You are retired, or coming towards the end of your career, and thinking about taking an extended trip abroad, travelling to places you've always dreamed of seeing.

Firstly, congratulations!

Secondly, in the famous words of Douglas Adams, 'Don't panic!'; it will take a bit of planning, but you can do this.

I was in my mid-fifties when a series of events made me decide to walk away from my old life to travel around the world, visit places I had always wanted to see and friends who had previously only been a name on an email. When I started to research my trip, I came across a book 'Gap Years for Grown Ups' which not only gave me some very useful tips, but also reassured me by its very existence. If a publisher thought enough older people were wanting to travel to be worth producing a book for them, then maybe my plan wasn't quite as mad as I thought. Or if I was, at least I would have company.

So here are a few of the things you might want to consider...

The Golden Gap Year

What you leave behind

I sold my house before I headed off on my travels, but you may not want to be quite so drastic. There are various options open to you.

Set up direct debits before you leave to cover regular household bills.

If you have any vehicles, consider whether you want to store them in a locked garage, or maybe lend to a friend or relative to keep them running. Again, check with your insurers to make sure they are covered.

Where are you going?

This is the fun bit, a chance to make those dreams come true. Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and write down all the places you've ever wanted to go, and the things you've wanted to do, from riding a trolley car in San Francisco to whale-watching. Then try to put them into some sort of order.

When I was at this stage in my planning, I soon realised I couldn't include everything in the one trip – some places would be easier to get to in a single journey out and back from UK, rather than include them in my Grand Plan. So, these were shelved (though I have ticked a few of them off my list since my return).

Also factor in if anything is time-dependent – are those whales you want to see in those waters all year round or only at certain times of year?

Another factor might be the weather; I'm the typical English Rose complexion who wilts in high temperatures, so I planned my visit to Queensland for their winter months to avoid their summer temperatures. So, unless you actually want to experience the Indian monsoon, New York blizzards or the 24-hour Arctic night, try to arrange your schedule to avoid such extremes.

How do you want to travel?

There are a whole range of options here, depending on your budget and personality. Some people might prefer to buy into a package deal where the travel, accommodation and things such as visas are arranged for them; others want to make their own arrangements or leave things open and be more spontaneous.

It's fine to mix and match; for most of my journey around the world the flights from one continent to the next were arranged by the firm who supplied my Round-the-World ticket, but within each country I made my own arrangements for accommodation and transport. However, when I was planning the Sri Lankan stage of my trip, I decided that the places I particularly wanted to see would be difficult to reach on my own (especially as a lone female traveller). So, I contacted a travel agent who was offering these places as part of their itinerary. I explained I did not need the flight part of the package, just the accommodation and transport; we did a deal and so when I arrived, I joined a small group travelling around the country in a minibus with our own guide and driver. After 6 months of looking after myself it was nice to have someone else taking care of things for a change!

If you are a solo traveller, especially a woman, and feel hesitant about visiting some places, there are websites that can put you in touch with like-minded fellow travellers. (I shall be talking about this in a later article).

How much will it cost?

I've left this till near the end as the cost of your trip will depend on what choices you make in some of the topics mentioned above; for instance, if you let your house, you will have a regular income, if you use a house-sitter that will be an expenditure. But you will save what you normally spend on groceries, petrol, entertainment, memberships of any clubs etc, so remember to factor that into your equations when doing the sums.

Your choice of transport will be another factor; are you planning to hire a car, use public trains and buses, or cycle? Each has their own advantages/ disadvantages – it depends on your budget and/or sense of adventure.

Accommodation offers a wide range of choices too, but I will be dealing with this in a separate article.

What to take

People have asked me how I could pack for 6 months travel and still keep within the airline baggage allowance. The simple answer is that you can't; so don't try. I travelled mainly with a selection of summer-weight clothes, all mix & match, nothing that needed ironing or special washing conditions. Then when I reached New Zealand (in their winter) I bought some winter jumpers and trousers, plus a thick coat, hat and gloves from a charity shop. I was on a holiday, not a fashion parade, so style was not really a consideration, though I did pack one 'smart' top and trousers for if friends invited me to a posh restaurant. Then when I left the colder parts of Australia, my warm gear all went to another charity shop.

I was also strict with myself when buying souvenirs, only buying things I could use or wear, like T-shirts and socks which even now bring back memories of the places I visited when I wear them.


One thing you will need to factor into your plans is rest time. This is supposed to be a holiday, not a marathon. The 'if-this-is-Tuesday-this-must-be-Venice' type holidays are exciting for a couple of weeks, but try to keep that pace for months on end and you will become so exhausted and jaded that you won't enjoy the things you are seeing. So, take time to stop and smell the roses, listen to the birdsong, watch the sunset/sunrise – and have the time of your life!

Pen Turner - If you want to learn more about my own adventures, check out my 'Travels with a penguin' books available from Amazon.