Senior Living

Ageless Wanderlust: A Guide to Senior Travel

Katie Morell
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Check out the latest destination trends and options available for senior travel tours.

<p>It was the mid-1980s when Toronto resident Gary Murtagh came up with an&nbsp;idea that was then considered off-the-wall: to create an adventure travel company&nbsp;geared toward travelers who are 50 and older. Though many people liked the idea,&nbsp;attitudes were only beginning to shift.</p> <p>&ldquo;One person actually said, &lsquo;What are you going to do, push a bunch of wheelchairs through the jungle?&rsquo;&rdquo; Murtagh remembers. &ldquo;Luckily, though, a lot of other&nbsp;people were into it.&rdquo;</p> <p>In 1987, he launched&nbsp;ElderTreks, a company offering adventures all over the&nbsp;world, from visiting mountain gorillas in Uganda to going penguin-spotting in&nbsp;Antarctica and more. His company took off and business hasn&rsquo;t slowed since.&nbsp;ElderTreks attracts travelers well into their 80s and occasionally beyond&mdash;one&nbsp;recent excursion included a 100-year-old participant.</p> <p>Twenty-six years later, the off-the-wall idea of adventure travel for seniors is&nbsp;now commonplace. According to Nancy McGuckin, a travel behavior analyst,&nbsp;today&rsquo;s seniors are healthier than ever before, and many are looking to travel&nbsp;thanks to active lifestyles.&nbsp;&ldquo;It wasn&rsquo;t long ago that 70-year-olds were seen as frail, but today, 70 is the new&nbsp;50,&rdquo; she says.</p> <p>The senior travel industry could be headed toward another boom. In a report from&nbsp;the U.S. Census Bureau, the world population of people 65 and older is on track&nbsp;to double by 2060. And in the next 15 to 20 years, active seniors are expected to&nbsp;exhibit even more adventuresome travel tastes than their predecessors, thanks to increased affluence, better health and an interest in learning about different&nbsp;cultures, according to Amadeus, a provider of IT solutions to the travel industry.</p> <p>&nbsp;Travelers looking for an opportunity to see the world can use this guide to&nbsp;learn about senior travel options and trends. But don&rsquo;t wait to act on your&nbsp;interest, Murtagh says.&nbsp;&ldquo;When you are healthy and have the money, I really encourage people to go,&rdquo; he&nbsp;says. &ldquo;Travel brings so much joy and happiness. No one ever regrets a great trip.&rdquo;</p> <p>BUS TOURS</p> <p>Bus tours (or motor coach tours) are a great option for those who want to cover a&nbsp;good deal of ground comfortably and stop at multiple points to explore.</p> <p>Trafalgar, an international leader in guided vacations, operates trips in locations&nbsp;all over the world at a variety of price points. According to the company, about 70&nbsp;percent of its customers are ages 50 or older.&nbsp;Globus&nbsp;is another popular operator.&nbsp;The company offers bus tours in destinations all over the world, including Peru,&nbsp;France and China. Trips range in duration from a few days to a few weeks, and&nbsp;travelers can select the trip that matches their activity level, be it easy or strenuous.</p> <p>COST: The average cost for a 10-day guided vacation or coach tour is around&nbsp;$2,500 per person. Journeys can last from seven to 30 days and cost from $122&nbsp;to $400 per day, depending on duration and destination. Prices include&nbsp;accommodations in hotels along the route, transportation, sightseeing excursions&nbsp;and some meals.</p> <p>MEETING PEOPLE: Paul Wiseman, U.S. president of Trafalgar, argues that a&nbsp;guided vacation is the most social of any travel experience. Group size averages&nbsp;around 40 people and trips usually incorporate welcome receptions to help&nbsp;travelers get acquainted. For single travelers, Trafalgar offers roommate matching. &ldquo;If we have a single senior, we will match him or her with a same-sex&nbsp;roommate, and if we can&rsquo;t provide that, we won&rsquo;t charge them extra for a single&nbsp;room,&rdquo; Wiseman says.</p> <p>GETTING AROUND: Personal mobility is the biggest concern when it comes to&nbsp;motor coach travel safety, Wiseman says. Especially in Europe, most small towns&nbsp;lack elevators, ramps and other structures that accommodate people with disabilities. Travelers who use walkers or wheelchairs may contend with uneven walkway&nbsp;made from gravel or cobblestone. According to Trafalgar, individuals with serious&nbsp;mobility issues are not advised to go on bus trips. If you are in a wheelchair and&nbsp;still want to go, you are advised to call the company for special accommodations.&nbsp;&ldquo;That said, if you are mobile enough to walk nine holes of golf, then you are fine&nbsp;to go on a guided motor coach tour,&rdquo; he says.</p> <p>HEALTH: If your body or health condition requires you to take frequent restroom breaks or stretch often, find out ahead of time whether the bus has&nbsp;restrooms on board and how often it will stop for breaks. During European&nbsp;journeys, Trafalgar tours stop at least every two and a half hours, Wiseman says.&nbsp;Also, allow some downtime by padding your time in both the departure and&nbsp;destination cities. &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t fly in on the first day and fly out on the final day of&nbsp;the trip,&rdquo; Wiseman says. &ldquo;I recommend taking a day on either side to get your&nbsp;bearings and stretch your legs.&rdquo;</p> <p>RIVER BOAT TOURS</p> <p>For those who like the idea of an intimate travel experience without all the loading and unloading at each stop, river cruising may be the right fit. River cruising is growing four times faster than ocean cruising, according to Linda Tancs,&nbsp;a&nbsp;Cruise Planners&nbsp;franchise owner in Hillsborough, N.J. She has found that&nbsp;seniors especially like that river cruising allows them to relax without having to&nbsp;plan an itinerary.</p> <p>Among small-ship cruise offerings are:</p> <p>&bull;&nbsp;AMERICAN CRUISE LINES, which leads trips down the Mississippi River,&nbsp;through New England and through Alaska</p> <p>&bull;&nbsp;VIKING RIVER CRUISES, which offers travel through Germany and France on&nbsp;the Rhine, down Russia&rsquo;s Svir and Neva rivers and along the Nile River in Egypt</p> <p>&bull;&nbsp;AVALON WATERWAYS, which offers trips down China&rsquo;s Yangtze River and&nbsp;through parts of the United States, Europe and South America</p> <p>COST: Depending on the location and trip duration, river cruises cost around&nbsp;$2,200 to $2,500 for a small cabin and about $7,000 to $8,000 for a first-class&nbsp;cabin. Note that most prices are for double-occupancy rooms, but (as is the case&nbsp;for Trafalgar) many companies will pair singles with same-sex roommates for no&nbsp;additional fee. Most tours do not include airfare or guide gratuity in the upfront fee, but do include most off-boat excursions.</p> <p>MEETING PEOPLE: Whereas ocean liners can carry thousands of people,&nbsp;riverboats entertain at most 200 to 400 people at a time. It is this intimate&nbsp;setting that encourages socializing. &ldquo;There will usually be cocktail hours to meet&nbsp;people,&rdquo; Tancs says. &ldquo;River boats have small dining areas that make it easy to chat with other people.&rdquo; And many travelers on river cruises are single, says&nbsp;Linda Sommer, co-owner of&nbsp;Specialty Travel Consultants&nbsp;in Lancaster, Pa., a&nbsp;travel agency that books trips for seniors.</p> <p>GETTING AROUND: Senior travelers on river cruises may contend with&nbsp;cobblestone walkways and a lack of elevators during off-ship excursions in&nbsp;historic destinations. Several river cruises do cater to travelers with disabilities&nbsp;or who move at a slower pace. Talk with a travel agent or cruise company about&nbsp;your options before booking.</p> <p>HEALTH: While there have been reports of on-board viruses infecting passengers in the past few years, those stories are the exception to the rule, says Paula&nbsp;Twidale, executive vice president of&nbsp;Collette Vacations, a Pawtucket, R.I.-based&nbsp;tour operator that caters to seniors. &ldquo;Ocean and river boat cruises have made a&nbsp;serious effort to maintain health standards,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t turn a corner on&nbsp;most of those boats without seeing a hand sanitizer dispenser.&rdquo;</p> <p>ADVENTURE TRAVEL</p> <p>&ldquo;Adventure travel&rdquo; can mean many things, from hiking in the Himalayas to taking&nbsp;a cooking class in Italy. The result is a range of experiences for the senior traveler&nbsp;looking for something new and exciting.</p> <p>COST: Tour d&rsquo;Afrique offers multi-month cycling trips in locales all over the world. For $115 to $200 per day (including most meals and accommodations), travelers can bike the 7,500 miles from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa, for example. Trips are also available on nearly every continent.</p> <p>&ldquo;Participants on our tours range from 18 to 75 years old, and more and more we are getting participants who are in their 60s and 70s,&rdquo; says Shanny Hill, sales and marketing manager for&nbsp;Tour d&rsquo;Afrique&nbsp;in Toronto. Murtagh&rsquo;s ElderTreks runs (non-cycling) tours, including cultural tours, hiking tours, and bus and boat tours throughout the world. Yacht and sailing adventures in places like Argentina, French Polynesia and Antarctica are also available. All-inclusive trips cost between $200 and $400 per day, which includes accommodations, meals and most excursions.</p> <p>Seniors interested in more laid-back adventures may consider&nbsp;Il Chiostro, a company that specializes in art, culture and culinary workshops in Italy.</p> <p>Workshops run from one week to 10 days and costs range from $2,200 to $3,000 per person. Il Chiostro caters to seniors and solo traveler &mdash;on a recent watercolor painting workshop, the youngest person in the group was 70. &ldquo;We are seeing that senior travelers are interested in learning vacations,&rdquo; says Nancy LaPook Diamond, spokesperson for Il Chiostro. &ldquo;They want to develop new interests, enhance skills and live each moment to its fullest.&rdquo;</p> <p>MEETING PEOPLE: With all three of the adventure travel companies&rsquo; tours mentioned above, getting to know your tourmates is easy thanks to the size of the groups (most have fewer than 20 people).</p> <p>GETTING AROUND: Safety is a top priority for adventure companies. Tour d&rsquo;Afrique guides are fully aware of potential trouble spots (such as political demonstra- tions in developing countries) and adjust routes as necessary to ensure safety. ElderTrek&rsquo;s tour leaders and guides are experienced travelers. Trips involve varying levels of activity and are rated on a scale of one to five, one being a relaxed tour and five being a challenging trip. The company recommends calling in advance of booking for help determining which trip would be the best fit travelers.</p> <p>HEALTH: Tour companies recommend travelers consult with their physicians before embarking on any adventure journey. On Tour d&rsquo;Afrique trips, vehicles manned with medical personnel follow cyclists; if a rider gets injured, they receive immediate medical care. ElderTreks offers a designated company guide and a local guide, ensuring that there is always at least one person available to see to the care of a person who gets injured or needs medical attention. Il Chiostro culinary workshops can be customized to a participant&rsquo;s specific needs, but make sure to alert your guide to any dietary restrictions you have.</p> <p>SENIOR TRAVEL RESOURCES</p> <p>American Cruise Lines</p> <p></p> <p>Avalon Waterways</p> <p></p> <p>Collette Vacations</p> <p></p> <p>Cruise Planners</p> <p></p> <p>ElderTreks</p> <p></p> <p>Globus</p> <p></p> <p>Il Chiostro Inc.</p> <p></p> <p>Specialty Travel Consultants</p> <p></p> <p>Tour d&rsquo;Afrique Ltd.</p> <p></p> <p>Trafalgar</p> <p></p> <p>Viking River Cruises</p> <p></p> <p>Wanderful Cruises</p> <p></p>

Is travel on your bucket list? The senior travel industry is on its way to a boom. Learn about companies offering tours and trips that can help you see the world and meet new people.

Read and print this travel guide featuring:

  • Information on bus tours, river cruises and adventure travel
  • Travel tips related to safety and mobility
  • Pricing and more


Travel Guide
Publication Date: April 30, 2013