making friends with fellow travelers as young as her grandchildren.

First taste of ‘big travel’

A retired nurse and teacher, Wayton traveled on short trips with groups of singles before her marriage. But she had her first taste of “big travel” when she and her husband, John, took a trip to Las Vegas.

During their 47-year marriage, the Waytons enjoyed 14 cruises, including one through the Panama Canal. She notes that she has traveled to every country in Central and South America.

The Waytons also traveled to Hawaii and Alaska and made two pilgrimage tours to Italy, both of which focused on Catholic religious sites. JoAnne still smiles when she describes how close she sat to then-Pope Benedict XVI. She reads voraciously about sites she might visit, and hopes to visit the Holy Land in the future.

So, how does a savvy senior traveler (who has traveled almost exclusively with other couples) end up sharing a European vacation with high school girls and their moms and teachers?

JoAnne’s daughter, Marie Blesing, teaches at St. Ursula Academy, where the Spanish teacher was organizing a trip to Madrid, Toledo and Barcelona, Spain, and Rome. Marie wanted to go, and asked her mom to be part of the group, which included 34 students, teachers, and moms. The average age of the group was 28, with plenty of student athletes—a mix of energy and enthusiasm that might have worried a not-so-experienced traveler. But JoAnne wasn’t concerned.

‘I’m not old’

 “I’m not old at 73,” she said. “I wondered why they were asking me if I was OK. I felt some fatigue that first day—after the overnight flight—but we all did. After that day, I was an old hand at the walking. I enjoyed riding with the girls on the bus and the metro; we had wonderful exchanges about what we were seeing and eating as we went from one city to the next. They all watched out for me, making sure I didn’t fall behind, and I enjoyed seeing how they responded to sailing on the Mediterranean, seeing the making of Toledo blades, and attending Mass in Rome.”

She continued: “I had read a lot before we left for the trip, but I was still surprised by some things. I had no idea a place like the Royal Palace in Madrid could have 1,400 bedrooms, and I had never tried tapas before. I enjoyed seeing a different side to the teacher-student relationship than one I had experienced in the classroom. There was a lot of learning and plenty of laughing!”

Wayton has advice for other seniors thinking about traveling: “Do it! Go! If you don’t try, you’ll never know what you’re missing!”

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