Sheila and Kevin Simpson have been married for 26 years. During that time each had successful careers in law enforcement, raised two sons, moved across country twice, and now live in Arizona. Both of their sons are in college now. In addition to the newly empty nest, Kevin has recently retired. They are entering a very different stage in their lives, what they feel will be the prime years of their life. Through the years, Sheila and Kevin saved for retirement and now they are ready to enjoy a comfortable post-professional lifestyle including plenty of travel adventures. You can read more on their blog Exploring the Prime.
Sheila and Kevin were kind enough to answer our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Sheila: I have been traveling my whole life. My father was a school teacher with summers off and my mom was a stay at home mom. Every summer my family would take a long road trip to a different part of the United States. The earliest trip that I have memories of was a trip from Illinois up to the coast of Maine and into Canada when I was about five years old. These were camping trips with a large, family size cabin-style tent. Another year we visited several US National Parks during a 5,000 mile epic road trip. Several times we also traveled around the different Great Lakes, camping at different spots along the shore like the 1,200 mile Lake Superior circle tour that took us up into Michigan, Canada, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Growing up traveling and camping for month long trips, I assumed that it was what every family did. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized a one or two week vacation once a year was more typical for most families. Kevin’s family took an annual trip to the New Jersey shore beaches, renting a beach house often with extended family renting a beach house next door. We both have happy memories of time spent traveling with extended family. This is a tradition that we continue today often meeting our siblings in other parts of the country or the world on vacation adventures. We took a trip last summer to Ireland and Germany where we met my brother and his family who traveled there from Boston. There is so much of this world to see, I cannot imagine a life without travel. We love our home but at any given time we have several upcoming trips in the planning stages. Planning, dreaming, and looking forward to a trip is part of the fun of travel.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Sheila: Kevin is recently retired, this has given us much more freedom in our travel plans. Now that our kids are grown we are no longer tied to school-break schedules either. Our trips alternate between luxury travel and outdoor adventure travel geared toward couples. Kevin loves to hike and I love cities. We often try to plan trips that encompass a little of both, some outdoor adventures and some luxury hotel stays. We do not like crowds so we prefer to travel off season.
TA: What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Sheila and Kevin: It was many years ago now, but we absolutely loved our first trip to the island of St. Lucia. We stayed at the Sandals all-inclusive resort. We took full advantage of all of the included recreational activities. We enjoyed water skiing, sailing, beach volleyball, and nightly dance parties at the bars. We lounged by the pool and relaxed on the sandy beach. We loved the free beverages and delicious food available all day and night. On that trip we barely left the resort which made the trip even more relaxing. It was an amazing, decadent experience that we always recall as one of our best trips.
TA: What’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit?
Sheila and Kevin: Australia was at the top of our wish list for many years. The long travel time has kept us from making the trip.
TA: What’s one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Sheila: Aside from the obvious like passport and credit cards, I always pack ear plugs and eye shades. I’m a light sleeper and with these I can generally be assured of a good night’s rest regardless of the surroundings. Well-rested means ready for adventures the next day.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Sheila: Be flexible. Have a general plan but be ready to go with the flow and be open to new opportunities if they come up. Being flexible also helps to adjust to unexpected weather situations. To help with this, I try to not over-schedule our trips. I generally start a trip with a list of “must see” items that I want to be sure to visit in any given location but wait until I’m there to plan the details and daily itinerary. That way, if I hear of a great spot to visit while exploring an area, I’m not already locked into an itinerary with alternate plans. Planning for some down time leaves gaps in our day that can be filled with spontaneous fun or just spent relaxing on a patio looking at gorgeous scenery.
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
Sheila: I follow so many different travel blogs it is hard to name just a few. Generally when planning a trip I will go to Pinterest and search the destination that interests us. From there I will read blog posts by a wide variety of bloggers to get ideas for our next adventures. If a particular blogger seems to have a similar travel style as us, I will then begin following that blogger’s social media accounts to keep up to date with their latest trips and posts.
TA: Where was the most unusual place you’ve ever stayed?
Sheila and Kevin: The most unusual place, for us, was a small bed and breakfast inn in Pennsylvania. It was a family run place with horseback riding and a full service restaurant on property. We had a good laugh because the same individuals kept popping up all over the place dressed differently depending on the role at the moment. The person who took us on a private trail ride was also our waiter at dinner and then he was the chef who baked the popovers for our breakfast the next morning. Having never stayed at a bed and breakfast before we had a good chuckle over this.
TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?
Sheila: My best flight hack is to travel with only carry-on luggage. One trick to remember, if you absolutely must bring more than fits in your small carry-on suitcase but you don’t want to check any suitcases with the airline, involves the “wearing is not carrying” principle. The airlines limit what you CARRY on to the plane. They do not limit what you WEAR on to the plane. Wear your bulkiest items. Wear your boots, if you are going to bring boots. Pack your smaller shoes/sandals. If you are going to need a heavy coat at your destination, wear it on to the plane. You can remove it as soon as you are seated. If you really want to exploit this principle, pack a small collapsible tote or packable backpack inside of your “one personal item” carry-on. Once you are on the plane, you can remove your extra layers and put them into the spare bag that you had in your carry-on. You will exit the plane with more bags than you entered but at that point, no one is counting.
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given?
Sheila and Kevin: Don’t wait to start traveling. Travel at all stages of your life. We traveled before we had kids and had some excellent adventures. We traveled with our kids when they were as young as 6 weeks old. A nursing, non-mobile infant is actually very easy to travel with. Toddlers are more challenging but traveling with kids is great as long as you remember to plan nap times and down time into your day and don’t try to do too much. Now that our kids are grown we are enjoying rediscovering traveling together as a couple. Don’t wait until the “perfect” time to take a trip, instead save some money and vacation days and just go somewhere. There is a great big world out there and travel lets us see just how small of a space we occupy. There is so much to learn by visiting to different cultures.
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Sheila: I was pleasantly surprised at the food in Germany this past summer. I thoroughly enjoyed all our meals. We started our visit with a delicious breakfast served with beer. I love soft pretzels and there are delious pretzels a plenty in German beer gardens and restaurants. Of course the schnitzel was delicious and found in most restaurants. But, the most memorable meal that I loved and would love to eat again was a chicken with mushroom cream sauce served with house made buttered spaetzle. Every bite was delicious and eating outside at long picnic tables under large umbrellas surrounded by trees in a lovely Munich beer garden together with extended family while enjoying large steins of delicious beer made for a great afternoon and happy memories.
TA: What was the most romantic place you ever visited with a partner?
Sheila: My first thought was that our trips to the Sandals all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean were the most romantic but on further reflection I think we were too busy on those trips. On those trips we socialized with other resort guests. I would have to say that our recent trip to Tubac, Arizona was very romantic. The main reason for this answer is that we went there without much of an agenda and no time pressure to see certain sights or get anything done. It was just two two of is in the beautiful, relaxing setting of the resort (we stayed at the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa.) We had a room with a lovely patio overlooking the grassy courtyard. We were able to focus on each other and take long walks, have focused talks, ride bikes at sunset, lounge by the pool, enjoy romantic dinners, and visit the spa for super-relaxing spa treatments. By the end of the three day stay we felt refreshed, we had reconnected, and we were rejuvenated by the excellent massages at the spa.
TA: What’s something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Sheila: Personal grooming on the plane drives me crazy. I once sat next to a lady who was painting her nails on the plane. The smell was overpowering and annoying in the confined space. But, worse than that, was sitting next to a man who decided to clip his nails on the plane. Little pieces of nail-clipping shrapnel flying all over the seating area. I was completely disgusted. I just put my jacket over my head and tried to sleep. It was about this time I decided I no longer wanted to fly economy class. Not that business/first class passengers don’t do weird things too but at least there is a bit more space between seats.
TA: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to travelers your age?
Sheila: Just say yes! At this stage of our lives we are starting to realize that we do not want to wait to explore and have adventures. Kevin is pretty fearless but when the opportunity came up to try hot air ballooning my first thought was that I was afraid. I do not want to live my life in fear. I want to have new adventures and experience new things. As we are doing more with Exploring The Prime I need to keep reminding myself to be open to new opportunities. Most of my life I have had a tendency to operate from a place of fear. I am cautious by nature, I do not like to take risks. I am a worrier, I always have been. If left unchecked, my mind can conjure up all sorts of disaster scenarios about any given situation. I do not want to worry but doubt, fear, insecurity and hesitation creep in if I am not watchful. I recently have been offered some amazing opportunities, several of which are far outside of my comfort zone. My knee-jerk reaction is to say “No” to these adventures that scare me. I need to trust that everything will be okay, I know that I am capable and strong. I want to say “YES!” all adventures even if I am scared. I once read that the definition of bravery is being scared but doing it anyway. My advice to travelers is be brave and say yes to all opportunities that come your way.