Tripologist: Solo senior yearns for the backpacking life

Seeing the sights ... Paris.
Seeing the sights ... Paris. Photo: Getty Images

I am now retired and going on 70 years of age. When I was in my mid-30s, I travelled in Europe alone, and these were some of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. Now that I am older, I was wondering if a pensioner would still be able to do what I did then. Aside from a little arthritis, my health is OK. I want to experience the thrill of travelling alone again. This time I want to concentrate on museums and cultural/historical sites. Knowing my limitations, I only want to cover Portugal, Spain and France, and to visit my great, grand nephews living in Milan.
- R. Perdon, Kensington.

Your words should be carved on every traveller's heart. There are many who travel through Europe solo well into their 80s and find inspiration along the way.

Accommodation is the major expense. It is difficult to find even a two-star hotel room in many parts of southern Europe for less than €50 ($62) a night. A better alternative might be hostels. While hostels typically cater to younger travellers who want nothing more than a cheap bed in a shared room, many also have private single rooms, and these are excellent value for budget travellers.

No. 1 destination for Australian skiers in Japan ... Niseko.
No. 1 destination for Australian skiers in Japan ... Niseko. Photo: Getty Images

For example, in Barcelona you could stay in a single room in a hostel at a starting price of about $23 a night. You can find plenty more examples all over Europe; compare prices, find reviews from past guests and make bookings at Hostelworld. In many cases you also get free internet and the company of young, adventurous travellers who will put youthful wings on your feet.

Eating cheaply isn't a problem, provided you eat among locals.

Something you might find useful is a Carte Senior, available to anyone over 60 for €57. The Carte Senior offers a 25 per cent to 50 per cent reduction on rail travel in France. Buy the card over the internet, or at ticket offices in SNCF stations. Italy has a similar product, the Carte d'Argento, which you can purchase at railway stations.

 

Perfect for powder hounds

Our family of five would like to ski in Japan in January. We have been told Niseko is a great place to try. We would appreciate suggestions with respect to budget travel and accommodation. We'd like to have a week of skiing.
- S. Hilton, Anglesea, Victoria.

Niseko is the No.1 destination for Australian skiers heading to Japan. Situated on the island of Hokkaido between volcanic cones and surrounded by national park, Niseko gets an average dump of more than four metres of dry powder each winter. Australian skiers love the conditions, the facilities and the atmosphere. English is widely spoken and skiers have a wide choice of terrain.

The closest airport is New Chitose, a 2½-hour drive away. New Chitose can be reached via a one-stop flight from Australia. Japan Airlines has the most direct flights and some of the keenest prices, but minimum travel time between Melbourne and New Chitose is about 15 hours. On the upside, there is no jet lag, unlike to American ski resorts.

At the budget end of the scale, Niseko has a number of pensions and lodges that would fit the bill. An even better choice for family accommodation might be an apartment, which would allow you to shop at the local supermarket and save on meal costs. You can find several choices on the Niseko accommodation page at the Ski Japan website.

Ski Japan is a major ski tour operator for Australians visiting Hokkaido. They can put together a complete package that includes transport, accommodation, ski hire and lift passes. You can call them in Australia on 1300 137 411.

 

The Sicilian connection

My husband and I are planning a trip to archaeological sites in Sicily in October 2013. I have emailed three tour companies in Sicily seeking help with the itinerary but have only received one unhelpful response. Do you have any suggestions who could assist us with planning this? We would need a driver and accommodation booked, and a planned itinerary.
- B. Byrnes, Corlette.

The Italian Government Tourist Office in Sydney suggests several tour operators that might be able to help with your requirements. The list includes Renaissance Tours, ATI Tours and Academy Travel.

If you want something luxurious, such as guides with specialist archaeological credentials and a chauffeur, and you don't mind paying a higher price, talk to Susan Aitkin at Mary Rossi Travel on 1800 815 067. Aitkin is an expert on Sicily and you would be assured of a first-class experience.

As an initial move, you might call these operators to see whether they can deliver what you want.

When you have selected one and they get down to the nitty-gritty of constructing an itinerary, you will most likely be asked to pay a fee, which will be refunded should you confirm your booking.

Tour operators are usually unwilling to construct a personalised itinerary without some sort of guarantee that their efforts will result in a booking and this could be the reason for your lack of success with the operators in Sicily.

 

Internal flight savers in the US

We are a family of four planning a US trip in January. You used to be able to buy really good airline deals for an extra $25 a leg from city to city if purchased outside the US. Do you know if similar deals are still available?
- T. Blair, Sydney.

The North America Airpass from the Star Alliance and the Visit North America Pass from oneworld are what you're looking for.

Either will allow you multiple stops throughout the US at a much lower price than if you were to purchase the same flights sector-by-sector.

These passes are available for sale only to residents of countries outside North America and you need to book before you depart from Australia and in conjunction with return travel to North America on member airlines of the same alliance.

For example, if you are travelling with Qantas to the US, you will be looking at oneworld's Visit North America pass.

If you are flying United, the Star Alliance North America Airpass would be the go.

 

Digiwatch

Flashlight by Rik is your night-time friend. Designed for iPhone 4, iPhone 4s and iPod touch (fifth generation), this handy app turns your device into a torch. No more groping for the key slot in dark hotel corridors, and just as useful in the middle of the night when you can't find the light switch. For Android devices, Brightest Flashlight Free sheds the same bright light.

 

If you have travel questions, we'd love to hear from you. Include the name of your suburb or town and send it to tripologist101@gmail.com. Personal correspondence cannot be entered into. Only questions appearing in print will be answered. One published letter each week will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

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