Since I was twelve, I have been a traveler. So far, it has taken 70 years for me to visit 83 countries. I have a lot more to see, and I don’t intend to stop. So, I am willing to learn from the experience of older travelers and make compromises if I must.
I call my mentors Ageless Travelers, folks who make travel a constant part of their lives regardless of age. Last August in Sortland, Norway, I walked boulders with a man who had had two hip replacements. He wrote his name in the mountain-hut guest book for posterity. Last week in Luxor, I rode in a felucca with a woman who used two canes. I learn from all of them.
They are the fulfillers of dreams and ambassadors to the world. My reason for traveling is curiosity. Right now, I am writing this post from my hotel room in Cairo after a trip to Suez. Tonight, I will attend an Egyptian circus; all in the name of curiosity. And I am not alone.
According to a survey of adult travelers conducted by AARP and published in Travel Trends in 2018, baby boomers plan to take four or more trips a year. None of them plan to limit their travel because of age…if they can help it. The reason for many (47%, up from 39% the previous year) is to see other cultures and “get away from normal life.”
As in all aspects of successful aging, if you want to be an Ageless Traveler, you must focus on a few essentials:
Travel with the right group. Despite the growing size of what is now known as the “mature travel market,” there are still too few tour operators that understand what the Ageless Traveler wants. One that does is Ian Smith’s Theatrical Adventures. All the tours are by private river boat, whether down the Nile, Danube, Mosell or Rhine. Many cabins are saved for singles with no supplemental charge. There is opportunity for very active sightseeing and creativity. If you like to perform, be prepared to be asked to sing or tell jokes, play an instrument or dance—right along with the professional entertainers on board.
Another: Road Scholar (the former Elder Hostel updated for the way boomers travel today) is a staple for combined lifelong learning and travel experiences. Nonprofits like Projects Abroad cater to seniors interested in “voluntourism.” University and other affinity group tours also cater to mature travelers. Once, I joined a Christian tour on a pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal. Fascinating!
And check out venerable names like Tauck Tours (my mother’s favorite at age 85), O.A.T. (Overseas Adventure Travel) and Grand Circle, the former offering luxury trips and the later offering well priced small-group travel.
Be practical. On a trip to Australia, I detected that one of the group members was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She was accompanied by her niece who was a teacher and her helper. I asked the woman if she had any advice for Ageless Travelers. She answered very simply, “Take the hard trips first.” Indeed. But, you can also make hard trips easier. Patronize tours that are happy to have your luggage brought to your destination ahead of you. Even on active trips, like walking excursions with Freewalkers, the trip director has our bags moved to the next destination as we are out walking to it (often miles). Sure, younger people pass us by carrying their backpacks, but we usually get to the pub or bar first and order the last of the remaining daily specials.
Research healthcare at your destination. A friend who broke his arm in France paid a total of $40 for first class emergency, hospital and doctor services. On a trip in a gulet to a tiny Greek island, the only health service was a nun at the church. On the other hand, Thailand and India are centers of on-purpose medical tourism with highly advanced procedures. Of course, for everyday issues like tummy problems, go prepared with a few words in the language of the country to explain your health needs.
Consider buying travel health insurance. Make sure the policy covers any preexisting conditions you may have and that there are few to no restrictions on the hospital or other medical facilities you may use, if need be, at your destination. If you are going to a venue with poor healthcare, make sure the policy includes medivac services to an acceptable health facility. Some travel-insurance companies, including Allianz, have lots of experience with mature travelers and offer free or low-cost coverage for accompanying children and grandchildren.
Before you purchase any policy, see whether your Medicare supplement policy, if you have one, covers travel-related services and services abroad. Mine paid for my typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis inoculations before a trip.
Above all, ignore the naysayers, and don’t edit your bucket list. It’s hard for me to fathom what some folks get out of trampling on other people’s travel dreams. “I heard that someone was robbed there, got typhoid fever, hurt their back, was scammed, they hate Americans”…and on and on. Don’t let their fears be yours. Do check the travel information at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and get recommended shots. Call a country’s ministry of tourism, usually found in Washington, DC or New York—they might tell you if any of the naysayers are correct and suggest countermeasures. The last thing they want is a bad tourist experience in their country.
If you are alone in your travel passion, consider Senior Travel Buddy, which provides travel partner matchups. If cost is an issue, join the sharing economy and swap homes with a foreign compatriot at Home Exchange.
As you plan your exploits, if anyone tells you that you can’t travel because of your age, simply reply, “Will the people who say it can’t be done get out of the way of the people who are doing it.” And then go.