Janet, aka Planet Janet, is a globe-trotting Baby Boomer who has visited 80 countries and all 7 continents. She launched Planet Janet Travels in 2016 to inspire other mid-life women -- and men! -- to travel this fascinating world of ours more widely, confidently and joyfully. She wants readers to "Experience Grand Adventures Beyond the Guidebook" as she likes to do!
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Janet: I've been traveling pretty much all my life, so that's quite a few decades now! I credit my adventurous mother (and willing father) who packed up the 3 kids to spend an entire summer touring Europe -- long before families really did that sort of thing. I was a senior in high school and was severely bitten by the travel bug, remaining "happily infected" ever since! In my 30s, I worked as a travel agent for a few years, which deepened my travel passion. But it was a life-changing trip to China and Tibet in 2001 that caused me to fall deeply in love with visiting the more exotic, culturally-rich destinations all around the world.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Janet: My travels fall primarily in the categories of Adventure Travel and Cultural Travel. Often, trips are a mix of both -- like touring Morocco, walking Spain's Camino de Santiago, or trekking in Nepal. As a Boomer, I gear my blog to fellow Boomers, particularly those with a spirit of adventure. But younger and older readers are most welcome!
TA: What is the best vacation you've ever taken?
Janet: That's hard to answer because I LOVE all my travels. However, I will say that my 2017 trip to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands on an 18-day expedition cruise was beyond amazing! It was a thrill getting my first view of the breath-taking, pristine beauty of Antarctica. And I loved "hanging out" with the incredibly adorable penguins who stole my heart! I want to go back -- truly!
TA: What's one place you've always wanted to visit?
Janet: Israel and Jordan (with Petra) are high on my list! I hope to visit them soon.
TA: What's one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Janet: My headlamp -- because you never know when electricity might go off in your hotel or the lighting in your room will be extremely weak. A headlamp is also great for hands-free packing or reading in bed (or journaling), especially when sharing a room. Yes, a headlamp is not just for camping!
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Janet: Some of the most magical travel moments are those of serendipity. They come from getting off the well-worn tourist path and going to places where local people live, work and play. That's where you have a much better chance of enjoying authentic interactions and heartfelt conversations with some lovely locals. Those moments may well be some of your favorite trip memories!
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
Janet: One of my favorite bloggers is Leyla of "Women on the Road." She's also a boomer and gives great, practical tips to help women travel solo, smart, and safe.
TA: Where was the most unusual place you've ever stayed?
Janet: I spent two nights in a tented camp in Morocco's Sahara Desert on the edge of the magnificent Erg Chebbi sand dune. My tent was downright luxurious -- with a poster bed, vanity sink, toilet and hot shower plus electric lights. It was definitely "glamping!" And, the clear starry night skies of the vast desert were magical!
TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?
Janet: I love Seat Guru to help you get good seats on your international flights. When you're going to be captive for hours on a flight (especially in economy!) it's not enough to just ask for an aisle or window seat. You need to consult the seat map for the actual plane you'll be flying. That way, you can make sure you're not assigned a "bad" seat -- such as one that doesn't recline or is near the bathrooms or galley (especially when you want to sleep).
TA: What's a travel scam travelers should be wary of?
Janet: You want to be vigilant for possible pickpockets in "high risk" areas where tourists gather -- like visitor attractions, crowded markets, train stations, metros and public buses. Petty thieves love to prey on distracted tourists because we're easy targets.
Sadly, I speak from experience -- this recently happened to me in Marrakesh! The quick story: I had gotten off our tour bus after dinner, wearing my cross-body purse with my iPhone in an outer pocket covered with a flap and snap. A group of young boys mingled among our group, trying to sell something. I was so distracted with goodbye conversations that I didn't really notice the kids. However, they were clearly "professional" pickpockets as they stole my cell phone without me noticing. Big lesson learned!
Next time, my phone goes inside my purse in an inner pocket when I'm in "high risk" areas. Plus, I will be more aware of the happenings around me. In fact, I wrote a blog post -- Pickpocketed in Marrakesh -- all about that experience, sharing my hard-earned lessons and lots of important tips to help readers avoid being a victim!
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you've ever visited?
Janet: Cape Town, South Africa is one of the world's most beautiful cities -- and one of my favorites! The landscape is stunning, with scenic bays, white sand beaches, and picturesque mountains. Plus there is so much to see and do! Cape Town continues to be an affordable destination (not counting the ticket to fly there!) because of the favorable exchange rate between the South African Rand (ZAR) and the US Dollar.
When in Cape Town, be sure to visit the V&A Waterfront, walk through the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood (with its bright pastel painted houses), and ride the cable car to the top of Table Mountain for spectacular views. Another must-do is visit fascinating Robben Island. During South Africa's apartheid, the island housed political prisoners, including Nelson Mandala, who spent 18 years there. It's powerful to see his small cell and the lime quarry where he did hard labor. Plus, the 30-minute ferry ride to the island affords gorgeous views back at Cape Town and Table Mountain.
TA: What's one way people can get the most out of their cruise experience?
Janet: I recommend using a travel agent -- one with special cruising expertise -- for booking your cruise. Besides helping you find the right trip and ship to match your desires and budget, they often get perks from cruise lines and possibly free upgrades. And, it doesn't cost any more money to book with a travel agent.
TA: What's something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Janet: Besides travel itself, I love travel photography, including taking pictures of the local people. What really bothers me is when some tourists snap photos of the locals, often in a demanding or impersonal way -- almost like they're taking pictures of an animal in a zoo. Then quickly, they're off, often without even a smile, thanks or heartfelt acknowledgment of the person.
In contrast, I have found that treating local people with kindness, genuine interest and common courtesy goes a long way in creating a respectful and fun interaction! Over the years, I've been amazed at just how gracious people in foreign countries usually are in allowing me to take their photos. Luckily, these days, with our digital cameras and smart phones, it's easy to immediately show the person the photo you've just taken. To me, this feels like a much more even exchange. I am not just taking from them but giving something back.
Plus, it's so much fun to see the delight on peoples' faces and squeals of laughter as they see themselves on the screen. Of course, if they request a copy of the photo, I will happily say yes if they have an email to which I can easily send the photo (or possibly via Whats App).
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Janet: That's easy -- Morocco! I recently spent three weeks touring this fascinating country and came home a raving fan. Located in Africa's northwest corner (with Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines), Morocco has it all! Morocco's history and culture are rich, and the Moroccan people are warm and welcoming. The landscape is incredibly beautiful and diverse -- with beaches, fishing harbors, verdant farmland, groves of olive and cork trees, rugged mountains, Sahara Desert sand dunes, and desert oasis towns built among palm-lined river plains.
I promise you will never be bored, as Morocco's sights are equally diverse. There are ancient medinas with crowded lanes and lively markets (Fes and Marrakesh), Roman ruins (Volubilis), and charming Chefchaouen (the "Blue City") with its cobblestone streets and blue-washed homes. Morocco boasts four Imperial Cities (Rabat, Meknes, Fes and Marrakesh), historical capital cities from past reigns of various sultans.
In more modern Casablanca, you can tour the beautiful Hassan II mosque, which holds over 25,000 worshippers. And the Sahara Desert offers visitors the unique opportunity to ride camels on beautiful sand dunes -- a definite crowd favorite! Morocco is also a safe country (despite my Marrakesh pickpocketing episode, which can happen anywhere!). In addition, prices are affordable and Moroccan cuisine is delicious (can you say couscous and tagines!). With the buzz spreading quickly among American travelers, I don't think Morocco will be a well-kept secret for long!
TA: What's one piece of advice you'd give to travelers your age?
Janet: No big surprise here: Being physically fit makes travel so much more enjoyable. It allows you to "Say Yes!" to all those fun and interesting activities you want to do, like touring Paris all day on foot or climbing a tall hill in Italy to get great views from the top! So, it's important to get yourself in decent shape before a big trip! You might increase your regular fitness with long walks and/or gentle hikes, adding hills over time.
I'm also a big fan of yoga -- for building muscle strength, increasing flexibility, and helping with balance. All great things for our healthy, yet aging bodies! In my 60s, I have twice successfully walked Spain's Camino de Santiago -- 230 miles each time. It was great to see so many fellow walkers (pilgrims) in their 50s, 60s, and 70s doing it too! Like me, we all carefully trained for the Camino and it really paid off!
Bottom Line: For all "seasoned travelers," it's a good idea to properly (and safely!) prepare our bodies for the rigors of travel. By getting into decent shape before a trip (whatever that looks like for you!), you can more fully enjoy all parts of that grand travel adventure you have planned!