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Expert Author Carolee Duckworth

There are two levels of answers to the question of why people travel. The first is the obvious one, and probably the reason we give ourselves and quote to others. We travel so that we can see sights, experience other cultures, attend events and learn more about the world.

These are exciting reasons. But there are deeper reasons for traveling that have less to do with what we do when we travel, and more to do with what traveling does to us. These five sets of changes to ourselves are at the heart of what makes travel so compelling.

Travel Enriches You, Before, During & After

The anticipation of a trip is almost as stimulating as the trip itself and the memories afterwards. Knowing what you have ahead, and imagining it in detail, lends excitement to life, and relieves the tendency to fall into a workaday rut. The more detailed the image of the trip, the more a future trip will excite you in advance.

During the trip itself, daily life can be intense. Living in these moments fully, and noting everything around you, makes for heightened living. Clearly, this kind of intensified experience is a quality of a style of travel that takes you beyond the bus and out into the streets and squares, landscapes and waterways, of the places you are visiting. Independent travel is a world apart from "contained" travel.

Travel Broadens Your View of the World

Through travel you gain a framework for the history and significant touchstones that brought you to your current life and point in time. Now you are standing in the evil Borgia pope's office, surrounded by the very walls that contained the man with sufficient power to write a Papal Bull-a mandate-that claimed all the wealth of the Western Hemisphere for Spain and Portugal, and secured it for the next 200 years. As you pause in the spot where that happened, the events and significance come alive with new meaning.

Now you are looking down at the stairs that lead to a tunnel connecting the home of Leonardo da Vinci with the royal palace across street. It was through this tunnel that King Françoise traveled to sit and talk with his genius friend. And now you are in Bayeux, where the French William the Conqueror built his naval vessels to cross the English Channel and claim the throne of England.

Each of these experiences broadens your view of the world and your firsthand sense of time and place.

Travel Makes You More Vibrant and Interesting

Travel gives you something to look forward to... to prepare for... to study for... and later to share. You will bring home stories. Life can get somewhat monotonous if you let it, particularly after you retire and your work life ends. Anticipation is worth at least as much as the trip itself and the memories that follow the trip.

How much better to have travel stories and observations to share then to have your conversation limited to your latest doctor visits and your frustrations with the weeds in your lawn.

Travel Re-Energizes You

Travel, and the anticipation of travel, recaptures your enthusiasm. You look ahead with excitement instead of experiencing the dulled-over feeling that comes from repetition and routine.

Travel challenges you to be at your most effective and focused level. Comfort zones may be comfortable. But it is good for you to be taken out of your comfort zones regularly. Otherwise, your social skills can begin to atrophy, and your ability to think on your feet and solve problems may decrease due to disuse.

Travel Improves Your Health and Well-Being

Travel gives you a reason to stay healthy. And it keeps you sharp longer! The challenges of travel test your acuity on a daily basis. Travel can be demanding, especially if you are not being "led around by the nose" on a group trip. You know you will need to be on your toes - to be situationally aware - to pay close attention. You will need to walk extensively, including up and down hills and stairs.

Generally by the time you return home from a trip, you will be in better shape than you have been for months, or even years. And if you begin immediately to anticipate another trip ahead, you will have a genuine incentive to keep up these improvements and be ready for the next time.

Changes and Benefits

These changes and benefits to you from travel can become permanent ones. Your life will become punctuated with enrichment, you will think more broadly. You will find yourself incorporating deliberate lifestyle changes learned during travel. You will be more vibrant and interesting as you are periodically re-energized. And you will experience enhanced health and well-being.

 

Expert Author Carolee Duckworth

Being away from home doesn't mean that you have to "rough it," as you would backpacking in the mountains. Before you leave on your trip, consider what comforts of home you'd like to bring along with you to help soften the impact of travel. Your travels will be more relaxing and fun if you attend to your creature comforts.

Is It Worth the Additional Weight?

Ultimately, you will be the one carrying your own suitcase, so think carefully through all the items you decide to pack, including those that are on your "comfort" list. Make each take-along pass the test of being really necessary and worth the added weight in your luggage.

If you are planning to take five pairs of shoes, four belts, and four jackets, put all of these together in a shopping bag and carry them up and down your stairs at home a few times. Then eliminate any items you determine to be unworthy of the additional effort. And a portable clothes line and a small container of dish detergent to do your wash mid-trip will allow you to pack fewer changes of clothes.

Include your choice of essential electronic devices. Laptop or tablet. Phones and chargers. Extension cords and adapters. And perhaps a small Bluetooth speaker to keep the music going.

Will It Increase Your Comfort?

What you choose to bring along for comfort will largely be a personal set of choices. Just think of some of the small items that make your life easier and more comfortable at home.

At a minimum, pack:

  • refillable water bottle,
  • tissues and wipes,
  • sweater or jacket,
  • collapsible shopping bag and daypack,
  • antihistamines and painkillers,
  • a second pair of comfortable shoes.

Will It Prepare You to Keep Going Despite the Weather?

Be sure to bring a small umbrella to carry with you every day so you will be able to keep going, rain or shine. Even rainy days are important days during a trip. And there's no real reason to be stuck indoors if you arrive well-equipped.

Plan Ahead to Lighten Your Load Mid-trip

When coming up with your creature comforts list, include items that will enable you to lighten your load. Taking a "mailing kit" will preserve your freedom to enjoy the fun and discoveries of shopping the markets and galleries, shops and artisan displays.

In your pouch of mailing supplies, include a roll of wide tape, scissors, and a marking pen. Then, as you add bulk to your bags, you will be ready to pick up a box from the local post office, fill it with anything you won't be needing during the remainder of your trip, and mail it all to yourself back home. The pleasure of "mailing home the weight" is twofold. You will have greater freedom to shop and lighter luggage too. And the cost is considerably less than the fee for an overweight suitcase when you are flying home.

Be Prepared for Picnics

Last, but not least, bring along items that will allow you to create a pleasurable picnic. Eating in restaurants for every meal can be expensive. And the specialness will wane if you are forced to eat every meal out. Much better to have the option of inserting some picnics into your days, here and there.

Take along plastic or paper plates, and real (lightweight) silverware. Also, bring a corkscrew for the wine, and a sharp knife for the bread and fruit, salami and cheese. Add in cloth napkins, a supply of paper towels, plastic glasses for wine, and zip-lock bags for leftovers.

And there you have it... Instant picnic! Put your picnic equipment in your day-pack, then head to an outdoor market or a deli and a wine shop for goodies. Find yourself a shady bench in a park, possibly beside a fountain... Or set up your picnic on the balcony of your room. Then enjoy... and congratulate yourself on money saved, and memories made.

 

Expert Author Carolee Duckworth

France is the undisputed leader in international visitors, totaling upwards of 84 million a year. This surpasses the US, with around 75 million, and far outpaces Britain with around 32 million. What are some of the reasons France is on so many travelers' bucket lists? And which of these reasons might inspire you to follow suit? As a start, consider these three motivations for taking a trip to France.

Reason #1: Cultural Discovery

A trip to France is endlessly entertaining and fascinating. France is proud of its heritage and celebrates its history. Everywhere you go you will find atmosphere and old-world charm and historic buildings with stories to tell. You will constantly be reminded that you are walking in the footsteps of kings and artists, conquerors and queens. Every day will be filled with discoveries.

A trip around the Loire Valley to visit Châteaux will take you along the travel route of the extravagant 16th century King Françoise I, who mounted up astonishing national debts in order to live large and well. His castle in Amboise, perched high above the river, is a source of many stories. There are the large round turrets, with wide spiral roadways inside to allow horse-drawn carriages to ride up into the castle grounds to deliver its passengers-especially handy when one of the queens was pregnant. Here on the expansive lawns, firework and festival displays were performed, designed for Françoise by his cherished friend Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci himself lived out the final years of his life across the street from the king, in a fascinating mansion that is now filled with models of his many ground-breaking inventions. A secret tunnel connects the abodes of these two close friends, used for late-night visits between the king and his brilliant buddy.

In Blois, Françoise added an elegant wing to the already impressive palace, accessed via an exquisite external stone staircase. Here you will see the study of Catherine de Medici, wife to Françoise's son and successor, Henri. The wood paneled walls provided her with secret hiding places for her acclaimed collection of poisons, the political "solutions" of those perilous times.

Then there is the stunning Chenonceau, with its glorious gardens and the vast ballrooms that extend out over the river. Initially this gem was home to King Henri's mistress, Diane de Poitiers. But when Henri was killed by a large splinter in the eye during a joust, his wife, Catherine de Medici, threw Diane out of her Château and took it over for herself. Not to be outdone by the mistress, Catherine then proceeded to construct an even more splendid garden on the opposite side of the chateau from Diane's, and an even grander balcony than Diane's to overlook it. She placed a huge, glaring portrait of herself, looming over the bed in what had once been Diane's bedroom. And she had the initials on the tiles reengraved, replacing the "D" for "Diane," intertwined with an "H" for "Henri," with a "C" for "Catherine." This was a woman determined to make her point. As you enter these lives from long ago, and experience their luxurious surroundings, you will gain a true and immediate sense of the culture and the history.

And on it goes. The people, the history, the passion, and the humanity... All of these surround you on a trip to France. You will be intrigued and awed, captivated and enthralled. Every day of your visit will be intensely interesting, as well as surrounded by carefully orchestrated beauty.

Reason #2: A Feast for the Senses

Your senses will be stunned for the entire time you are in France. The sights are beautiful beyond description. The Eiffel Tower in Paris rises up like a giant erector set, with an elevator to take you to the top for views out over the Seine and the city. At night the tower is set aglow, best to be viewed from a boat as it drifts along the Seine, passing under one lovely bridge after another.

The Orsay, once an elegant turn-of-the-century train station that was built to welcome guests to the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, now houses a startling collection of impressionist art - Monet, Renoir, van Gogh, Dégas, Gauguin, Cézanne, Seurat - within a building that is itself an historic, architectural treasure. Here you will be able to lunch in the grand ballroom of the former grand hotel attached to the train station, and look through the glass of the giant clock that faces the river and makes this building distinctively easy to spot.

There is more and more to come... The glories of Notre Dame. The remarkable stained-glass windows of Saint Chapelle Chapel... The beautiful flowers and statuary of Tuileries Gardens... The onslaught of visual sensations of the Champs-Élysées... The towering Arch de Triomphe, facing the smaller Arch in front of the Louvre at the other end of the five-mile grand boulevard where Napoleon pictured himself leading a march of his victorious armies.

There will be the glorious tastes of the food and wine. You will hear marvelous music of all sorts, from the Vivaldi at Saint Chapelle, to the lively piano bars and boat bars along the left bank of the Seine in Paris and atop Mont St. Michel, to the mighty organ of Notre Dame. You will walk through flower markets, vivid with colors and scents, and shop at weekly markets, alive with people and all manner of tempting offerings.

This assault to the senses will remain with you in memory long after your travels are over.

Reason #3: Intro to the Good Life

The last, but certainly not the least, reason to visit France is that it will introduce you to another, and a better, way of life. You will experience a different manner of interpersonal interaction in France - more engaged, curious, outgoing, and animated. The French truly recognize the importance of enjoying the best of life.

Here dining is a delightful experience, not just a stop to refuel. Food is an art form, combined always with the ideal wines to enhance the meal. Waiters take pride in their work, striving to make dining a memorable occasion by offering up their expertise, and carefully guarding your right to take all the time you need to enjoy your meal without feeling rushed.

People in France are carefully polite with each other, and will be with you. You always will be addressed as ma'am or sir, and asked with a please, followed by a thank you. Cordiality is not only suggested in France, it is expected and omnipresent. You will quickly grow to anticipate and appreciate this.

From the first moment you walk down a street passing all the umbrella-shielded outdoor tables of the cafés, you will notice that this is a culture where people gather together to enjoy each other's company. Old, young, families, singles, rich, modest, fashionable, artistic, intellectual - everyone is out in the squares and along the avenues, drinking in cafés and eating in restaurants. It becomes easy to join in and be stimulated by the lively, friendly atmosphere. Musicians wander the streets, from old men playing accordions outside the restaurants, to full jazz bands playing in city squares. And because the house wine is so inexpensive, stopping off for a glass or a carafe is a customary, not an exceptional, occurrence.

At the tables that surround you at these cafés, you will notice couples engaged in animated conversation, looking intently into each other's eyes. France is a culture of philosophy and art, science and technology, style and literature, and of love. As you take all this in, you may begin to find it has an impact on you and how you yourself relate to others. You'll notice yourself listening more actively, expressing yourself more earnestly and clearly, paying closer attention, acting more considerately, showing more curiosity and interest.

The luxury of time for all this gathering together is in part thanks to the French commitment to keeping an optimal balance between work and life. Shops close for lunch so workers can focus their attention on enjoying a good meal and the company of friends and colleagues. Employees who work 39 or more hours a week must receive more than the legally-required five weeks of vacation per year.

While you are traveling in France, you will come to enjoy and to expect this higher level of connection, this enhanced appreciation of food and wine, this better balance between work and life. You will never forget what you have learned about a different, and better, way of living life.

The Sum of these Three Parts

Taken together, the cultural discovery plus the feast for the senses plus the introduction to the good life, create a travel opportunity that is second to none. You will have a great trip to France, particularly if you travel independently and avoid the bus, possibly by using a preplanned trip-in-a-book to guide your explorations and adventures, and to ensure that you have the full experience while you are there.

Your trip will enrich you. It will refresh you. And it will change you. When you return home, you will find yourself incorporating elements from your travels into your lifestyle, and plotting to return to France.

 

Expert Author Carolee Duckworth

Florence is more than just another place to visit. It is a flame that reignites your inner artist or poet. Perhaps in all of us there is a passion for beauty and genius - for deeper connections with people - for celebrations of the bounty of marvelous food brilliantly prepared, accompanied by great wine. It is in Florence, "Cradle of the Renaissance," where these inner gifts reemerge for a life well lived and beauty fully absorbed. Your holiday in Florence will claim its spot in your mind and memory well after you return home, and you will forever be the better for it.

Prepare to be awed as you fly into Florence, locate your lodgings, and head towards the river for your first view of the Ponte Vecchio. Plan to spend at least five days here (more, if possible), residing on the left bank of the Arno River, called the "Oltrarno" (Oltr-Arno- "other side of the Arno"), within a short walk to the Ponte Vecchio. Here you will become 21st-century "neighbors" of the Medici, around the corner from their opulent Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. You will be close to restaurants and bistros too, as well as to neighborhood grocery stores that offer an abundance of luscious produce, delectable deli items and freshly baked bread, along with excellent and very affordable local wines.

By staying near the river on the "other" side, you will be within a short walk to two convenient bridges, one of which is the Ponte Vecchio, that will take you quickly to the busier side of the river where the dome of the Duomo dominates the skyline. As you walk along "your" side of the river, or lunch at a window table at the Golden View, you will have before you the full spectacle of the Ponte Vecchio, with the imposing Uffizi Gallery bordering the river across the way, and the Duomo dome behind it.

Start Your Florence Visit with the Bridges and Piazzas

There is no better way to learn any city than by seeking out its main bridges (if it has a river), as well as its major squares or piazzas. Florence has the most photogenic bridge of them all, the Ponte Vecchio ("old bridge"). It is likely that what inspired you to visit Firenze (Florence) in the first place was seeing one of the many stunning images of the Ponte Vecchio.

The Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge across the Arno until 1218, and it will be your primary route across the river during your stay in Florence. And what a delightful pathway this will be, coming and going, with its views and its intriguing shops.

There have been shops on the Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. Initially these were shops of all types, including butcher and fishmonger shops that created an offensive stench in the area. So, in 1593, Ferdinand I decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers would be allowed to locate their shops on the bridge. This ruling was "in order to improve the well-being of all as they walked over the bridge."

As well as learning the bridges, you will need to master the Piazzas. Florence is a city of narrow, serpentine streets, bordered by tall canyons of buildings. So, whenever you approach a Piazza, you will feel like you are bursting forth into a vastness of wide-open space. These expansive town squares have been used for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years as gathering places for the populace. It was in the piazzas that important news was announced, and preachers delivered their messages. And it was in the piazzas that public executions were held.

  • Piazza della Signoria will be your place to start learning the piazzas of Florencelocated directly outside the Palazzo Vecchio, palatial home to the obscenely wealthy Medici family. This square is filled with sculpture and fountains, including a copy of Michelangelo's David (the real David is now preserved and displayed at Galleria dell'Accademia). The Dominican priest, Savonarola, staged his vehement burnings of books and art in Piazza della Signoria. And it was here that he himself was burned after his reign of terror ended.
  • Piazza della Republica comes next, surrounded by majestic arcades, with an imposing triumphal arch as an entrance, and a Merry-go-Round. This square was the Forum during Roman times. Now it is a favorite place for outdoor dining at one of its canopied restaurants, with plentiful opportunities to people watch.
  • Piazza Santa Croce was once a gathering place where public meetings were held, and Franciscan monks preached to the crowds. This square is now home to local artists, showing and selling their creations, and many charming local shops. Meetings and monks now have been replaced by street entertainers.
  • Piazzale Michelangelo, with its bronzed replica of Michelangelo's David sculpture, is perched high up on a hill in the Oltrarno, offering one of the most panoramic views of the city. As you sit on this hilltop, high above the Oltrarno neighborhood, you will be at eye-level with the iconic red roof of the Duomo across the river. Return here late in the day to see one of the most stunning sunsets in Florence.
See Some of the "Must See" Sights

Take ample time to attend to the "must see" sights of Florence. Start with these five:

The Duomo and Baptistery: The 13th-century Duomo had no dome until two centuries after it was built, when construction of such an architectural marvel became possible. Walk inside to take in the celestial vastness of its interior space, and to marvel at the carpet of mosaics covering the tile floor. This structure was designed to shock and awe. Sit at an outdoor table for lunch, in full view of the intricate white, green and pink marble mosaic of the exterior. You will need at least a full hour to take this in.

Make time to study the three sets of gilded bronze doors on the exquisite octagonal Baptistery. The first set of doors, facing south, were designed by Pisano and took 6 years to complete. Ghiberti's north doors required 21 years of work, then another 27 years to complete the east doors, for a total of 54 years of work by the masters to create the doors that now stand before you. For the east doors, Ghiberti employed the recently discovered principles of perspective to give depth to his compositions. Michelangelo declared these doors to be the "Gates of Paradise."

Palazzo Vecchio, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens: Imagine the lifestyle of the wealthy and powerful Medici family as you visit their place of business in town center, Palazzo Vecchio, and their opulent residence across the river, Pitti Palace, surrounded by the lush Boboli Gardens.

Cosimo de' Medici commissioned these two locations, work and home, to be linked together by a private passageway, the Vasari Corridor, positioned above the city streets and crossing the top of the Ponte Vecchio. This passageway spanned a full kilometer, from the seat of government in Palazzo Vecchio to the Medici home in Pitti Palace, exiting beside the famous Grotto of Buontalenti in Boboli Gardens. This private corridor allowed the family and their guests to move freely and safely back and forth, observing the people below while they themselves remained unnoticed. A small carriage for two took the Medici and guests back and forth along the passageway when they preferred not to walk.

Medici Chapels: Add one additional Medici monument to your "must see" list-the Medici Chapels. Visit the sumptuous octagonal Chapel of the Princes, another lavish testament to the greatness of the Medici. The crypt beneath this chapel became the mausoleum for this notable family. Michelangelo himself worked on the sculptures of the sarcophagi, completing the statues of brothers and co-rulers Duke Giuliano and Duke Lorenzo. The master sculptor also created remarkable allegorical statues of Dawn and DuskNight and Day, as well as the Madonna and Child.

Michaelangelo's David at Galleria dell'Accademia: Your visit to the Galleria will focus on the glorious sculpture of David. Stand beneath this towering marble masterwork, pristine and aglow under a circular skylight. It will take your breath away. Spend some time just to take this in. But also explore the other intriguing works by Michelangelo, including the Hall of the Prisoners that leads up to the David statue. The pieces on display here are ones that Michelangelo never completed. His unfinished work creates the effect that each of these figures is trapped for all time inside his own block of marble.

Uffizi Galleries: Enter the Uffizi (arrange in advance for an assigned time!), then move up the grand staircase to the gallery, with its frescoed ceilings and labyrinth of rooms crammed full of masterworks. Follow the U-shape of the building, veering off into the side rooms to see the displays. Cosimo de' Medici commissioned Vasari to create this grandiose building beside Palazzo Vecchio to house the offices of government. A secret entrance to the Vasari Corridor lies behind an unmarked door on the first floor.

This building that was once the locus of Florentine government, is now home to a vast treasure chest of art. Find the large works by Botticelli first (Halls 10-14)- Allegory of Spring and Birth of Venus. Locate the portraits of Michelangelo and Raphael (Halls 35 and 66), and also Leonardo da Vinci's one-and-only panel painting. From the far end of the corridors, pause to look out the windows to spot San Miniato, high on the hill across the Arno, just above Piazza Michelangelo. Look more closely at the Ponte Vecchio to see the windows of the Vasari Corridor that runs along the top of it.

Visit the Markets to Interact and Find Treasures to Take Home

Florence has a vast heritage of craftsmen. When it comes to shopping, you will find on offer a tantalizing variety of goods, including leather jackets, bags, shoes, belts and gloves, marble mosaics, intricate jewelry and cutting-edge fashions. At a minimum, visit the leather market near the Medici Chapels and shop for original artwork in Piazza Michelangelo.

Visit the outdoor market in Piazza Santo Spirito and the Mercato Nuovo, the covered loggia with a bronze sculpture of a pig out in front. Watch the fun of children petting the pig's nose for luck. And feel free to haggle a bit if you decide to make purchases. Also stop in at some of the shops along the Ponte Vecchio to admire the hand-crafted jewelry and select a unique pendent or two to take home.

Your travel to Florence will be a life-changing, deeply enriching experience. "One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things" says Henry Miller. And Florence is a destination that consummately inspires such new ways of seeing and living.

 

Expert Author Carolee Duckworth

"What!?" you exclaim? Goals? I'm through with goals. During my entire work career, I needed to be focused on establishing goals - so much so that I determined that my only goal in retirement would be to not have any goals!

Perhaps you need to rethink your strategy. McLain and Lovejoy, in their article, The Importance of Goal-Setting for Retirees, remark, "The first step to goal-setting as a retiree is to think about what matters most in your life, so that you can live with purpose" (March, 2015). In fact, setting retirement goals can help retirees stave off some of the negative effects of aging and help maintain quality of life for longer.

So, if you're willing to revisit your adversity toward goal-setting in retirement, let's start with one of life's most important and meaningful realities - family.

Family Goals

Until now, your work life consisted of a challenging juggling act, attempting to balance family demands with those of your career or job. Now you have the opportunity to renegotiate your allotment of time according to your own values. How about putting a high priority on spending time with both immediate and remote family members - either through personal one-on-one time or through social media?

Yes, the family dog needs to be walked. The grandchildren can be taken on those special field trips that create lasting memories. You now have the time to plan that special, unique birthday event for your partner or children, instead of merely mailing that predictable birthday card! And don't forget your parents-those special people who were responsible in large measure for your life's success. Chances are they would welcome a weekly breakfast date.

Learning Goals

And what about your personal mental development? In their article, Mental Retirement, Rohwedder and Willis state that: "For many people retirement leads to a less stimulating daily environment... the prospect of retirement reduces the incentive to engage in mentally stimulating activities." The authors continue on to point out that retirees can stave off the decline of reasoning ability and speed of mental processing by engaging in cognitively demanding activities that exercise the mind (October, 2010).

So, if you follow the mantra "use it or lose it," then, yes, join that local book club that does a progressive lunch after each meeting. Introduce yourself to that bridge group that always seems to be having fun. Hone your Sudoku skills by challenging the virtual friends you've met online. Take that gardening course that's so popular at your local community college.

Better still, offer to teach a workshop on The History of Rock 'n Roll-a topic that has consumed you since you were a teen. Not only do these activities sharpen and enrich your mind-they also provide surprisingly satisfying social connections.

Volunteering Goals

If you've always believed that it's a toss-up who benefits the most in any altruistic endeavor, the recipient or the giver, you'll find ample opportunity to give back to your community by volunteering your time, talents, or material resources for commendable causes, while simultaneously stimulating your mind.

Offer to tutor kids within your local school district. Consider that any number of Boomers would welcome your help in tax preparation or how to create a family slide show in PowerPoint. If you live in the city, your local museum, theatre, or hospital would eagerly embrace your volunteering your time and talents. And in return, imagine what you would learn in the process in any one of these venues. Hence the paradox: "The more you give, the more you get."

Travel Goals

Your travel choices are legion. Go on your own and explore every nook and cranny of your chosen destination at your leisure. Choose an organized tour and leave all the details and decision-making to your favorite travel organization. Whatever option you choose, you will need to weigh its pros and cons. But, without a doubt, you will find your travel choice to be invigorating, enriching, even, in many cases, life changing. Travel takes you out of your comfort zone, challenges your traditional ideas, allows you to experience new cultures, and, unwittingly or otherwise, opens new windows of self-discovery.

The first time I stood at the foot of a waterfall in a small Swiss hamlet, the lump in my throat revealed so many mixed emotions... That I could never share this moment in its fullness with the folks back home. That there are, in fact, so many awesome destinations beyond the USA. That I will forever be changed for the better by my first trip to Europe, and every trip that has followed.

"Work" Goals

"Without work - or goals to replace the purpose that work gives you - you have little to keep you motivated" (McLain and Lovejoy, 2015). This said, consider that you are now in the enviable position of being able to completely revisit and renegotiate your "work terms."

Step back and "aim, aim, aim" before you fire. Consciously and reflectively, determine your target. Are you going to continue to do the same type of work you did pre-retirement? Full or part-time? Or are you going to pursue a totally different "work" avenue - one that fulfills a latent talent or a compelling interest? Perhaps you're thinking of venturing into the world of entrepreneurship -- instead of having a boss, being the boss. It's your choice.

Creative Goals

How much of your creative side did you set aside for the practical demands of earning a reliable living, supporting and raising a family, establishing yourself and moving up the ladder? But that was then, and this is now. Did you once love to write? To act? To make pottery? To create watercolors of Spring flowers? Has your saxophone been relegated to a closet since you graduated from college? Is the singing voice that once won you all the best solos in your high school chorus rusty from disuse? Did you long ago set aside your love for woodworking? Or weaving? Or quilting? Or restoring engines of classic cars?

Possibly you have never had the time for any of these, yet. So, you don't even know if you would be that talented at what you have always wished you had had the opportunity to create. No problem. This only means that the time is now for you to get started. Creating is its own form of pleasure. Expressing yourself through words or oils or fabric or clay or wood gives voice to your inner spirit like nothing else ever has or will.

If you have already learned the skills for your choice of creative venue, reconnect with what you know, then learn more, then move ahead with passion. If you have always dreamed of creating, but have never learned how, set yourself on the path of studying, then developing your art or craft, then reveling at what you are able to bring into being from your own mind and hands.

You Have the Considerable Luxury of Setting Your Own Goals

Yes, now that you're retired, you have the luxury of setting goals that are meaningful to you, driven by your definition of "a life well lived." Experts agree that we all do better when we have a purpose in life, and that a lack of goals can put our lives at risk after retirement.

Whether your goals in retirement revolve around family, personal self-development, giving to others, travel, "work," creating - or some combination of these - they promise to hold you in good stead as you enter your life's final, and, hopefully, best opus.

Dr. Carolee Duckworth is a recognized career change specialist, who has guided thousands of individuals of all ages through major career shifts that changed their lives. Her current focus is on retiring Baby Boomers as they move through the process of their own great transitions.

 

Expert Author Carolee Duckworth

Why is Tuscany on almost everyone's bucket list? What is it about wandering around from hill town to hill town in Tuscany, passing through vast stretches of lush vineyards, that has such universal appeal? Why would you want to visit this idyllic part of the world yourself? And where should you go first in your wanderings?

To start with, Tuscany is steeped in history, dating back to the Etruscans in 900 BC, moving forward through Roman times to the contentious, art-enthused city states of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Even today, the well-preserved towns and cities of Tuscany retain much of the charm and flavor of their pasts, offering a time machine of first-hand experiences of days gone by. From Etruscan to Medieval to Renaissance to modern times, Tuscany has kept its own unique version of timelessness, all proudly displayed in its museums and churches, but, in equal measure, evidenced in the "living museum" of its streets and piazzas, buildings and art.

And speaking of art... Tuscany holds one of the greatest accumulations of art in the world--with the masterpieces of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and many others--bringing its history to life, illuminated through art and sculpture.

Add to this the over-the-top, built-to-impress, architecture of its colossally extravagant cathedrals, with multicolored marble façades, inlaid marble floors that took centuries to complete, and soaring domes that were their own miracles of design at the time they were built. As if any further embellishment could possibly be needed, these massive edifices hold numerous masterworks of sculpture, fresco and stained glass, all joining together in an obvious attempt to inspire awe in the populace and humble them into obedience.

Equally appealing are the characteristic experiences to be enjoyed throughout the region, in each Tuscan town or city, large or small. The excellent wine, locally produced... The delectable food... The excitement of the piazzas, spacious centers of living filled with people and bordered by lively outdoor cafés. The outdoor markets... Not to mention the gelato!

Tuscany and its Etruscan Heritage

The Etruscans were the first civilization of Tuscany, beginning in the eighth century BC, well before the Romans. The name "Tuscany" is derived from the term "Etruscan." These were an advanced people, thought to be a melding of Greek immigrants and people indigenous to Italy. They built their well-fortified towns on hilltops, reclaiming previously unfarmable land by constructing water systems for irrigation. By 500 BC, Etruscan culture had spread across Tuscany, controlling much of central Italy, including Rome.

A wealth of Etruscan art and artifacts has survived across the centuries, preserved by being buried with the dead, as with the Egyptians. Etruscan tombs, composed of multiple chambers, are carved into the rock and furnished like a house for the next world, complete with food, jewelry and weapons. The Etruscans crafted exquisite, intricately delicate filigreed jewelry, reflecting a wealthy and sophisticated culture with refined tastes.

Each Etruscan town was its own independent city-state, with an autonomous government. Over the centuries, the towns banded together into three separate leagues, made up of 12 cities each. By the 4th century BC, the Etruscans were steadily losing power to the Romans, who ultimately brought about their demise. As Rome grew in power, it conquered and absorbed the Etruscan city states one by one until they vanished into the larger civilization Rome carved out for itself.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Tuscany had a succession of rulers until the 12th-century when Tuscan cities gradually began to regain their independence as republics. By the Middle Ages, some of these cities became wealthy through commerce, trade and banking, including Florence, Siena and Pisa. But there was an almost perpetual state of rivalry, war and mayhem between the city states, each jockeying for power over the others. Ultimately Florence ended up in the lead.

Five Places to Visit First in Tuscany

On your visit to Tuscany, you owe it to yourself to enjoy the full experience, balancing small, quaint towns with large, well-known cities. Start in the medium-sized city of Siena. Then hop about among the three small hill towns of San Gimignano, Montepulciana and Cortona. Save Florence for last.

Throughout your time in Tuscany, you will be perched on hilltops in enthralling, ancient towns, surrounded by gorgeous countryside, with vineyards and fields reaching out in every direction, as far as your eye can see. Travel about by train so your journey will be as much of a delight as your arrival. And determine to place as much emphasis on the being there as you do on seeing sights.

Start your wanderings in Siena...

First to Siena, Frozen in Time

Start your Tuscan adventure in Siena, Florence's rival city, now frozen in time. Surrounded by olive groves and the vineyards of Chianti, Siena is one of the most beautiful cities of Tuscany. Set on three hills, the city is connected by winding alleyways and steep steps.

Like other Tuscan hill towns, Siena was first settled by the Etruscans (in 900 BC to 400 BC). Centuries later, in 30 AD, the Romans established a military outpost in Siena. The town developed into a busy little trading post, advanced by the Via Francigena, the trade and Pilgrim road linking Rome to France. This greatly increased Siena's importance.

Siena grew in economic and military power to become a major and powerful city of 60,000, equal in size and importance to Florence. Like Florence, Siena commissioned great artists to create beautiful monuments and artwork as evidence of its stature.

But Siena's golden age ended abruptly with the devastating plague that swept through Italy, France, Germany and other European countries, spread by infected fleas carried by black rats. Around 1/3 of the population of Europe died in this plaque. When the plague hit Siena in 1348, it killed its victims almost instantly... the ill would "fall over dead while talking." There were so many deaths that some believed this to be the "end of the world."

Fervent friction developed between Siena and Florence as they recovered from the plague, with both cities determined to enlarge their own territories at the other's loss. Siena won some of the many battles between the two cities. But eventually Florence gained the upper hand in 1555, in alliance with the Spanish crown. Siena surrendered to Spain and the Spanish king ceded Siena to Florence to pay off his huge debts to the Medici family.

In Siena you will have your opening experience with a grand Piazza, Piazza del Campo, standing at the heart of the city. Find the Fountain of Joy and the statue of Venus for up-close looks. This vast open space was once the center of commerce and the scene of executions and bullfights. Now it is home twice a year to the famed Palio--the bare-backed horse race where the 17 neighborhoods ("contrade") compete fiercely to win the highly-coveted banner. The Palio race lasts only one minute, with three laps around the piazza, and is attended by 60,000 wildly cheering viewers.

Also, you will take in your first excessively resplendent Duomo, with its façade of gold-leaf and pink, white, and green marble. Take time to study closely the 56 masterpieces embedded in the floor panels, depicting stories of legend, fortune, journeying, wisdom and rape. If you are in Siena on a Wednesday, take in the weekly market. And consider signing up for the 2-hour class at the Tuscan Wine School near the Duomo to begin your introduction to Tuscan wines.

On a day trip from Siena, venture by train to little San Gimignano...

To San Gimignano, a Town of Towers

San Gimignano is a small walled village, about halfway between Florence and Siena, along what was once the trade and pilgrim route between France and Rome. It is famous for its medieval architecture and defensive towers, rising above the town walls, visible as you ascend the hill towards the town.

These protective towers were built by patrician families at the height of the town's glory, as symbols of their wealth and power. The towers also served a defensive purpose against attack from external intruders, as well as from rival families within the town walls. Of the 72 towers that once dominated the city, only 14 have survived, continuing to give San Gimignano its feudal atmosphere and appearance. To see a replica of the town as it appeared in the 1300s when all of its towers were still standing, visit the San Gimignano 1300 exhibit, inside the town walls.

Like Siena, San Gimignano was decimated by the plague, which reduced its population from 13,000 to 4,000, and forced the town to submit to Florence. Florence ordered that most of the towers be removed. After Florence moved the trade and pilgrim route to bypass San Gimignano, the town's fortunes declined, leaving it preserved in its 13th-century form.

San Gimignano is a maze of buildings from times gone by, threaded by narrow pedestrian-only streets, and bordered by intriguing shops and galleries that offer the work of local artists and artisans--leather, handmade jewelry, embroidery, ceramics, paintings. There are a few interesting sights to see here. But, more importantly, this is a town where you can explore at will, enjoy a delicious Tuscan lunch, and look out past the ancient walls and across the countryside while sipping a glass of wine at an outdoor table.

Next move your home-base to Montepulciana...

To Montepulciana, Famous for its Vino Nobile

Next stop after Siena is the small hill town of Montepulciano, 43 miles southeast of Siena and 77 miles southeast of Florence. Known to be one of the most beautiful hill towns in Italy, Montepulciano is built along the curve of a 1,985-foot limestone ridge--a favorite place for the nobility of Florence to build their luxurious second homes.

The town is encircled by walls and fortifications, and filled with Renaissance-style palazzi, ancient churches, charming piazzas and hidden corners, as well as vast panoramas looking out over the surrounding hills and valleys. But the town is chiefly known for its excellent local wines, referred to as the "Vino Nobile."

Piazza Grande is the heart of Montepulciano and the setting for its main events, including the barrel-racing contest, Bravio delle Botti, held in August every year. The sequel to the Twilight Vampire SagaNew Moon was filmed here in 2009.

Montepulciano Market Day is on Thursday, with the marketeers arriving early to set up their draped and shaded stalls. Local crowds follow, pulling haversacks on wheels, to gather up fresh food for the week--vegetables, breads, olives, oils, salamis and cheeses--and to peruse the other goods. Join them!

From Montepulciano, take a day trip to the nearby hill town of Cortona, 20 miles to the northeast...

To Cortona, Under the Tuscan Sun

Little Cortona--featured in the popular film Under the Tuscan Sun--is another charming town perched on top of a hill, enclosed by stone walls that dates back to Etruscan and Roman times. This dominant position above the valley offers a spectacular view from all over town of the surrounding valley and as far as Lake Trasimeno.

This is another town with interesting museums, but even more interesting streets and shops, restaurants and markets. The Etruscan Academy Museum is outstanding, displaying many artifacts from the Etruscan archaeological sites in the area. Excellent red wines are produced here and in the surrounding area, and all the wine bars offer a wide selection. Market day is every Saturday morning.

In Cortona, stop in a leather shop along the main street, Via Nazionale, and select your perfect bag with the friendly help of the owners. Then ask that they point you in the direction of a restaurant with domed Etruscan-style ceilings that offers local Tuscan food and feast on a delicious lunch of mushroom-stuffed ravioli and vino bianco.

Complete the loop of your journey, ending up back to Florence...

To Florence, Birthplace of the Renaissance

Arriving in Florence, you immediately will be surrounded by remarkable sculpture and architecture, palaces and piazzas, masterworks of Renaissance art and intricate work by current-day artisans. Here you will experience unsurpassed art and sculpture, masterpiece upon masterpiece. You will shop the leather markets and sit alongside the piazzas, people-watching and sipping delightful Italian wine. You will look up at the glowing marble of San Miniato, perched high above Piazzo Michaelangelo, across the Arno River in the "Oltrarno." Florence is best known as the birthplace of the Renaissance and the meeting place for artists and architects, scholars and bankers. It is home to many of the most celebrated masterworks of all time.

Julius Caesar founded the city in 59 BC, named it "Florence Shia," meaning "flourishing," and designated it as a haven for retired military veterans. The pattern of the city's design was in the manner of a military camp.

The powerful Medici banking family ruled the city from behind the scenes for three centuries (15th through 17th) and became avid patrons of the arts. Many of the era's most influential artists flocked to the city to create their masterpieces, including Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci. Their frescoes, sculptures, architecture and paintings bedeck the churches, squares, and palaces throughout the city.

 

Expert Author Kate Tammemagi

Success in building high performing teams in any organisation has huge benefits for the business, its Customers, the teams and for each team member. To achieve success in team building, it is important to have a tight focus on the objectives and goals, as well as on the benefits of team building for that specific business or workplace.

The Overall Objectives
Some think this is about playing silly games, or indulging in expensive and irrelevant out of work activities. The managers or business people who believe this will quickly dismiss the concept as a total waste of money and energy. Others who have problems in their workplace with conflict in groups, poor performance or demotivated staff may see team building as positive, but as an unattainable goal. They do not have a clear understanding of team building, or, indeed of the role of leadership in achieving high performance.

Team building is a PROCESS that takes place over time. The start of the process is where there is a group of people, two or more, and a leader. The end of the process is where there is a high performing team, who are highly motivated to perform better and better, who have well-developed processes and systems to organise their workload, and who gain immense satisfaction from their shared achievements.

The overall objectives are to achieve this high performance, to develop the group through the various stages of development, until it achieves high performance. However, like any other process, there are different steps or stages, and there are quite different objectives and goals at each stage. Focussing on the RIGHT objectives at each stage, and changing your objectives as you go through the process, will help you achieve high performance.

The Objectives at Stage One
At the first stage of team building, the Forming stage, there are very identifiable objectives and goals. These objectives MUST be achieved before the group can move on to the next stage. It is the role of the leader of the team to ensure the objectives are met.

The objectives at the Forming stage are:
1. To bind the group, so that they get to know each other and begin having a sense of team. It is at this stage that team building activities will help bind them.
2. To align them to their shared purpose, goals and targets
3. To establish a positive team culture, the beliefs, values and norms of behaviour
4. To establish the role of the leader

The Objectives at the Second Stage
Some of the initial objectives will continue through to this stage, but other goals will be introduced to develop the team further. This stage is called the Storming stage, where members may challenge their shared purpose, the leadership or the norms of behaviour.

The objectives at this stage are:
1. To keep them aligned to their purpose and goals
2. To develop good working relationships between all members, giving them experience of working with different team members
3. To nurture shared problem solving and generating new ideas
4. To introduce processes so that they work effectively together e.g. daily huddles, flash problem solving meetings, regular state of play meetings, communication systems etc.
5. To establish clear short term goals and methods for celebrating achievement and milestones

The Objectives at the Third Stage
When the team has worked through the Storming stage, they will have become closer, and will have a deep sense of working together to achieve their shared purpose. This stage is called the Norming stage, where they work well together and has effective processes and systems.
To get the team to the next stage, the focus changes.

Not many teams achieve the fourth stage, the high performing team. The reason for this generally is that they get stuck in the Norming stage. To move the team forward, the objective now is to change the focus quite dramatically.

Up to now, the idea has been that there is no 'I' in team. The objective is to bind the team together to achieve their shared targets. Now the objective is to get the 'I' back in to the Team, to hold them together, but also to develop individual excellence and specialism.

The objectives at this stage are -
1. To increase the business knowledge, so that the team and individual members can take on more responsibility
2. To encourage problem solving, innovation and leadership for specific projects or tasks. The leader delegates to the team, or to small project groups.
3. To modify or change the processes so that they take on more responsibility. Team meetings reduce, team project teams increase. Leadership of projects or meetings rotates.
4. To get the team to set its own goals

With this clarity of the ladder of team building objectives, you will have a much better chance of developing your team effectively.

 

Expert Author Kate Tammemagi

A high performing team is every leader's dream. The leader of any team wants to build a team that want to achieve, that knows how to achieve and who enjoys getting better and better. How does a leader take their group and turn them in to this high performing team?

Eight Steps to Building a High Performing Team
The following eight steps will guide the leader through the process of building their team.

Step 1 BIND the Team together. A team needs to have a SENSE of being a team, a feeling of cohesiveness. They get this from bonding, from spending time together socially as a whole team. This can be as simple as having a work lunch or evening drink. More elaborate after work activities are good, but not essential. What is important is that they get to know each other, to build respect and trust.

Step 2 - Align the team to its purpose and shared team goals. It is critical for any team to be totally aware of their shared team purpose and that they are all working towards achievement of shared goals. Each person knows where they fit, how their effort contributes to the shared goals. It is equally important that they internalise how their team purpose contributes to the business goals of the organisation, that they feel connected to the wider purpose. The more connected they feel to the business and to our Customers, the more motivated the team will be to achieve its goals.

Step 3 - Set out our GOALS, your VISION and your EXPECTATIONS. It is the role of the leader to win the respect of the team, and to inspire them to achieve their goals.
The team leader must give the team their direction forward. What do you want us to achieve? Why is this important? If we succeed, what will that feel like? What kind of team will we need to be to achieve our goals?

Step 4 - Organise and structure the workload. A good leader will know the strengths of each team member, and will use combined strengths to improve team performance. Running effective meetings is key to organising and to building the team. Run frequent, very short team meetings, thirty minutes or less. Set clear objectives for each meeting, and vary how you run the meeting to achieve your specific objectives. For example, one meeting could be a state of play of the workload, the next identifying blocks to success, a third a brainstorm session to generate new ideas, and a fourth process mapping to improve how we work with other departments.

Step 5 - Set short-term Team goals, the steps to success. Always have both individual goals and team goals each month. Team goals should include both immediate workflow, and also working on goals to improve how the team works together. Goals should be achievable but stretching the team.

Step 6 - Give feedback on goals. Many leaders set goals and walk away. It is the leader's role to ensure there is feedback on the progress of the goals and on goal achievement. Vary how this is done each month. Try to make it interesting and fun. You can use graphs on the wall, or stars for each section of the goal achieved. You can ask the team how we could make feedback more motivating. Ensure you notice and praise extra effort or major milestones.

Step 7 - MOTIVATE the Team to achieve. An effective leader uses many different methods to motivate their team to achieve. The most basic foundation block is generating a 'can do' and 'how can we do it' ethos. The leader does this by modelling this behaviour, and by challenging team members to think in terms of solutions.

Step 8 - CELEBRATE SUCCESS - use both team and individual rewards. A reward is simply a way of recognising success. The most motivating and effective rewards are simple, personal tokens of appreciation. Verbal praise is a reward; praise from a senior executive is even more rewarding. Pizzas made by your own hand, or tickets to their favourite sporting event will be highly appreciated. The trick is to know your people, and to know what would be special for them. Each reward has reward value, you will reduce the reward value each time you use the same reward, so use them only once.

 

Expert Author Kate Tammemagi

The immediate symptoms that of difficulties within teams are easily observed. The results of an ineffective team are all too apparent, poor performance, unhappy Customers and poor relationships with other departments.

A manager or owner will often make the mistake of working on the surface symptoms within the team. This can be frustrating, as it does not deliver long-term improvement. Often the more the manager tries, the worse the team problems become.

Work on the Underlying Causes
The way to resolve team issues is to work on the underlying causes rather than the visible symptoms. Think of the solution to your team issues as a hierarchy, where you will start at the top level and work on each level in turn until you build a highly effective team. As you do so, the symptoms will disappear, and your team will become more successful.

1. Problems with Shared Purpose
• Are the team totally familiar with your Company purpose?
• Do they know where their contribution fits in achieving the Company goals and targets?
• Are they aware of the importance of their role?

2. Problems with Goals
• Do people understand and accept the team's purpose and accountabilities?
• Do they discuss all aspects of the role and the different priorities?
• Do they have weekly and monthly goals and targets to meet?
• How is achievement and improvement acknowledged and celebrated?
• How do they manage stressors or blocks to goal achievement?

3. Problems with Roles
• Does each team member know his or her role clearly?
• Have these expectations been shared? Do they match?
• Do individual objectives fit with the team's overall objectives?
• Are there areas of overlap or duplication between task roles that could produce conflict?
• Is each team member aware of the need to use their influence positively to create a positive team dynamic?
• Is there a positive forum for team members to discuss and know what they expect of each other?

4. Problems with Processes
• Are the team members bonded as a team? Do they have activities or meetings to build a sense of belonging to a team?
• How are decisions taken? Are authority levels clear?
• Are communication processes across the team working?
• What type of meetings do you have? Are meetings effective?
• Do you have the right range of different types of meetings to ensure team effectiveness?
• How do they plan together?
• How are problems and conflicts resolved?
• How do they be creative - generate innovation?
• How is activity coordinated? Are reporting procedures understood and adhered to?

5. Problems with Relationships
• How do team members treat and feel about each other?
• Are people's individual needs recognised and respected?
• Does the team climate allow for open debate and sharing of concerns?
• Does the team and leader encourage feedback on team and individual performance?

Expert Author Gihan Perera
There are a variety of technology options available for you to conduct conference calls, teleseminars and webinars. They can range from a simple two-way telephone call with participants on speaker phones at each end; through to calls with hundreds of participants in different locations, with visuals as well. Yours will probably fall somewhere in between.
When evaluating conference call services, it's difficult to simply choose one and define it as "best", because the services vary depending on your requirements. Here are some factors to consider:
  • Hosting cost: How much do you pay for the call service itself? And is this a single up-front fee, a fixed monthly subscription, or a per-use fee?
  • Call costs: How much do participants themselves pay to be on the call?
  • Connection type: How do participants connect to the call? Is it over the Internet or via a regular phone line? If the latter, are they doing it using a land line, a mobile/cell phone, using a free 1-800 number or a toll-free number, by making an international phone call, or calling from a hotel room?
  • Medium: Is the conference call conducted using the standard telephone system, or is it done over the Internet? The standard telephone system is usually very reliable, and is more than enough for typical voice conversations. However, Internet phone calls can be cheaper - or even free.
  • Meeting size: Is this for a few people, a medium size group or a large group? Some conference call technology limits the number of callers. Even if there's no limit, with a bigger group you might choose a system that gives you more control over the callers.
  • Call setup: Is it quick and easy to plan a call, or does it require a lot of advance planning - and perhaps booking a time slot for using the service? If you don't require the service for informal calls at a short notice, this might not make any difference to you.
  • Scheduling support: Would it be useful to use a conference call service that automatically e-mails all participants with the call-in information, sends them regular reminders leading up to the call, and perhaps even sends an automatic follow-up e-mail after the call? These services are available, though they typically cost more. So if you don't need them, you might choose a cheaper service.
  • Call control: What control do you want over the call? Some services offer additional features, such as recording, "muting" participants, a chat window, the ability to show visuals, and so on.
  • Operator support: Do you require an operator to assist you in managing the call? This probably isn't required for small meetings, but can be very useful as the group gets bigger, especially if it's not a tight-knit group of people or you know it's a controversial topic.
Expert Author Gihan Perera
Despite improvements in technology, problems do occur in conference calls, and you need to be prepared for them.
Poor telephone connection
First, of course, if you're using the telephone system, some participants might have a bad connection. This has been the case since the telephone was invented, and is likely to be true forever!
Some possible solutions:
  • Ask participants to hang up and call again.
  • If possible, ask them to use a land-line phone with a fixed handset; rather than a mobile phone, a Bluetooth headset, a speakerphone, or a cordless phone.
  • If you're the organiser and many participants are having trouble, it might be the conference call service itself. So hang up the entire call and re-start it.
  • Have a back-up technology ready - for instance, having everybody's phone numbers rather than using Skype.
Poor Internet connection
Similar problems can occur if you're using the Internet for the conference call. In this case, you could try some other solutions as well as those we've already mentioned:
  • If possible, ensure everybody is using the best Internet connection possible. In general, a wired connection is better than a wireless connection; and of course the faster the connection the better.
  • Tell participants to minimise their use of the Internet - browsing the Web, downloading e-mail, backing up data to an on-line server, and so on - during the conference call.
  • If you are planning to share big files with other participants during the call, send them the files in advance.
  • If those participants having trouble are using video, ask them to switch to audio only, which is faster to transmit over the Internet.
  • As a last resort, if they are still having trouble, consider asking them to send their responses to the chair in writing (in a chat window, using Twitter, by e-mail or by SMS - whatever technology is available), and the chair reads them out to other participants. This is obviously far from ideal, but it could be a reasonable workaround to allow the rest of the conference call to proceed.
Call drop-outs
A related problem is having participants drop out of the call from time to time. Sometimes they can work around this by re-connecting, but it can be frustrating for them and other participants if this happens frequently.
This can happen both for conference calls over a standard telephone line and conference calls over the Internet. The causes are similar to those for bad connections, so try the solutions we've already proposed above.
Above all, keep in mind that sometimes your only solution is to abandon the call altogether, so plan ahead for that possibility. For example:
  • If you're working to a deadline, don't wait until the last minute to hold a conference call to make important decisions. Schedule the call as early as possible so you get another bite of the cherry if the call has to be abandoned.
  • If the call is very important, have a backup plan in case the first option fails. For example, your first option might be a free conference call service, but if that fails, you can quickly tell your participants how to use the alternative paid service. It's more expensive, but might be better than struggling with the first option or re-scheduling the call.
  • Deal with the most important things first, so if you do have to abandon the call later, at least it isn't a complete failure.
  • As the organiser or chair, if you do have to abandon the call, follow up with participants to tell them what's going to happen - for example, re-scheduling the call, downgrading to an e-mail discussion, using a private on-line forum instead, or whatever you decide to do. The call had a purpose, so if that purpose wasn't achieved, don't leave them wondering what to do next.

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