For the 50+ Traveler
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You know what they say about the best-laid plans. You can put all your skills into crafting the perfect trip, but every now and then, changes have to be made. Whether they’re due to weather, health, political unrest, or natural disasters, adjustments are an inevitable part of travel. Travel is an adventure that calls for flexibility in small and large ways, no matter how thoroughly you prepare.

I found myself in this predicament on a trip to Europe, and I learned some lessons to pass along.

What I Had Planned

How do you craft an itinerary for an enjoyable two weeks away? When planning an international trip, it’s important to decide what kind of experiences you’d like to have in each area you plan to visit. A focus for each leg of your trip can help immensely in narrowing down the available activities.

For example, I planned a trip from the United States to Europe that would include an entire week spent in Normandy, France, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Naturally, this segment of our trip would be filled with visits to battlefields, cemeteries, and museums. The tours we took would center on the stories of soldiers and civilians who suffered through the conflict. And I planned to wrap up the week with a day in Le Havre, following in my dad’s World War II footsteps.

I decided that the second week of the trip should be lighter, filled with relaxation, hiking, and amazing scenery. I set my sights on the Swiss Alps, booking plane tickets home from Zurich and planning to spend three days in the Bernese Oberland area, staying in car-free Murren, riding cable cars to the top of the world at the Schilthorn, and hiking in the mountains all day. Nature, fresh air, and sweeping vistas awaited.

The writer's husband exploring Heidelberg.

How My Plans Changed

The week in Normandy far exceeded my expectations in every way. My husband and I toured all the beaches and landmarks. Our guides shared their vast knowledge of World War II. The experience proved moving beyond anything I could have imagined. And we found the actual places my dad had photographed 75 years earlier, so we literally walked in his steps. All went remarkably well.

But we did not make it to the Swiss Alps. Instead, we scrambled to find an alternative destination, ultimately deciding on Heidelberg, Germany.

We made this decision for two reasons. The first was that, as I watched the forecast, it became apparent that Switzerland would get not just rain, but snow -- in August! We figured we would go no matter how rainy. We had packed rain jackets and planned to enjoy the Alps, even if the hikes were wet and muddy. But we were not prepared for snow. We would have to buy gloves, hats, and heavier coats. The mix of rain and snow coming meant not the gorgeous snow-covered mountains of winter but the slushy, unpleasant stuff that isn’t pretty or fun. For this California girl, the combination of cold, rain, hail, and snow meant we would probably miss out on outdoor activities.

The second reason we nixed going to Switzerland was that I had come down with some kind of mild illness, and I wasn’t feeling my best. I was able to keep going and enjoy every day. But the thought of being chilly, damp, and isolated in the mountains pushed me to reconsider our plans.

Heidelberg's Old Bridge at sunrise.

What I Learned

Fortunately for us, the mid-trip transition to Heidelberg went smoothly in almost every way. Some of this was due to pre-trip planning, and some was just luck.

For the best chance at a happy resolution to these kinds of surprises, I recommend the following.

Research A Few Alternative Destinations

When you’re planning your trip, be sure to research a few cities or areas near those on your itinerary. Happily, I had done quite a bit of research on Heidelberg because I had at one time considered it a first choice. If I know I might be headed to a city, I can’t keep from looking up the main points of interest. I have serious fear of missing out! You don’t want to realize later that you missed that world-famous sculpture or cathedral or fascinating museum.

The Philosopher's Walk in Heidelberg.

So when we arrived in Heidelberg, I knew about the Philosopher’s Walk in the hills above the river. The castle sits above the town and is impossible to miss, but I also knew you could ride a funicular up the mountain over the castle and take in amazing views.

The Student Prison at Heidelberg University is one of the strangest museums I’ve ever visited. We tracked it down because I had read about it, and it sounded fascinating.

By chance, we were able to step off the train in Heidelberg with a good idea of how to spend a couple of days there. Going forward, I will purposely research a few alternative destinations. Whether or not I end up going there, it’s always fun to learn about new possibilities.

Medieval ramparts on a bridge in Heidelberg.

Use An App To Book Last-Minute Lodging

Sitting in a sidewalk cafe in Bruges, feeling queasy, I was thankful for the Hotels.com and Booking.com apps on my phone. We had made the hard decision to give up on Switzerland. The hotel reservation for Murren that we had made through Booking.com before we left home needed to be canceled.

I was able to write to the hotel through the app. Then, to find a hotel in Heidelberg, I checked both apps. Hotels.com came through with a lovely hotel right off the main market square in the Old Town, a couple of blocks from the Neckar River. Since I’m a registered user, the website already had my information. So easy!

My concentration wasn’t the best, but the hotel situation was handled in just a few minutes. The alternative -- calling hotels in another country, with a possible language barrier -- sounds exhausting. Go on your trip equipped with your favorite hotel apps, and you’ll always be ready to deal with changes.

Always Be Polite

If you need to change your reservations, always be polite. State your case, and perhaps you will get a refund. This happened in New York City when problems with our Airbnb forced us to look for accommodations somewhere else.

In Europe, it was my decision to cancel, and no fault of the hotel. I explained my reasons, but the hotel didn’t refund the money. The stay was too close, just a few days away. I tried my best and failed to get reimbursed. Still, I’m glad I was polite. I’m hoping to stay at the Hotel Alpenblick in Murren someday.

The writer's husband at Heidelberg Castle.

Once You Make A Decision, Just Go With It

Heidelberg charmed us from the minute we arrived. The sunrise on the Old Bridge in the quiet of the early morning was one of my favorite travel memories. The extensive castle ruins proved intriguing to explore. We met friendly people. And an entire store of Lindt chocolate was around the corner from our hotel.

At first, I found it hard to stop second-guessing our decision to cut the Swiss Alps from our trip. After a short while, however, I realized all the positives and let the negatives go. Yes, we forfeited the hotel payment. But we also didn’t end up buying costly passes to ride trains and cable cars. The hotel in Heidelberg cost less than the one in Switzerland, and the train fare from France was about the same, so we came close to breaking even.

While I had a bit of trouble not dwelling on the switch, my husband totally enjoyed Heidelberg and didn’t show an ounce of sadness about the change of plans. This helped me to pull away from my second thoughts. We spent two days in sunny Heidelberg immersed in its history and beauty. We were out in fresh air hiking in the hills above the town. The hotel was in a perfect location, provided breakfast, and was manned by helpful staff. I left my regrets far behind.

The Swiss Alps still call to me. I went once, long ago, with my daughter. I had hoped to introduce my husband to the breathtaking landscape. We still plan to go there one day -- it’s fun to think about rambling along those trails, with the sound of cowbells filling the air and colorful wildflowers dotting the hills. Meanwhile, I’ll have memories of Heidelberg that make me smile.

There’s such a lot of world out there to see. If unforeseen events take you from one place to another, you can weather the change with grace, enjoying life to the fullest wherever your travels take you.

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