Inspiring stories from older travellers
5th June 2018
When people think of travel they often think of teenagers on gap years and people in their 20s exploring the world whilst they are still young. As we age, travel can become harder and the older traveller is often overlooked. It can be hard to break the stigma that travelling is for the young. With a higher chance of mobility problems and the comfort of a home stair lift, many older travellers cannot imagine themselves taking off on an adventure. However, travel is becoming more accessible for all and there really is no better time than now to explore the world.
We decided to speak to some of the most inspiring older travellers to find out some of their best memories, along with their top tips and suggestions for anyone considering travelling in older age.
Adventures of empty nesters
Suzanne Stavert is the owner of travel blog Adventure of Empty Nesters, where she documents the experiences of her and her husband Craig’s travels. Suzanne was quick to point out: “First of all, I am only 56, so I don't consider myself an ‘older’ traveller, but I am certainly older than my millennial children! Age is certainly a state of mind and I don't really even know at what age you become ‘old’.”
Suzanne explained some of the advantages she has found when travelling whilst older: “I think that with age comes wisdom and we are better problem solvers. So often with travel we need to think through a new situation and experience is certainly beneficial.”
And, her favourite trip: “This is a hard one! I have so many, but I would say my recent trip to Thailand was so far out of my comfort zone that it was exhilarating. We travelled to the floating markets outside Bangkok to a local village where the market takes place on the water. A guide paddled the boat and we rode through the canals listening to the sellers call out to us and share their goods. It was unlike anything I have ever seen or experienced in my life.”
Michele Peterson is an award-winning travel writer who specialises in culinary, family and sun destination travel. Her blog, A Taste For Travel, documents her experiences, as well as offers tips, recipes and inspiration to her fellow travellers.
Michele spoke about one of the biggest advantages she has found to travelling in older age: “A big advantage of travelling in older age is that we can be more flexible with our travel dates and avoid peak travel periods when prices are high. For example, if you’re able to travel to a sunny destination in the second week of January your costs can be 70% lower than they would be over the holiday season. Crowds will also be smaller which means you’ll increase your likelihood of travelling hassle-free with fewer line-ups, delays, lost baggage and incidents of crime such as petty theft.”
Michele spoke to us about having apprehensions when travelling in older age: “I have been travelling throughout Mexico and Central America for the past 25 years, many of the times solo. During this time, I’ve developed guidelines, practices and safety measures to avoid problems. If you’re apprehensive to travel because of your age, there are several easy precautions you can take to reduce the chances of putting yourself in risky situations. Many of my 20 tips for safe travel in Guatemala and Central America (which covers topics from traffic accidents, infectious diseases and theft) are handy travel tips to follow in any country.
“Another reason for being apprehensive about travel in older age is concern about our own physical capabilities. Will I be able to keep up with a group? What if I have mobility issues that prevent me from participating fully in activities? My own travel style has evolved over the years. For example, after a bout with kidney cancer I’m selective about which outdoor adventures I’ll participate in. Does this mean I miss out completely on activities? No.
“On a recent trip to the Azores, other travellers rappelled down a canyon while I hiked a waterfall trail. I was just as happy with my outdoor experience as I would have been had I felt pressured to participate in an activity that was outside my comfort level. If you have medical issues, it’s important to share your concerns and medial restrictions with the organizers of your vacation tour or excursion to avoid worry on your end and allow them sufficient notice to arrange alternative experiences.
“It’s also important to select a tour operator who has rigorous safety practices in place. For example, on a recent trip to Grenada in the Caribbean, I really wanted to go snorkelling in the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park. However, I’m not a strong swimmer and have had a few scary experiences with ocean undertows in the past so I was apprehensive about participating. But after meeting with the tour operator and seeing the safety measures they had in place first-hand, I decided to snorkel and was able to experience this amazing underwater wonder first-hand. However, the next day I went out with a different tour operator and while I enjoyed being on the boat, ultimately decided not to snorkel.
“For travellers who are concerned about travelling in older age, there are many options for beginners. Booking a river cruise is an easy option as you don’t need to pack or unpack daily as you do on escorted bus tours and you can avoid vertigo issues that can happen on large ocean-going cruise ships.
“Another easy option is to engage in slow travel experiences such as studying Spanish in Guatemala or taking a cooking class in Italy. Staying put in a destination for a week or longer allows you to experience a destination fully and is also easier on you physically as it takes much of the rigorous nature of travel out of the picture completely. Slow travel is also a great travel option for solo travellers as you often meet other travellers who share the same interests and you won’t be lonely.
Suzanne Fluhr is the writer at Boomeresque: Baby Boomer Travel for the Body and Mind. On her blog she focusses on travel for baby boomers, sharing tips as well as anecdotes and stories from her travels. As a self-proclaimed ‘recovered lawyer’ Suzanne travels with her husband, a medical researcher, and has been travelling for the majority of her life.
We asked Suzanne to tell us about her favourite travel memory: “It is really difficult for me to pick one favourite travel memory. I lived in three countries outside my native United States by age 20: Mexico, the UK (England), and Colombia. At this point in my life (age 64), I've travelled to 45 countries. I inherited a serious case of wanderlust from my father.
“One of my favourite trips was our 1982 honeymoon trip to Peru. Visiting Machu Picchu (before it was discovered by hordes of tourists) was magical, but the memory that most comes to mind from that trip was floating down the Amazon River at sunset as the jungle sounds rose around us and we could see every star in the Southern Hemisphere as the night fell.”
As someone who has travelled throughout her life, we asked Suzanne what she has found is different about travelling in older age: “The biggest advantage for us in travelling in our 60s is the confluence of time and money. We're empty nesters. Both our sons are launched as self-supporting adults. My husband still has a full-time day job as a medical researcher, but at his senior level, he has much more control over his time and schedule. The ability for him to work remotely at times also frees us to travel. Some of our travel is tacked onto trips he has to take for work.
“I refer to myself as an almost recovered lawyer with significant hobbies, one of which is travel blogging. We consider this time to be the optimal time in our lives to travel. However, every time we have to hustle two miles through an airport from one terminal to another, lugging our backpacks, we look at each other and say, ‘We better travel while we still can.’
Suzanne also has a lot of advice for those thinking about travelling. From her experience she has come into contact with a varied range of travellers and is well aware of the sometimes physical limitations someone may have: “We are just back from a two week small group tour in Italy sponsored by our college alumni association. We were among the youngest in the group. The oldest was 82 and did not seem to have any trouble keeping up physically nor cognitively. Most tours specify the type of physical exertion that will be required and whether hotels are accessible to those with mobility problems.
“Age is just a number. We did a multi-day hike in New Zealand with people in their late 70s, but I know 40-year-olds who already lack the physical fitness necessary for that activity. Obviously, whilst planning a trip, each person must be aware of their own physical limitations. If an individual is not sure how their medical condition might be impacted by travel, they should discuss this with their physician before or during their trip planning. For example, for a person with circulation problems, a physician might recommend against a long-haul flight across the Pacific Ocean. Alternatively, the doctor might approve the trip with precautions such as taking an aspirin before flying, wearing support hose, and making sure to get up and walk about at intervals.
“People who plan to travel independently must do their own research in light of their own limitations. For example, a person with emphysema would do well to know the altitude and air quality of places they might visit. Those with mobility or balance issues might want to avoid places where most of the streets are cobblestones and sidewalks are in poor repair. Someone who is wheelchair dependent should specifically book a wheelchair accessible hotel room. People who know they have complex medical issues should probably limit travel to places with good medical infrastructure.”
Finally, we asked Suzanne for any advice or tips she may have, as well as companies she can recommend for older travellers. Firstly, Suzanne offered some advice for anyone travelling with health issues: “In my opinion, most travellers, especially those up in years, should purchase travel insurance that covers trip cancellation due to their own illness or that of a loved one. Be aware that different policies have different provisions regarding whether or not a ‘pre-existing condition’ precludes coverage for a cancellation caused by that condition. If you book your travel using certain credit cards, your credit card might provide this type of insurance as one of its benefits.
“If a person is travelling to a country where their home medical insurance won't be in effect, they should purchase travel insurance that includes coverage of expenses related to medical care. People should be aware that travel insurance policies often only include medical transportation to the "nearest appropriate medical facility". I have a friend who was stranded in a South African hospital for seven weeks until she was able to be medically cleared to fly home to the United States on a commercial flight. With her story in mind, we purchase a separate yearly insurance policy that will provide appropriate transport to the hospital of our choosing. It is valid any time we travel more than 150 miles from our residence.”
Suzanne also recommended some of her favourite web resources to use when she is travelling: “When doing my own trip planning, I use web resources such as travel blogs geared to Baby Boomer travellers, TripAdvisor, Skyscanner (to see what flights are available for my proposed itinerary), and Seat Guru to help pick seats on our flight. From the photo above that I took flying over the Italian Alps, you can see why I always choose the window seat. “
If this has gotten you inspired to kickstart your travelling but you are still apprehensive, you can always start with small trips across the country. Perhaps try visiting family, old friends or going to explore a new part of the UK you haven’t seen before? You can build your trips up to being longer, until you feel confident in what you are doing. So, now the only question is where will you go first?
Travelling With MJ
Mary Jo, also known as MJ, is the owner and writer at Traveling with MJ. As well as a seasoned traveller, USA-based MJ is a travel writer, podcaster and publisher. She has been blogging for over 12 years, and shares her experiences of her world travel, where she tries to find the perfect balance between value and luxury.
MJ opened up about her favourite travel memory: “The first time that I went to Rome stands out as a favourite. We'd taken an all-night flight from Seattle to Rome, were exhausted, and caught a train to our hotel. Coming out of the train station at the Collosseo station and looking across the street to the Roman Coliseum and all the history attached to it, brought tears to my eyes.”
MJ told us about some of the advantages she has found to travelling in older age: “More time and more money, and less need to impress other people. We choose to go where we want because it's where we want to go, rather than feeling pressured into a group decision that doesn't fit us. Since my husband is retired we have more flexibility to just pick up and go and that allows us to take advantage of last minute deals.”
MJ was also kind enough to recommend to us some of her favourite travel brands: “Universal Orlando Resort is always a fun domestic location and we go there at least a couple times a year. It's as great for kids as it is for adults and makes a fun multi-generational vacation experience.
“We're also big fans of Viking, both the river and ocean cruise experience. Their itineraries are a good balance of busy and relaxed and their pricing includes lots of value-added details, and they're able to accommodate passengers with mobility concerns.”
My Itchy Travel Feet
My Itchy Travel Feet is a blog by Donna and Alan Hull. Donna is the writer, and Alan the photographer, and together they travel the world looking for adventure. The duo focusses on baby boomer travel and shares their experiences online, so boomers know exactly what to expect on their next trip. Donna managed to find time on her current cruise to talk about some of her experiences.
Donna explained some of the advantages she has found to travelling in older age: “More free time is one of the advantages when traveling in our older years. With careers and child rearing coming to an end, there’s more time and money to travel. This gives us the ability to explore at a slower pace, savouring every moment.”
Donna also told us about her favourite memory and ticking off a bucket list item: “When it comes to a favourite travel memory, cruising to Antarctica ranks at the top of my list. Walking among the penguins, viewing towering icebergs, and photographing the remarkable scenery are travel experiences that I hope to repeat. And they are easy enough for older travellers to do.”
Finally, she gave us her top recommendations for older travellers: “Don’t let age stop you from traveling. But be smart (and realistic) about it. Planning trips that fit your energy and fitness level will result in a happier travel experience for you. If you enjoy traveling with contemporaries who share the same interests, Road Scholar offers active travel experiences for older travellers that are worth considering.”
The Travels of BBQ Boy and Spanky
The Travels of BBQ Boy and Spanky is a blog created by husband and wife team, Frank and Lissette. Frank and Lissette’s travels take them all the way around the globe, travelling slowly to absorb culture as they go. They left Canada four years ago to start travelling the world and now blog about their experience, offering advice and tips as well as documenting their experiences.
Frank described the advantages he has found to travelling in older age: “People treat you better when you’re older (we’re in our early 50’s). You get a little more respect and consideration than you get travelling young. The more obvious advantage is that we are financially better off now than when we were young which means we can afford some luxuries. We’re still careful (we fly economy and book apartments on Airbnb) but if it means paying $50 for a taxi ride instead of getting on an old bus with no toilets that’s what we’ll do.”
We asked Frank what the couple’s favourite travel memories were: “For my wife, her favourite travel memory was the year that we took a break from full-time travelling to settle in Croatia. We made friends, lived the local lifestyle, and discovered a lot of the country that many don’t get to see. She feels a real connection to Croatia. It’s a place where she’d be ready to settle permanently.
“For myself, my favourite travel memory was hiking up Lion’s Head in Cape Town at dawn and seeing the sun rise over some of the most beautiful geography I’ve seen anywhere. In fact, South Africa was full of favourite travel memories for me. It’s the most spectacular place I’ve seen yet.”
Frank and Lissette have lots of great advice for someone who is thinking about travelling but may be too apprehensive to take the first step: “I think, whatever your age, people are apprehensive about travelling to places they’ve never been. They worry about language, dealing with money, getting around…but mostly they worry about people and how they’ll be treated. I remember in the past (before travelling full-time) always feeling butterflies in my stomach landing in a place I had never been. It doesn’t happen anymore.
What I’ve learned is that people are mostly nice everywhere and that they’ll be especially nice to foreigners. We also speak French and Spanish – but it’s surprised us how much people speak English everywhere (ask them and they’ll usually say it’s from watching American films or from the internet or video games). It’s always good to do some basic research before getting somewhere: What’s the currency? What’s the conversation rate? Where’s my hotel or apartment? What’s the best way to get there from the airport and how much should it cost? Do some basic research for that first day. Otherwise the best tip is to smile and be friendly and you’ll get the same in return.”
Finally, we asked Frank for some of his and Lissette’s recommended services for people to use whilst travelling: “Obviously our blog. We think we have good insights there on different places and we’re always happy to help out readers with questions.
“As travellers who’ve travelled full-time for four years there are a few services that have been indispensable to us: Airbnb for apartment rentals. We’re slow travellers, usually staying a place for a month and having a base somewhere. What many people don’t know is that Airbnb offers monthly rates that are much cheaper on a nightly basis than a hotel. We book apartments with full kitchens, so it’s a home away from home.
“Uber for an alternative to taxis. Taxi drivers are the enemy to travellers – if you get ripped off when travelling chances are it will be to a taxi driver. You’ll pay a lot less with Uber and not have to deal with cash.
“Netflix: We are Netflix addicts and everywhere we travel we log into Netflix and watch shows and movies. In fact, we’re not capable of watching cable TV anymore!
Image Credit: Michele Peterson, Travelling with MJ, My Itchy Travel Feet, Boomeresque.
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