Charlie Funk
Charlie Funk

At what point should one begin slowing down in life? Years ago, I thought of retirement as sitting on a front porch watching traffic go by and doing nothing. It wasn't appealing to me then, nor is it now.

Retirement, for many, is the freedom to do with one's time as one wishes. It would seem so for me. I am persuaded that the day I say to myself I have nothing left to learn nor anything left to contribute will be my last day on this ever-shortening journey.

Learning new skills and building on old ones takes time. Those skills set travel professionals apart from transaction processors. And it turns out being around for a long time might not mean all it should either. Thirty years' experience and one year's experience 30 times are not same thing.

Early on, the learning experiences cost less. And still today, in many cases, suppliers underwrite or reimburse the associated cost. Indeed, one of the greatest attractions for our industry is the prospect of free travel.

At some point, the next learning experience might not be free or even to be had at a reduced cost. It is times like these when the travel professional decides to stay the course or grow.

I had the pleasure recently, together with Sherrie and another couple, to sail from Athens to Rome on a luxury cruise line. We committed to this line to grow sales and realized that that effort would be better fulfilled if we had first-hand knowledge. It was also an opportunity to make or renew acquaintances with private tour operators in the various ports of call.

Our dear friends had river cruise experience, but her only ocean sailing had been on a contemporary line, and he'd had no ocean cruise experience at all. It was a perfect opportunity to observe those who likely would be less critical, having a broader, more open view than we would.

It was marvelous. Sherrie and I both took hundreds of pictures, and a lot of them found their way onto our Facebook pages. And here's an important note: Because we paid full fare for all facets of this grand adventure, the requirement to disclose any compensation or reduced fare did not apply. We have had quite a few people ask about our trip with an eye to doing their own.

We all walked our legs off. Sherrie logged steps each day and her total was well over 100,000 for the trip with 14,000 steps and nearly seven miles logged in a single day.

We had some of the most delicious dishes ever in Athens. An exquisite Greek key ring crusted in diamonds jumped on Sherrie's finger at a jewelry store with an exceptionally friendly owner. We had more pasta in four days in Rome than I have eaten in the past year. I still have great difficulty passing a gelateria, and I believe it is not coincidental that the scoop size is such that just as one finishes the first purchase, another gelateria will be conveniently close at hand. I got us lost in Rome.

It's like this: Learning can be fun again, even if you have to pay for it. The key for me is to never stop doing so.

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