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posted: 6/3/2012 6:00 AM

Trip of a lifetime doesn't have to be a whirlwind tour

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Last week while flying back from a trip to Italy, I was seated next to an elderly man from Detroit. He was part of a tour group returning from 10 days in Europe. He was still wearing his somewhat tattered badge that identified him as "Hi, I'm Howard."

"Hi, I'm Howard" had had it. He said they had traveled by bus to three countries. They were herded through more churches and museums than he knew existed. And if he ever signed up for a trip like this again, he hoped somebody would shoot him.

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"Hi, I'm Howard" isn't alone. Marjory Stowe put off her dream trip to Europe until she retired. She wanted to see it all. She joined a tour group that promised seven countries in two weeks. It also promised total exhaustion, but that wasn't in the small print. Marjory would have gotten more out of a good travelogue than she did from her whirlwind tour of the hot spots of Europe.

The problem is many people put off the trip of their lifetime until they retire and then they want to do it all. They expect to still feel like teenage backpackers. Instead their backs ache and their feet hurt and they wished they had just stayed home.

It doesn't have to be this way. Mary Mitchell began traveling when she retired 15 years ago and she still has the travel bug.

"You just have to know what you enjoy doing and follow your heart," said Mary, who loves to cruise and has taken several river trips throughout Europe.

Bob Bollert agrees. He has been a photo buff for years. Until he retired, most of his pictures featured his children and grandchildren. Now he joins photo tours all over the world. Not only has he loved the trips, but he has met many new friends through his travels.

Last month, a group of widows teamed up for a bus trip to Holland, Mich., to see the tulip festival. "It turned out to be more of a 'stem festival,'" joked one of the group. "We felt we had a lot in common with the tulips. They were past their prime and so are we."

Still the group had a wonderful time laughing and being together. They're already planning their next bus trip to Branson, Mo.

"Travelers need to know their limitations," said travel agent Judy Barr. "If you don't enjoy walking around the block, you're not going to enjoy trekking through the countryside. If you have health concerns, don't plan a trip to a place with limited health facilities."

That dream vacation can still be a reality after retirement; you just want to choose your destination and activities wisely so it doesn't turn into your worst nightmare.

Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at gailtodd@aol.com.

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