It may be a cliché, but the oft-heard observation that 50 is the new 30 certainly applies to travel. While being over 50 makes you a “senior citizen, it doesn’t necessarily put you in the “travel for the elderly” category that involves rocking chairs on the porch of luxury resorts or resting on cruise ship deck chairs with a blanket on your lap.
Today’s over 50 travelers are healthier, in better shape, more adventuresome and travel more often than previous generations. So-called elderly travel” category has morphed from the rocking chair into “getting out there,” as cruise commercials exhort. And let’s not forget that age hath its privileges and perks.
Discounts and Perks
Many travel providers cater to seniors because they know that the over 50 set tends to have a lot of leisure and disposable income. A plethora of senior discounts, perks and deals are available if you know where to find them Start with an internet search for “senior travel discounts.” Beyond that, check the web sites of your preferred hotels and the attractions that interest you to see what perks and pricing are available. Some travel discounts are available at age 50 while others are offered to those over 60, 62, 65 or even 70.
While you are on the web, shop carefully. Some senior discounts are trully discounts but some are just marketing ploys that might cost more than the lowest available rate, especially when it comes to airlines.
Senior airfare discounts are not common anymore, but some do exist or offer fewer travel restrictions rather than a price break. Check airline web sites or call their reservations lines to check what’s available before you make reservations. And be sure to ask if the senior fare is the lowest available. Sometimes it is not.
Amtrak plays fewer fare games than airlines and offers senior discounts of 15% off the lowest fare.
If you can’t find senior discounts, ask anyway. Many resorts, hotels, restaurants, tour operators and travel providers offer special discounts for older travelers even though they don’t advertise them heavily.
If you are not an AARP member, you should be. It’s easy to recover your $16 per year membership and more with just one discount on a hotel, rental car or tour. Check http://discounts.aarp.org/travel/.
Cruises (ocean or river) are popular with seniors because, in essence, the trip is the vacation. Your hotel and restaurant, entertainment and amenities are on board and shore excursions are an added highlight.
If you have a choice of land conveyance, the train is usually a far better choice than car or bus, especially in Europe or parts of Asia where modern, dependable and comfortable trains are the norm. For European train travel, compare the price of a Eurail pass versus individual fares for the trip you have planned. Sometimes, one or the other makes more sense.
Pick Your Destination Carefully
Some highly-advertised destination, tours, and cruises target young people and/or young families. Unless you’re traveling with the kids and grandkids, they might not be for you. If you want a relaxing trip without hordes of kids, loud music and wild partying seek out cruises, hotels or destinations that promote quieter options for the same destinations.
While enjoyable travel should not be a pentathlon or endurance test (except for the ultra-adventurous), mobility and fitness can be issues for over 50 travelers.
If you are disabled, you don’t have to stay home. Just plan carefully. Check to be sure that conveyances you will use and places you will stay can accommodate wheelchairs, walkers or other mobility aids. Know both your legal rights and the conditions you can expect. If you check in advance with your tour provider or conveyance operator, most are happy to accommodate you.
Fitness is frequently an issue even if you are not mobility-restricted. It is always a good idea to maintain a level of fitness that will allow you at least to get on and off trains, buses and boats and walk short distances, climb stairs or moderate hills since travel frequently require us to be able to do so to fully enjoy the trip.
Use good sense in picking a destination and expected activity level that is appropriate for your fitness level. Strenuous hiking and cross-country cycling require far more fitness than leisurely strolls and window shopping in picturesque town centers.
In general, while traveling, drink plenty of fluids, get up and walk around the cabin on long airline or train trips and avoid foods that you know you wouldn’t eat at home.
Simply Smart Travel Tips
- Always carry a passport if you leave the country even if your trip doesn’t require it. If you have to fly home in an emergency, you’ll need one.
- Renew your passport early-many places and most travel modes require at least six months remaining before expiration
- Buy travel insurance from third parties instead of tour operators. Your health insurance and Medicare WON”T cover you for everything and if you have to be evacuated, expenses can mount quickly.
- Choose group travel targeted to seniors if you want the convenience of a guide to handle trip details, your luggage and pick appropriate hotels and restaurants. While groups trade flexibility for convenience, I recommend them, especially for exotic destinations or for places where you don’t speak the native language.
- Use luggage that is lightweight with telescopic handles and smooth running wheels
- Check with your family doctor and/or the county health department for required inoculations or other health precautions for your destination. Take both a supply of needed medicine and a prescription for each.
- For long airline trips, take advantage of any included stopovers if you can book your luggage straight through. Just carrying a bag of necessities for your stopover makes a more relaxing trip.
Editor’s Notes: Jeffrey R. (Jeff) Orenstein, Ph.D. and Virginia (Ginny) Orenstein live in gorgeous Lakewood Ranch, eight miles from the Gulf of Mexico and 20 minutes from downtown Sarasota and Bradenton, Florida. Jeff (with a Ph.D. in political science) taught for 25 years at a large Midwestern University. In “retirement,” he became a newspaper editor and magazine publisher. He’s written several books and hundreds of articles. His syndicated column, Simply Smart Travel, is published monthly. Ginny, (a retired CPA with an accounting degree) was Chief Financial Officer for large companies in steel, tires and building products distribution.
Jeff and Ginny “walk the talk.” They’re both over 50 and love to travel to locations that range from the exotic to the commonplace – and, they tell us they’ve never found any place to be really commonplace once they’ve looked around. They’re also wonderful photographers, sharing their photos, travel tips, and observations with the world. Visit them to learn more at Simply Smart Travel.