Age doesn’t diminish wanderlust, but it sure affects the way we travel.
For starters, as we get older, we travel a lot.
An AARP study of 2015 Baby Boomer Travel Trends found that older travelers anticipated taking four to five trips the following year. Most respondents (97 percent) planned at least one domestic trip and nearly half (45 percent) planned international ones. While most research on over-50 travelers focuses primarily on boomers, data on the Silent Generation (those born between 1925 and 1945) suggests that with improved health and increased longevity, these folks, too, are opting to travel — as opposed to retreating to recliners.
We don’t say we’ll do it ‘sometime’ because none of us knows what the future holds.
— a CruiseCritic.com member
Of course, being part of the same age cohort doesn’t necessarily put everyone in the same proverbial boat (or on the same cruise). Individuals vary widely in terms of their economic status, lifestyle, interests, attitudes and values—along with health and physical stamina. Yet travelers 50 years and older, as well as travel experts, identify six ways travel changes as we age:
1. Convenience Over Cost
Older travelers are typically willing to spend more to avoid hassles and inconvenience. For example, they’ll pay extra for direct flights; pay for a later flight departure so they don’t have to leave home before sunrise or upgrade to premium economy seats for more comfort and priority boarding.
Older solo travelers may choose to pay a singles supplement rather than share a hotel room or ship stateroom with a stranger.
And service trumps do-it-yourself as we age. Older travelers are more willing to pay bellhops and porters to help with luggage; to take escorted tours rather than deal with the complicated logistics of independent travel and to hire drivers or taxis rather than risk renting cars on unfamiliar roads.
With children out of the nest, older travelers can finally travel where and how they choose.
“When my husband and I became parents, we wanted our son to experience the road trips we enjoyed as kids; vacations were an educational experience,” says journalist Cindy La Ferle, who writes a column on midlife issues for Michigan Prime (a supplement to the The Detroit News & Free Press). Now, she and her husband travel to escape winter’s chill or to expand their cultural horizons. “We have a greater interest in checking things off our bucket list,” La Ferle says.
In addition, older travelers tend to have less patience in “making nice” with annoying fellow travelers and they’re less willing to overlook inferior products and services on vacation. A recent survey by Leading Hotels of the World found that boomers are less satisfied with guest services at hotels than younger travelers, too.
“We don’t say we’ll do it ‘sometime,’ because none of us knows what the future holds,” says a member (tartanexile81) on a thread dedicated to senior cruising on the popular Cruise Critic Message Board Forums. Travelers use these forums on CruiseCritic.com (a cruise planning website) to converse, and exchange information and ideas.
3. Health and Mobility Issues
Even active older travelers experience transient aches and pains and realize they need to do things more slowly or differently than in the past. “I can’t walk fast for as long as I once did,” says Ronni Bennett, producer of Time Goes By, a blog that focuses on “what it is really like to get older.” Not knowing the distances between gates, Bennett now allows more time between connecting flights.
On CruiseCritic.com, travelers talk about pacing themselves to avoid exhaustion; accepting assistance when offered (e.g., grabbing someone’s arm when climbing a high step on a tour bus) rather than risking a fall and considering proximity to hospitals and emergency medical care when planning trips. They also say they are less tolerant of temperature extremes, look forward to more frequent restroom breaks and are more risk-averse to experiences that could result in injuries (like zip lining, skiing or surfing).
Older travelers are more likely to insure their trips, too. According to data provided by Squaremouth.com (a travel insurance review and comparison site),travelers over age 50 accounted for 67 percent of all annual trip insurance policies sold in 2015 and 58 percent of all policies for single trips that included trip cancellation. These customers also tended to purchase the insurance earlier than travelers under 50 (94 days ahead of the trip vs. 52, on average) and search for policies covering pre-existing conditions.
4. A Change of Pace
There are perks to age that can make trips more enjoyable as departures from day-to-day life: having more time to travel; being able to travel when there are fewer tourists and rates are lower (such as the spring or fall shoulder seasons) and being able to take advantage of special deals (such as discounted hotel rooms or tours).
Aging can change your mindset about traveling, too. Many older travelers feel they no longer have to “see it all” — so the pace of travel becomes more leisurely. They have more time to dig more deeply into a destination, perhaps staying for weeks or a month, rather than days. Similarly, cruisers often book longer itineraries and/or opt for pre- and post-cruise land excursions. Another CruiseCritic.com member (Griffy116) characterized the change of philosophy she experienced: “I wasn’t afraid to stroll instead of run.”
Paradoxically, even though older travelers are less bound by work and/or school schedules, they tend to schedule trips further in advance than younger ones — with two notable exceptions: when they can snag a last-minute travel deal or when they can schedule multigenerational trips with children and grandchildren. Older travelers appreciate opportunities to share experiences and create memories with their extended families. Cruises and all-inclusive resorts are popular multigenerational choices because they allow for people of different ages (with different interests, energy levels and sleep habits) to spend time apart and come together when they want.
6. Traveling Smarter
Older travelers tend to be more sensible about packing. They choose clothes and shoes for comfort and practicality as much as for appearance, and downsize the dimensions of their luggage to lighten their loads, literally and figuratively. “The less we carry, the more we enjoy our trip,” said CruiseCritic.com member (iancal).
Older Travelers In Their Own Words
Comments from three more CruiseCritic.com members nicely sum up the emotional underpinnings of travel as we age:
- “We take ourselves less seriously because we have lost loved ones and realize what really is important in life (MommaBear55).”
- “Life is unpredictable and I think we need to do as much as we can while we can (Cruisa Loosa).”
- “Loving every minute of travel even when it isn’t so great. Aren’t we lucky to be able to go? (Mrsosci)”