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Travel in retirement — Oh, the places you’ll go
February 26, 2013 @ 12:20pm | Tim Kelly
The retired Bremerton couple just load their supplies on the Peachy Keen and go north to Alaska on the comfortable 49-foot boat they’ve had for a quarter-century.
While plenty of retirees are members of yacht clubs around the region, the Henrys spend more time on the water — and farther away from home — than most of their boating peers.
For sheer globe-trotting, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’s experienced more cultures and countries than a retired Navy commander and his wife. Some of the trips abroad that Dean and Caroline Kiess made were to visit their children who were Peace Corps volunteers.
And some retirees — or travelers of any age who have the time and inclination — find “voluntourism” appealing. That includes trips like one being organized by Mike Hancock of Seabeck, who’s recruiting Rotary Club members for a weeklong stay in Guatemala, where they’ll help build village schools and get a chance to be tourists, visiting Mayan ruins and seeing the natural beauty of the tropical country in Central America.
On the water
The yacht clubs around Puget Sound that make up the Grand Fourteen aren’t marine-oriented senior centers, though a lot of active members are retirees who have more time for cruising, whether it’s club-organized weekend trips or longer excursions on their own.
“It’s a thing that retired people like to do, but the club is not necessarily geared for retired people,” says Eric Lagergren, 65, a member of the Port Orchard Yacht Club who retired three years ago from a career as an engineer at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
The Grand Fourteen network holds intra-club events throughout the year at member clubs from Everett to Olympia and east to Meydenbauer Bay Yacht Club in Bellevue, one of Lagergren’s preferred destinations on the 44-foot power boat he built with his late father in the 1980s.
It takes several hours to cruise across the Sound and through the Seattle locks to get there, but as he notes, “You’re on the water because you like being on the water.”
The Henrys share that sentiment, but Billie says the trips they make to Alaska most summers — usually for three to five months — are not vacations.
“We call it a working adventure,” she says. “It’s just like a different life from being at home, and we like ‘em both.”
They’ve taken a few trips on cruise ships to warmer climates; “those are vacations,” Billie says with a smile.
She and her husband met when they worked at the Bremerton shipyard, and both were able to take early retirement in 1995.
They’ve been boating enthusiasts and frequent competitors in log races for a lot longer. They’ve had their boat, a 1972 Alaskan, since 1988 and it’s the third one they’ve owned.
They live in a house they bought nearly 40 years ago, which Billie notes is on a dead-end street that affords no scenic views. “We bought an old house and a new boat,” she quips about their lifestyle preference.
“When we first retired, I didn’t think we’d spend as much time on the boat as we did,” Mike Henry says, but the allure of Alaska is as strong for them as snowbirds’ attraction to Arizona in winter.
Other yacht club members have sometimes cruised with them up to Alaska or met up with them during the summer on previous trips, and the Henrys will occasionally dock in Juneau or Ketchikan to pick up friends or family members who fly up for a week of fishing. But the couple spends most of the summer exploring new stretches of the picturesque Alaskan coast.
“There are so many nice little coves and bays to anchor in,” Mike says.
They take along a 13-foot skiff to use for fishing, sort of like towing a car behind an RV on a road trip, he says.
They load the freezer on the Peachy Keen with meals in vacuum-sealed bags that Billie prepares at home, and their goal is to return at the end of the summer with a freezer full of fish, crab and shrimp.
They’ll go into town when they need fuel or supplies, or once in awhile to enjoy burgers and beers at a boardwalk diner. But for the most part, they’re on their floating home.
Talking like a true seafaring couple, Mike says their basic needs are “beans, beer and fuel” — and “catch a fish now and then,” Billie chimes in.
Since former Navy Capt. Dean Kiess retired in 1992 after the longest tenure as a commanding officer of the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC) at Bangor, he and his wife have collected a lot of stamps on their passports. But their travels abroad have entailed much more than sightseeing and photo ops in exotic places featured on postcards.
“When we go into a country, it’s not only to see what the sights are, but to get into the culture,” Caroline Kiess explains. They enjoy experiencing “a lot of the day-to-day things in a country.”
She sounds like she could be reading the table of contents of a world atlas when she lists the continents and countries they’ve visited.
“We have been to Africa, to Australia and New Zealand, China, Turkey, and all over Europe,” she says. “We’ve visited family in England and Ireland.”
Family, no matter how distant, often figures in their travel. They once spent Easter with relatives in New Zealand, and another time stayed with descendants of her cousins they found in South Africa.
“My family is all over the world,” says Caroline, a self-described Navy brat when she was young. “I think we all have itchy feet.”
And that’s a good thing, in her view.
She and her husband have traveled to Bangladesh and Cambodia when one of their sons and his wife were in the Peace Corps. Their youngest son, John Kiess, is on leave from his job as a water quality manager with the county health district for a two-month trip arranged through the Silverdale-based nonprofit Children of the Nations. He’s teaching science to teenagers in an orphanage in Sierra Leone, a small country on the Atlantic coast of Africa.
“My feeling is all young people should go into service somewhere when they’re young, and find out what the world is like and live in one of those cultures for a while,” she said. “I’m glad all our children had the opportunity.”
On trips abroad not planned around family visits, Dean and Caroline usually preferred small group tours arranged by Overseas Adventure Travel, an agency that appeals to “mature Americans and seasoned travelers” with offers of “vacations of authentic cultural discovery.”
“We’ve done some traveling in Europe on our own using rail passes,” Caroline says, “but as you get older, it’s nice to have someone else making the arrangements.”
They may have been ahead of the curve in their preference for more intimate travel experiences in smaller groups.
According to a recent New York Times article, the aging Baby Boomer generation — the first wave of them heading into retirement — is reshaping the travel industry: “Whether it’s a yen for Wi-Fi in the Serengeti or a disdain for bus tours, boomers’ latest needs, whims and aspirations are determining 2013’s large and small vacation trends.”
Those trends outlined in the article include shorter (and more affordable) itineraries for cruises and tours, more amenities in exotic destinations but lodging that “reflects the local character of the destination,” arrangements for multigenerational travel, and customized travel options rather than being herded around in conventional sightseeing tourist groups.
As a seasoned international traveler, Caroline offers some advice for other retirees planning big trips.
“I would say for people who are older and traveling, it’s important to know your limitations,” she says. “A group can only go as fast as the slowest member; you have to really be sensible about it.
“Can you walk 3-4 miles a day, or will that wear you out? If meals are at irregular times, can you handle that?” And perhaps most importantly, she adds, “Can you travel light?”
The Kiesses have been on one cruise, to the Carribean to celebrate their 40th anniversary 10 years ago. They’ve also had a condo at Whistler, B.C., where their family that loves winter sports — she met her husband in college at an ice skating rink — has gathered for ski trips.
The couple has not traveled as extensively since Dean suffered a stroke a couple years ago, though Caroline says they are going on an annual family trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in the spring.
A close connection to the local culture is in store for anyone who joins the “bottle school voluntourism trip” Mike Hancock is organizing to Guatemala.
The tour group will help build bottle schools, which instead of having cinder block walls, use “eco-bricks” made with plastic bottles. The schools are built with post and beam framing, and have conventional foundations and columns of reinforced concrete.
To make eco-bricks — about 6,200 are needed to build a two-classroom school — children in a village collect inorganic trash such as plastic bags, chip packets and polystyrene and stuff them into plastic bottles until they are hard like bricks. The eco-bricks are stacked between chicken wire, and covered with cement to form the walls of the school.
Hancock, a mortgage loan officer with The Legacy Group who was active for many years in the Silverdale Rotary, went to Guatemala last April on a bottle school trip after he met the founders of a San Diego-based nonprofit called Hug It Forward (hugitforward.org) that started the program.
“I was pretty impressed with what they’re doing,” he says.
So he put together a program and made presentations to about a dozen Rotary clubs around Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula. Those clubs have raised almost $20,000 for the bottle schools project.
“As a result of all these efforts, I decided to put together a trip for Rotarians, spouses and guests, so they’d have an opportunity to participate in a bottle school project and do some tourism,” Hancock says.
The group trip from April 25-May 1 is organized through Serve the World Today (servetheworldtoday.com), the fundraising arm of Hug It Forward. It’s not an official Rotary trip and anyone interested is welcome to sign up, but Hancock hopes Rotarians will fill most of the available spots.
The cost of the trip includes all accommodations, meals and transportation within Guatemala, but not airfare. The group will be accompanied by an English-speaking local guide, and will spend a few days helping on school construction and a few days sightseeing.
“It was a life-changing experience for me,” Hancock says of his trip last year.
Some retirees who travel in RVs are mixing work with retirement through “workamping,” and an online search of that term will bring up several websites for making such arrangements around the country. Workampers live in RVs while working in recreational areas such as parks, campgrounds, amusement parks or resorts in exchange for wages and a free campsite. More than half of all workampers work to supplement their retirement income and travel while doing so.
Affordable RV travel for military veterans is what SMART (Special Military Active & Retired Travel Club) offers. There is currently not an active chapter of SMART in the Kitsap Peninsula area, but the organization’s website (www.smartrving.net) has information about caravans that bring military veterans and their families together to share camaraderie while “seeing the country we defend.”
Caravan costs include camping fees and any other attractions, tours, meals, etc. that the Wagon Masters have planned for the trips, which can last for several days or weeks and visit destinations such as the Albuquerque (N.M.) International Balloon Festival, national parks, Alaska, and Branson, Mo.
Travel exchange options
Another travel option is a homestay, where visitors work a few hours a day for a host who provides free lodging and meals in exchange. One source for such arrangements is Help Exchange, an online listing (helpx.net) of hosts at farms (some organic), homes, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpacker hostels and even sailboats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term.
HelpX functions as a cultural exchange for working holiday makers who would like the opportunity during their travels abroad to stay with local people and gain practical experience. In the typical arrangement, the helper works an average of four hours per day and receives free accommodation and meals.
Swapping homes for a vacation can be arranged through a service such as homeexchange.com. There are two types: home exchange and hospitality exchange.
Home exchangers trade their homes, condos or apartments at a time that is convenient to both parties. Other types of accommodations offered in an exchange might be a yacht or an RV. Often, home exchangers will include their automobiles as part of the package.
Hospitality exchangers, on the other hand, host each other in their homes at designated times. Your home exchange partners stay with you as guests and then you go and stay with them as their guests.
For more information about the voluntourism trip to help build bottle schools in Guatemala, call Mike Hancock at 360-509-4351, or visit www.servetheworldtoday.com/rotary.
While there are dozens of organizations that offer the opportunity to volunteer while traveling abroad, a Huffington Post article highlights some good ones that attract a lot of retirees:
Earthwatch Institute: A global nonprofit that offers one — and two-week expeditions that focus on environmental conservation and field research projects all over the world.
Globe Aware: Offers one-week volunteer vacations in 15 different countries.
Global Volunteers: Offers a wide variety of two — and three-week service programs in 18 countries, including the U.S.
Road Scholar: Formally known as Elderhostel, they offer a wide variety of volunteer service programs both in the U.S. and abroad, usually to the 50-plus traveler.
Habitat for Humanity: Offers a variety of house-building trips through its Global Village Program and RV Care-A-Vanners program.
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