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Lev and I always loved to travel. He was a travel agent when we married, and though the volume of summer travel business precluded our enjoying vacations in the early years of marriage, we still found many opportunities to enjoy the perks of being in that business.

Lev planned our honeymoon—I don’t think I had any input—a glamorous trip to Mexico City in December 1962, where we stayed at the Maria Isabel Hotel. It was brand new and quite the swankiest hotel I had ever seen. Adding to the hype: the President of Mexico had hosted a luncheon for President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy there just a few months before we arrived.

The midnight flight on Braniff Airways from San Antonio to Mexico City—my first flight—was equally glamorous. Long before anyone worried about seatbelts and the like, the first-class cabin turned into a cocktail party, with flight attendants passing trays of smoked salmon and caviar. I grew up in Texarkana, riding the train. This was heady stuff.

I wouldn’t call us travel snobs. We stayed in our share of roadside motels, and we opted for modest, unairconditioned rooms in order to afford a week at The Bishop’s Lodge in Santa Fe with the children each summer. And how could I forget the straw mattresses at the hotel in Coimbra, Portugal, in 1969?

When my parents retired in Corpus Christi in 1971, they were eager to babysit, which gave us the freedom to travel throughout the year; and after Lev left the travel agency and formed an oil and gas partnership with a good friend, we took full advantage of the new freedom. We did a little bit of everything: cruises, land tours, road trips through France, extended stays in the major cities of the world. Mostly though, we liked to plan our own trips and do our own thing, poking through villages, eating at local cafes and bistros, visiting castles and cathedrals…and just about anything related to World War II. Rarely did we arrange for a driver or guide.

So what was I going to do after Lev died?

While I had taken occasional girl trips and even joined a few groups without him when I was half a couple, I could only find what worked for me as a widow by trying all types and styles of travel. All those who have newfound time or financial resources to travel extensively for the first time face similar decisions. Here are the choices:

  • Join a group for a prearranged tour.
  • Take a cruise.
  • Travel independently.

And here are the questions to think through:

  • What’s more important to you, the people or the place?
  • Are you generally proactive or reactive?
  • Do you have a bucket list?
  • Do you want to do the research to plan a trip that aligns with your interests, or would you rather someone else do the work?
  • Do you want to have a full schedule; or do you prefer the freedom to sleep late, roam the streets (or explore back roads) and people-watch over expresso or wine at a sidewalk café?
  • What’s your annual travel budget…and do you want to spend it all on one grand trip or spread it on as many trips as possible?
  • What’s your age, mobility, health and physical fitness?

If you want someone else to make the plans and being with people you like is more important than what you see and do on the trip, then it’s easy. You sit back and react to whatever travel invitations come your way.

If you’re like me, though, travel is more complicated. Back in 2015, I wrote a series of blogs, 14 Tips for Safe, Solo Travel. Much of what I wrote then applies to the travel choices and decisions I am writing about today; so I won’t repeat them. Instead, I will close with a short list of travel resources that I find invaluable:

  • Platinum status with American Airlines is my security blanket when I travel alone. The 800 number is invaluable when I have flight problems.
  • The perks that come with booking rooms through American Express Platinum are worth the cost of the card.
  • I depend on Indagare, a travel club in New York, to plan my independent international travel.
  • Travel with a nonprofit group is my favorite kind of group travel, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is my favorite travel group.
  • I rely heavily on American Airlines, Uber and Open Table apps on my iPhone when I travel.
  • I always buy AT&T international data plans for my iPhone and iPad when I travel internationally.

Last year, demands related to the release of my memoir, Reclaiming Joy, limited my travel and cost me my elite airline status. Now I am thinking about London, Madrid, the Amalfi coast and European Christmas markets in 2019. I would like to hear from you:

  • Any advice for me?
  • What are your travel plans this year?
  • What’s on your bucket list?
  • What kind of travel do you like best?

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Ella’s memoir of her journey from grief, Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows, was published by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press, in 2018. It is available on Amazon in hardback and Kindle editions.