Finally, the day has arrived when you have more time to call your own.
You have fewer day-to-day family responsibilities and, after all those years of application, you’ve reduced your work commitments or maybe put that all behind you. The big ‘R’ word, retirement, finally here.
But you’re not ready for the slippers and TV just yet. Yes, you’re a senior; but it’s the thought of senior travel and adventure that’s calling to you.
You know there’s a whole wide world out there, from the next county to the next continent and beyond. And now there’s time to explore those far horizons and make your travel dreams come true.
Far from being too late, there’s a world of travel opportunities for couples and for solo senior travellers, whether you want to travel just the two of you, partner or friend; on your own; or as part of a group.
In fact, arguably your senior years are the best time to travel.
You know yourself better now. You know what you like and you’re more confident about doing what you want to do, and not being swayed or pressurized into doing what others may think you ought to do.
And without the time limits of the workplace you are able to travel out of high season so you can enjoy popular destinations, for example, Venice or Florence, with fewer crowds. This also enables you to travel more economically, at low season prices, allowing you, perhaps, to travel further or for longer.
Similarly, with the family grown up, you may have more resources (as well as time) at your disposal, putting that bucket-list trip of a lifetime within your reach — a north-to-south journey across Australia perhaps, or on safari in Africa, or the Northern Lights from a glass igloo in Finland…
Travel during your senior years not only opens the door to a lot of enjoyment, it’s also good for you. It keeps you active both physically and mentally.
Older adults who are more physically active have lower rates of heart disease, stroke and many other diseases. And meeting new people, cultures and environments stimulates and challenges your brain.
Doing something different, that takes you out of the everyday, serves to improve your mood and outlook on life, as well as reducing stress.
So get out there and enjoy a vacation. You’ve earned it! After all, what did the poet Mary Oliver write: ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’
Before you hit the internet or see your travel agent, begin by getting clear about what you are looking for: what are your travel goals? What’s your style?
For example, do you want to travel alone or as part of a group; or perhaps find a travel companion? Do you want to travel in comfort or strike out off the beaten path? Do you want to find a trip or build an itinerary that speaks to your particular interests or passions, food, for example, or music, architecture, fabrics, literature, history…? Do you want to study or get hands-on in learning a new skill; or just take some time out to relax?
Like anything, you are more likely to reach your dream destination if you have an idea where you want to go, and how you want to travel.
Travel agents and online services, such as Rough Guide’s ‘tailor-made trips’, or Travel Local can help you put together your ideal itinerary. But remember, no journey will ever go completely to plan. That’s the joy of travelling.
But by being prepared you can weather the unforeseen and embrace wherever the journey takes you.
If you like the idea of an individual, go-where-you-please adventure, you may love an RV or (European equivalent) caravanning/motorhome vacation. Exploring, for example, the wide open spaces of the US, or wending your way across Europe.
Travelling in an RV gives you the flexibility to travel at your own pace, where you please. And the large windshield and height above the road gives you great views of the landscape whilst travelling. You’re also likely to find a welcoming ‘fellowship of the road’ with other RV’ers at campgrounds.
RV travel provides a more comfortable experience than camping in a tent, and if you love cooking out in a scenic area and exploring the great outdoors, an RV vacation may suit you well. But if your idea of a holiday is having someone else cook and clean, the RV experience may not be what you’re looking for.
However, you can’t get a real idea of RV travel just from reading about it. Before you commit to an extended RV vacation, try a long weekend trip and see how you get on. Then try a longer trip, say a week or so. This will allow you to get a fairly good idea of whether the RV life is for you.
Equally, you can combine different types of travel on a trip, staying in hotels/B-&-B’s when visiting towns and cities and hiring a VW Camper (for example) to explore the rugged hinterland and wild coastal areas of, say, Australia or New Zealand.
Arguably the polar opposite of an RV vacation, a cruise welcomes you on board and takes care of pretty much everything for you.
For some the word ‘cruise’ is freighted with a raft of preconceived ideas of formality, great expense, and being trapped on board with a horde of strangers with nothing to do. It’s fair to say the world of cruising has moved on from the stereotype image quite a bit over the years.
There are now a huge range of cruise lines, styles of cruising, and destinations to choose from — including the polar regions.
To dip a metaphorical toe into the ocean of cruising, decide whether a cruise may be for you and, of course, which cruise, begin with a bit of research to get an idea of the ambience of a specific cruise line.
Look for the cruise lines where you feel that life on board ship matches your personality, in terms of type of fellow passenger, dress code, level of luxury, formality such as set dining times, types of entertainment and/or learning opportunities, child-friendly or not, etc.
In terms of destination, the size of ship will play a part. Smaller ships can go places that the larger ones simply cannot fit, for example a cruise along the Danube or other great river in Europe. On the other hand, the smaller ships will be more limited in dining options and entertainment.
The 20-storey megaships can cross an ocean and will offer a vast array of entertainment options, from fitness to education and beyond, including (of course) dining, dancing and drinking. Usually you’ll find there’s plenty of opportunity to do anything you want, except maybe spa treatments and popular shore excursions. So it’s worth planning ahead and booking these early.
To save on cost, take advantage of the shoulder seasons (spring and fall/autumn). And, speaking of cost, don’t forget to factor in the extra expenses of getting to the departure port, activities on board, alcohol, cost of shore trips and so forth.
The earlier you book, the more likely you are to be able to get a good deal — and the kind of cabin you’d prefer. The cabin is almost a pro subject in itself, but in deciding whether to pay the extra for a view, think of the itinerary. For example, there’s not a lot to see crossing the Atlantic, so it might be a good opportunity to save. By contrast, cruising the Med there will likely be plenty of interesting views to enjoy.
Also consider port or starboard. If you’re cruising north to Alaska, for example, try to book a cabin on the starboard (right) side of the ship, and if you’re travelling southwards, choose a cabin on the port (left) side. That way you’ll have a view of the coastline.
These are the kind of detailed tips you can only really get from a specialist cruise travel agent and it’s well worth consulting one, as well as doing your own research, before you book your trip.
Online you can find specialist websites, such as Cruise Critic, that offer an enormous range of information and reviews to help you find your ideal cruise — and, putting aside any preconceptions, decide whether cruising is for you.
Traditionally the notorious ‘single supplement’ made travelling solo, and especially cruising, quite a lot more expensive for the solo traveller. However, with the change in social dynamics and greater life expectancy, this is generally becoming less of an issue.
In cruising, for example, several lines, amongst them Fred. Olsen and Saga, offer a significant number of single cabins. By choosing carefully, solo travellers should find they do not have to pay more for a cruise than those travelling with a partner. And with numerous solo travellers on board, you are less likely to feel conspicuously alone amongst a mass of couples.
You can also find niche cruises that combine a vacation at sea with practising a craft or learning a new skill, such as cooking, dancing, photography, beading, studying history and culture, writing, learning a new language, or playing sports.
But travelling in a group is not the only option. Many seniors are choosing to travel solo — some would argue it’s the best way to travel. It allows you to enjoy your own company, make your own itineraries, which you can change at will, and travel at your own pace, when, where and how the mood takes you.
Travelling solo also makes it more likely you will interact with the locals and have a more ‘immersive’ experience in the culture of the country you are visiting.
Staying in people’s homes, through airbnb or couchsurfing (Couchsurfing.com) or similar, will provide added scope and opportunity to interact with and get to know locals, and provide an easier introduction than, say, striking up a conversation in a café. You are also able to benefit from local knowledge of the area.
Alternatively you can meet other travellers easily, as well as keeping costs down, by staying in hostels. Hostels are not just for the young, and nowadays you can find hostels (such as the Generator group in Europe, for example) offering design-led interiors with modern facilities including bar/restaurant and places to socialise, as well as live music and other types of events.
In choosing a hostel, think first of the location. Make sure the hostel is in a safe location close to where you want to be. Read reviews on TripAdvisor and other third-party sites. If breakfast is included this can help to keep the costs down, and free wifi is always good to have.
All the same, for many the thought of setting out alone can be intimidating. We fear we may be lonely, or it won’t be safe; picture ourselves sitting all alone at a café or restaurant, condemned to the dreaded “table for one.”
Happily, it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are many tours or other group options that are ideal for singles who would prefer not to travel alone. And the opportunities extend across all types of vacation from city breaks to travel adventures and even endurance challenges.
Travel that explores a particular interest or passion that you hold (for example, architecture, music, food, design, literature, history…) can give you a stronger connection with the region and its people.
Sharing the experience in the company of fellow enthusiasts can bring deeper understanding, as well as shared enjoyment and conviviality with plenty of subject matter for easy conversation.
There are a huge range of special interest tours available, from tours for rail enthusiasts to dance holidays, from cooking holidays exploring a regional cuisine to theatre or opera tours, whisky tours, wine tours, and more.
You can also find companies that specialise in tours for seniors and cultural travel, such as Martin Randall Travel, Road Scholar (previously elderhostel) and Odyssey Traveller.
With these types of tour you have the benefit of guest speakers offering expert commentary, and an experienced tour manager taking care of the practicalities and is on hand to provide general support.
And the trips don’t have to be long. Just for example, you need only a long weekend for a choral pilgrimage basking in the Renaissance choir music of Thomas Tallis, performed in the spectacular churches where he worked.
If you’re thinking ‘enough already’ with study and appreciation, there are just as many tour opportunities for senior travellers, whether solo or not, to combine passion with adventure and hands-on activity.
A walking holiday in the dramatic desert landscapes of Morocco, for example, or motorcycling through India; exploring the glaciers and cliffs of Patagonia; heading north to see the mystical Aurora Borealis, with the opportunity to try your hand at dogsledding, snowmobiling and whale watching.
And if making a contribution or looking for opportunities to ‘give back’ are more your thing, then ‘voluntourism’ could be for you.
Voluntourism merges overseas travel with volunteer service. There are many different opportunities to help, such as teaching, assisting in environmental field research, building schools or homes, and much more. As an older person the skills you’ve developed over the course of your life, as well as your patience and dedication, can prove extremely useful.
Note, however, there is discussion over whether in certain circumstances these programs actually do more harm than good. Do your research carefully and, we’d recommend, choose an agency that’s accredited to a recognised charitable organisation.
A vacation can also offer the perfect opportunity to spend some concentrated time on your favourite hobby, away from distractions at home and in the company of expert teachers and fellow enthusiasts.
Writing, photography, guitar playing, crafts, pursuing your favourite hobby or learning a new skill in a new setting can offer not only wonderful memories but also fresh perspectives that continue to nourish your life back home in the years ahead.
Through the specialist VAWAA (Vacations With An Artist), for example, you can book a mini apprenticeship with accomplished artists and craftspeople around the world, from landscape photography to jewelry making, Argentine tango in Buenos Aires to calligraphy in Kyoto.
Start with an idea of where you would like to go and what you would like to do. You can then begin to narrow down on the details. Consider factors such as:
- Value for money, so that the tour cost, and the quality of accommodation, meet your expectations and budget. Also check what’s included (e.g. meals) and costs of travel to the tour and back home again
- No single supplement, especially if you’re travelling solo, but also so that you find a good mix of people
- A pace that suits you, at the right level of difficulty
- Smaller groups — after all, who wants to be part of a herd?
- Flexibility — because some days you may just want to sit out an activity and simply relax or do something else
- An immersive experience, so that you can really feel part of things, that you’ve gone somewhere and done something, and not been simply an onlooker
Before you book, check reviews, including on third-party websites where possible, and whether the operator carries industry accreditation.
One way to cut your travel costs is to join a club that has negotiated discounts with travel providers. There are many different types of club where this applies.
Some are based around an interest or activity, for example a particular sport or sports team; a famous one in the UK is the ‘Barmy Army’ of England cricket supporters. There are other clubs that are socially oriented or, say, related to a profession or institution (for example, alumni of a college or university; veterans’ groups). There are also some that are purely money-saving clubs.
In every case, and especially when the club is not affiliated to a reputable institution, take time to do the research to ensure your money and your travel is safe in their hands.
There may be times and perhaps places where you don’t want to travel alone, but don’t want to travel in a group either.
You want to find a travel buddy with whom to travel and share the experience, the highs and lows of the journey — which itself can often lead to long and close friendships.
The best and safest way to find a travel companion is through an introduction from a friend or through your wider social network. Another good option is a traveller you meet along the way, at a hostel for example.
Online there are sites/services such as the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum and GAFFL (in Australia and New Zealand), or Silversurfers ‘looking for travel companion’ travel forum. A good site for women only is Thelma and Louise.
Alternatively, rather than a companion for travelling, you could consider using Meetup.com or the global greeter network, or 5W (Women Welcome Women) to meet locals in cities and towns along the way. Meetup connects people who share an interest, the greeters network and 5W puts you in contact with locals who volunteer to show you their city.
As ever, especially with online connections, SAFETY FIRST. Spend time together in the public sphere until you get to know the person and can form an opinion as to whether you like and trust them. Don’t be rushed into a decision.
Discuss your goals for the trip and make sure you’re compatible (for example, do you enjoy each other’s company?). Make sure you’re on the same wavelength regarding budget, and consider taking a short trip first as a ‘test run’ before you commit to a longer trip.
First and foremost: insurance! Don’t leave home without proper travel insurance. There are good deals out there, even for seniors.
Make sure you declare any pre-existing conditions, so that the insurance is not invalidated, and include repatriatriation cover in case of serious injury. Including cover in case you have to cancel the trip due to a medical condition is also a good idea.
Fraud, especially online, continues to increase. In relation to travel, the most common areas of fraud involve fake booking websites and tickets for sporting or music events. Be extra vigilant and only buy event tickets from the authorised agents. Also check carefully all the details before purchasing timeshares or holiday club vacations.
Leave a photocopy of all key documents (such as your passport, cards etc.) with family or friends back home. That way you can quickly retrieve essential information in case of emergency.
Secure wi-fi with a VPN
To keep in touch safely and securely via your digital devices, consider subscribing to a VPN service. A VPN hides your location and encrypts all the data you send or receive. This way, even when you have to use a public wi-fi network where you cannot be sure how secure it is, any information you send remains secure because even if it is intercepted, it cannot be deciphered.
There are many VPNs to choose from, ExpressVPN and NordVPN being two that are consistently recommended by experts. A VPN is easy to install and inexpensive.
It’s worth remembering that, senior traveller or younger, serious incidents when travelling are the exception (not the rule). Nevertheless, it never hurts to take sensible precautions, especially if you are nervous about a particular area.
For example, when walking around cities wear clothes that blend in. Try not to be ostentatious with your possessions; you could consider buying a bag from a local store to carry your things around in. Using buses can help you get acquainted with a place.
Don’t take all your money with you when you go out; have a bit of emergency money stored in a couple of places. And using a credit card makes it easier to get your money back if something goes wrong or if it’s stolen.
If you are being hassled, keep walking and don’t make eye contact; go into a shop, ideally an international brand if one is there (a Starbucks for example); you can then ask for help or simply wait awhile and get a taxi back to your hotel.
Finding assistance where needed
Nearly all special needs of seniors travelling can be accommodated and managed, though a bit of extra planning will likely be necessary.
For example, if you have difficulty walking ask for a room close to the elevator or on the ground floor. Most hotels and cruise lines now offer accessible rooms, often with extra equipment to assist mobility.
Special arrangements can be made at airports for screening people with disabilities requiring mobility aids, devices and other medical equipment, but you need to give advance notice to the airline and/or travel agent.
It’s a good idea to take extra (just in case) of any medicines you need. Necessary medical supplies are best taken, clearly identified, in a carry on bag to avoid the possibility of being lost with luggage. Again, consult your airline or travel agent for full details.
There’s never been greater opportunity for travel. But we cannot ignore that travel has an impact on the environment and that, as travellers, we each have a responsibility to engage with this issue.
The impact ranges from the carbon footprint of our means of travel to the sheer numbers of visitors at popular destinations such as Venice, Barcelona, Machu Picchu, and more, from historic centres of culture to natural wonders.
To reduce the impact of your travel, avoid visiting the most popular destinations — especially in high season. And if you take numerous trips per year, maybe consider reducing the number and staying longer in a destination; and/or making a ‘staycation’, visiting an area in your own country, closer to home.
If you are cruising, choose a cruise line that is conscious of the issue and taking steps to minimise the environmental impact of its activities.
Don’t fly unless you have to; if you do fly, newer airplanes are less polluting than older ones. And choose a flight with more seats — the more passengers, the less the emissions per passenger. You can find relevant airplane information on Seatguru website.
You can also purchase carbon offsets, a small additional fee on the ticket price which pays for planting trees or other means to offset the carbon emissions of your flight.
Also, travel light. If we all took just a little less on a flight, the reduction in fuel is staggering. For example, a reduction of just 2lbs — about the weight of a pair of shoes! — would be the equivalent of taking 10,500 cars off the road for an entire year (see: the Center of Climate and Energy Solutions).
Travel is a fantastic opportunity for enjoyment and learning. Learning about the people and culture of the places you are visiting, as well as learning about yourself.
Travel blogs, such as travellingboomer.com, myitchytravelfeet.com or solotravellerworld.com to name just three, are great for tips on travelling as a senior as well as insights and information about travel destinations.
But you might also consider setting up your own blog. It’s simple and easy and, on many platforms (WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Squarespace for example) can be free.
A blog gives you a great way to remember your trip and record your thoughts and impressions, as well as keeping in touch with travellers you meet along the way, and with friends and family back home.
It can also inspire you to travel more.
And who knows? If you find you love writing your blog, and enjoy the opportunity to help other travellers with your own travel insights, you could expand your blog and even begin to earn money from it.
Now is the moment to respond to the spirit of adventure that is calling to you. Now the time to map out and plan where in the world you’d love to go to; what you would love to do or see.
The opportunities for senior travel are almost limitless. Whether you want to travel far and wide or stay on home territory. There are many ways to travel within a budget, as well as embark on grand, once-in-a-lifetime adventures.
So make plans. Take action. And let your senior years be a time of fun, fulfilment, and continued personal growth.
Let this guide inspire you. Throw off the bowlines and catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.