Living

Offbeat ways to make travel affordable

Marie and John Koski admire some new kayaks at L.L. Bean while on vacation in Freeport, Maine, July 22, 2015. The Koskis, who prefer volunteer and adventure vacations for the cost savings, are part of a growing group of vacationers 50 and older who are finding creative ways to travel economically.
Marie and John Koski admire some new kayaks at L.L. Bean while on vacation in Freeport, Maine, July 22, 2015. The Koskis, who prefer volunteer and adventure vacations for the cost savings, are part of a growing group of vacationers 50 and older who are finding creative ways to travel economically. NYT

When Marie Koski of Springfield, Mass., was in Tuscany, cleaning pottery and bronze items that were more than 2,000 years old, she knew she was on the right trip for the right price.

Koski, 61, a special-education teacher who retired last September, and her husband, John, 62, who is still working, spent seven days at what once was an Etruscan fort, helping an archaeologist excavate the site in the seaside city of Populonia.

They arranged their trip through Earthwatch Institute, an international environmental organization that allows travelers to assist scientific researchers. Participants pay to be part of an expedition, but the contribution is tax-deductible. “That helped our taxes quite a bit,” Marie Koski said.

They spent $1,600 each, and airfare, to participate, and stayed in a three-bedroom apartment in a gated community, sharing a bathroom with another couple.

“I was never into archaeology or history, but it just left me with my breath taken away,” she said. “I like getting my hands dirty, and I don’t mind hard work.”

There are many ways for older Americans to travel for less. These include home exchanges, home rentals, renting or buying mobile homes or recreational vehicles and volunteering.

Some retired people find jobs aboard cruise ships. MSC Cruises, for example, hires retired and semiretired people as lecturers, language teachers and art and crafts instructors.

Mary Lichty, 59, worked as a sales representative for 34 years. She always wanted to travel. Yet her dreams became, “‘I’ll do it later,’ out of practicality and necessity,” said Lichty, who lives in Benicia, Calif.

While working, she began taking wine courses at Napa Valley College, and in 2012, she began working part time as vineyard tasting room associate. She now works as a wine educator on the MSC Divina, which sails in the Caribbean.

“I’m cruising, and they’re paying me for it,” Lichty said. Her husband, Peter, 60, who recently retired, travels with her. “It’s not a lot of money,” she said, but the cabin and food are included.

For those who find the idea of paying to volunteer too expensive or unappealing, another way to travel is to volunteer through the federal government.

You can work at sites run by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service or even the Army Corps of Engineers.

Grand Portage National Monument, for example, is offering an opportunity next summer to be a living history volunteer, interpreting North American fur trade history and Ojibwe culture in three eight-hour shifts a week. When not dressed in period costumes to depict the year 1797, participants will have time to hike, canoe and kayak in and near Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota.

Another way to get better value is to travel to a destination when the weather is not ideal. For example, if you travel to London or Paris in early December, when the weather is cooler, you could get a lower airfare.

After the Earthwatch trip, the Koskis spent four days in Florence, Italy, staying at a small hotel from which they walked everywhere. “We don’t have to be in five-star hotels to enjoy ourselves,” Marie Koski said.

Taking those dream trips

Saving specifically for travel, like from paychecks while still working, is a good strategy to help afford a great trip, said Wendy Money, 61, who has been a schoolteacher in Sacramento for 41 years and a single mother. When considering an extra latte or a trip, she said, “It’s an easy choice.” She plans to retire in three years and continue traveling, often with her 38-year-old daughter, Trina Warren. “My list is really long,” she said.

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