Seniors travel for minor money

June 16, 1996|By Rhoda Amon | Rhoda Amon,NEWSDAY

Marge Day, a 72-year-old retired speech therapist, lives on $13 a day three months of the year in Marrakech, Morocco.

Her room in a small family-owned hotel costs 35 Moroccan dirhams, about $4 a day. There's no hot water, but she can get a hot shower for about 60 cents. Each morning, after an hour of yoga on the sunny tile roof, she picks up some buttered French bread at a pastry shop and fresh-squeezed orange juice for a couple of dirhams from vendors on the Jamaa el-Fna, the great public square in the heart of Marrakech. She then orders a coffee at the Argana Cafe and settles down with her breakfast on the Argana's second-floor terrace, where she is welcome to stay all morning reading the International Herald Tribune ($2), catching up on her correspondence and watching the square come to life. Total cost: less than $4.

Lunch is a harira, the ubiquitous Moroccan vegetable soup that's never the same twice but almost always delicious, or a salad for about five or six dirhams (about 60 cents). Dinner, a more substantial meal of maybe some couscous and chicken, is never more than $4 at a small cafe.

Back home in Providence, R.I., Marge sometimes lectures on traveling on a budget, but, she says, she travels solo because "most people don't want to live as simply as I do."

That may be so, but many retired people on a fixed income are willing to forgo luxury, and even some comfort, in order to go places and see things. While you may have to go to Morocco or another less-developed country to live as cheaply as Marge Day does for a long period of time, it's possible to enjoy a briefer vacation on a limited budget even in this country.

For example, you don't have to be young to stay at a youth hostel. Despite its name, Hostelling International-American Youth Hostels welcomes all ages to its network of hostels and even offers a discounted $15 membership to anyone over 55. Seniors now make up 10 percent of the members who frequent the 150 hostels in major U.S. cities, national parks and national seashores, spokeswoman Toby Pyle said. Nightly rates vary from $8 to $22. (New York City is the most expensive.) Most have comfortable, plain accommodations, TV lounges and fully equipped kitchens, where you can cook your own meals.

Typically, a San Francisco hostel charges $14 per night for a maximum of two weeks. "You have to be amiable and enjoy mixing with other people," says staffer Jinny Pearce. "We just had an Australian couple in their 60s who stayed almost two weeks and had a ball."

I had a kind of ball in a hostel in Turku, Finland, one of 5,000 such hostels in 70 countries where the youth hostels membership card is welcome. We had a private twin-bed room and a lot of fun putting together a spaghetti dinner after figuring out how to ask for the ingredients in sign language at a small local grocery store. Call (202) 783-6161 for membership information. You can sign up with a credit card.

For bargains strictly for seniors, Joan Rattner Heilman has just updated and expanded her popular guide, "Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can't Get Unless You're Over 50" (Contemporary Books). Heilman gives details on such vacation deals as lifetime admission to the national parks. (Grand Canyon anyone? If you're over 62, a one-time $10 fee gets you free admission for life.) Other perks include price breaks on airfares, trains, buses and car rentals; up to 50 percent off at hotels, motels and restaurants; trips, clubs and matchmaking services for mature singles.

The book lists for $9.95, but readers can order it for $8.50, plus $3.95 shipping and handling, from Have Book, Will Travel Inc., 124 Deer Run Road, Wilton, Conn. 06897; (203) 761-0604.

Anthony Manzi, president of the Connecticut book company, is also offering the 1995 edition of "Where to Retire: America's Best and Most Affordable Places" for $12.95 (plus $3.95) for those senior travelers who are contemplating a serious move.

Booking an apartment or cottage, even for a short period, always makes for a money-saving vacation, since you can fix some of your own meals, and shopping and cooking in a vacation place is always more enjoyable than the same chores at home. For those going abroad, a new brochure lists 7,000 apartment rentals in 14 European countries. Many are in London or Paris, but there are new listings in Prague, Venice and Zurich. Weekly rates for studios, including maid service, start at $402. The brochure is available from Keith Prowse and Co., New York City, (800) 669-7469.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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