Thursday, August 16, 2012

3rd Vacation Observation - Who is Traveling and their fitness levels

Traveling is expensive for everyone. When you go on vacation, especially vacation outside of your country, you are seeing only those others who can afford to travel great distances. Those you will see typically in major destination spots in Europe are the young backpackers, the locals who avoid airfare at least and oftentimes know friends of friends to get cheaper accommodations and then the older set who have raised their kids and are now traveling abroad seeing all the places they planned to see - most often, it appears this older set travel in group tours. The smallest segment of travelers you will see are families from abroad and it's obvious why - it's just cost prohibitive for many families to be forking over for 4-5 tickets! for airfare.

All of this is to say - who you see traveling is a biased sample. It's cutting out the lower socio-economic tiers, especially for the families and older populations from abroad. And, studies have shown, it's the more affluent that tend to be the most fit. Why? Because they have more time and money to spend on fitness. Pretty hard to stay fit or to even care about fitness if you are working 75 hours a week and raising a family, right? It makes sense. So, in my observations, I already know that what I'm seeing for travelers is already a biased sampling of the middle class and up only, and, therefore, they are more fit than the general population too.

In our traveling, among foreigners we saw a lot and I mean a lot of young people - college age or twenty-somethings - before kids, those who could afford to take a summer off. Many of them were backpackers going from spot to spot. Many slept in tents or stayed in youth hostels. Most traveled for the summer or at the minimum 4 weeks. Many traveled by themselves, but many traveled in groups of friends. This is the most economical way to travel as you cut your lodging expense down to about zero and with using trains and ferries between spots, you can get to a lot of destinations fairly cheaply. Most didn't stay in the same spot for more than a few days before moving on to another destination spot.

The family with kids and 30s/40s-somethings can't do hostels and backpacking it is difficult. Most stay in either hotels or vacation rentals. The savvy travelers and the more fit of that group will rent apartments for one third to one quarter the cost of a hotel stay. Families tend to stay in one spot - not changing their central location, but will take various local day trips. Depending on where they are from, they may stay for 2-4 weeks.

Then there is the older set who are traveling on their own. These are the people you will see most often in a tour group. Some travel by ship, like on a cruise. Some fly in and then travel on a tour bus city to city. Most of the time these groups only stay 1-2 days in a city. Sometimes they have free time in whatever city they are traveling too. Some have paid for tours for everything and of course, a mix of both. These groups either stay in hotels together or on their cruise ship. Everything was organized for them. All they had to do was pay for it, select which tours/events they wanted to do in addition, pay for those and then show up. All the rest was taken care of for them.

The fitness level tends to follow along with the type of traveler. The young backpackers? They are fit and thin and usually very good looking (why is that?). It makes sense as younger people tend to be thinner overall, but I think the type of person who would choose to travel by backpack, sleeping in tents or hostels is not the typical person. It's the self-selected group that tends to be more adventurous and more fit/outgoing in the first place. The idea of carrying a heavy pack and sleeping on the hard pack doesn't daunt the fit traveler. It sounds like fun. To an unfit young person? No way.

Next in line for fitness were those who rented apartments. They were willing to walk a bit more. Willing to do a bit more 'leg-work' literally with planning their trip and dealing with slight inconveniences as living in an apartment means going to a market to get food for breakfasts or going out to eat every morning - needing to walk there either way, unlike in a hotel.

Next in line for the fit - getting less fit, are those who booked in hotels. Why arethey less fit? Because hotels typically do more for you and the less fit are more likely to be willing to pay for the extra amenities like shuttling you to and from airport. Plus most hotels are close to all the local action which means less walking which also appears to the more unfit. The more fit traveler won't find those conviences worth the price, the unfit will.

Lastly, are the most unfit travelers who tend to be those who take cruises and tour groups. Now, these are generalizations, not that every person who travels on cruises and travel in tour groups are unfit, but... it fits the majority. This group of travelers want it all planned out for them and want all the conveniences. This also tends to be the oldest set of travelers.

So, that's what I observed. Younger were more fit and chose ways of travel that required more fitness. Older travelers were less fit and traveled in a way easier for the unfit.

What I didn't see in any of the three places we traveling to were truly older people. My mother in law was with us. She turned 77 during our trip and this trip was very, very difficult for her and it's probably the last time she'll do that kind of trip. From now on when she goes, she'll probably go visit a couple friends and stay put - not exploring different areas, but swimming at a local spot and resting at a single residence - a comfortable one.

Many of our day trips my mother in law was the oldest by at least 15 years. Rarely did I see anyone over the age of 60, especially foreign travelers and the ones I did see were very fit seniors.

In Dubrovnik there were a lot of tours going through from around the world. Every day there was a different cruise ship in the bay. They were in and out of that historic city which I felt deserved a two week stay - not a one day stay.

On the day that we walked the walls, without my mother in law as she knew she couldn't handle all the stairs,  we gave ourselves two hours to walk the 1.5 miles. We climbed every little stairway, taking it all in. It was hot, but it wasn't strenuous, really. During those 2 hours, several tours passed us by. The average age of the tour groups was about 50 and most were pudgy. No one was over the age of 60 and they looked like they were about to pass out. The tours stopped at each little fortress for people to go up and take a look, but no one in the groups stopped to go up the 20 to 30 stairs to get the best views. I heard a couple times people basically saying they just wanted to get down as soon as possible. They were barely able to do what they were doing physically, taxing themselves to their limits. The kids and young people on the walls? Going up and down with ease - no problems.

That same evening we took the tour of the walls in Dubrovnik, an older couple of about 70 passed us. They had shocking white hair on tanned, fit bodies. They were strolling down the street hand in hand, looking fabulous. I saw this same couple the next day coming back from an excursion to a little island with walking/hiking that we had also taken. They looked good, not frazzled and worn out.

I compared and contrasted that to my 77 year old mother in law who sat in the house the day we walked the walls because the walls were too strenuous and the air too hot. And while she went on the day trip with us, she skipped walking up to the mausoleum above the city to avoid the stairs (there were 187 of them). Just going up and down the 47 stairs to our apartment was almost too much for her.

I compared this fit older couple to the 50-somethings on the walls of Dubrovnik who were gasping for air with the steps they were taking.

I compared it to all the people I saw around me and saw the key.

Being fit is the key to living a good, long life. It didn't matter if you were thin or not. My mother in law was very thin her whole life. At 77 she has a bit of extra weight on her, but she's not fat. She's just very unfit and has been most of her life.  Of all the people I saw traveling, it wasn't their size that made them tired and worn out (though that was part of it, as fit people don't tend to be very heavy), it was their fitness level. It even affected how they traveled - costing more to travel as an unfit person than a fit one.

The age of the travelers were skewed so young because there are so few fit enough older people to do that kind of traveling. I looked and realized that if I didn't maintain my fitness (and keep working at being more fit), I wouldn't want to travel like that either - or even be able to. I realized that 18 months ago, I wouldn't have been able to climb on those walls, or climb that mountain.

I also know that I will be 53 when my youngest child graduates from high school. 57 (my husband 60) when my younger son graduates from college. I want to have an active life after the kids leave the nest! I want to travel with my husband, seeing all the places that I've dreamed about seeing. We can't afford to go to all those places as a family - heck it took us 6 years to get to Croatia this time! But if I don't take care of myself, I won't be able to do all the things I want to do and see all the things I want to see.

The only older travelers I saw (those over 60) outside of sitting on a beach, were the fit. If that isn't an eye opener, I don't know what is. Don't we all dream of traveling when our kids grow up and we can afford it? Well, for most of us, we get too fat and lazy to do it and the best we can do is a cruise that drives us by sites, basically. Sorry, that is not traveling to the fullest. You miss so much.

All that did for me was to make me realize how extremely important it is to stay fit. To hell with staying skinny. Skinny means so little. What good is skinny fat at age 70? Fitness is the key to enjoying a fuller, older life.

Highest weight: 275  Now: 178.8

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