Ah, summer! Long, sunlit days, cool nights and crisp mornings. Gardens at the peak of color. Festivals and antique shows. Who could ask for more than what we have right here in New Hampshire? Well … not to be disloyal to our beautiful state, but sometimes the travel bug bites. Sometimes one wants to be …somewhere else.
Perhaps you are newly retired and ready to roam. Or perhaps you are in the “I’d better do it now, before it’s too late” frame of mind. You want one last adventure. Whatever the motivation, there are choices for you.
But before you sign on the dotted line or throw your backpack in the car, think about what you want from your sojourn. Do you long to be waited on, without a care in the world? A cruise might be just right. Or do you imagine yourself in a laughing circle of dancers wearing brightly colored costumes? Search out a trip focused on the culture you want to explore.
Perhaps you want to push yourself, to stretch your limits physically. The Sierra Club offers a variety of hiking, climbing, paddling and biking trips, with choices for beginners and for the “moderately fit.” Vermont Bike Tours leads bike trips both local and international. This year’s choices include Ireland, Scotland and Italy, as well as Vermont and Maine. Or perhaps you want to use travel time to learn a new skill. Many Elderhostel programs offer that opportunity.
Is money a little tight? Look for the “off season” and try to be flexible about dates. My friend found terrific rates on a cruise that had only a few spaces left. But before saying yes, check the airfare to the departure point. Last-minute air fare is usually high. Or put together your own trip with a few like-minded friends. Stay in hostels or double up in hotels. One group of hikers from the Monadnock region traveled “everywhere” in this style, more typical of students. But they were in their 70s or early 80s.
“Seniors are traveling,” says Toni Dorsey. He is district office manager of AAA Northeast, based in Nashua. “We have expanded our options to meet the varied interests of older travelers.” He says that at this time there is an interest in exotic destinations, in something out of the ordinary. A grandparent takes the family to Egypt, for example.
Another trend is renewed interest in North America. With the economy down there are bargains in airfares and hotels. In-country travel often relates to one’s life stage, Dorsey notes. Parents with school-age children want their children to experience their own country. They feel that seeing historic sites and parks enlivens the children’s school work. They see that the years when the kids are happy to travel with parents grow short.
For European travel Dorsey says Italy and Ireland are more popular than ever. Almost everyone seems to have a friend or relative who raves about the beauty of Ireland or the wonders of Italy. If one’s family heritage includes either of these nations, the trip is all the more enjoyable.
Many older travelers choose a group tour. For those who prefer more flexibility, a Fly/Drive arrangement is a good choice. The travel company books air transportation, rental car and hotel rooms as requested. The traveler may be more comfortable knowing that she had a secure room on first and last nights, or when in an area known to be short on accommodations. The rest of the time, you’re on your own.
Dorsey cautions older travelers to be wary of online booking. “It is tricky,” he says, “and the fine print can be hard to find.” One may book a hotel room, for example, and not realize that he has paid for the room and there is no refund if plans change.
Many older people enjoy trips sponsored by local senior centers. The Salem Center has a trip to the Pacific Northwest scheduled for October. The Gibson Center (North Conway) offered a trip to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick this year and will go to Sicily in December. It can be pleasant to travel with people you know, and you will have someone to share memories when the trip is over.
University travel clubs and alumni groups are popular sources of interesting trips. University of Southern Maine’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) offers one trip each year to people who have taken OLLI courses and their guests. Recent destinations have been Sicily and Portugal. Often these trips have a special focus (art or history, for example) or an educational component.
But surely the grandfather of educational travel for older people is Elderhostel. Elderhostel offers programs in almost every state and many nations. The traditional Elderhostel is a five-day study program, often with two or three study topics and daily classes. But there are other types of Elderhostels. There are grandparent/grandchild programs and volunteer vacations. A person interested in, for example, Native American history, can participate in excavation of sites in the American Southwest. These working vacations usually cost somewhat less than other programs.
Elderhostel also has a diverse offering of travel/study programs around the world. Combining choices of topic and date, there is a listing of 8,000 possibilities with Elderhostel. The traveler needs to arrange for transportation. Lodging, meals and excursions are part of the package.
Elderhostel is enormously popular. Even so, one should find out as much as one can about the chosen program, as you should before committing to any travel plan. At my first Elderhostel, I was the only person not coupled with a spouse or friend. There was no lounge or area for socializing; most attendees went to their rooms after dinner. Another thing to check is the level at which the classes will be taught. For my second Elderhostel I chose one with an environmental focus but found that the classes were too basic to hold my interest.
There are advantages in traveling with a group. There is security in having someone in charge of arrangements. You won’t get lost. You won’t have to struggle with unfamiliar customs and a language you don’t understand. You will likely meet interesting fellow travelers.
But many people prefer to strike out on their own. “You learn a lot more, about the place you are visiting and about yourself,” say independent travelers. The struggle to make your way is part of the experience, they say. And if you end up in Mumbai instead of Chennai, you may find that this is the best experience of all.
Travel can be exhilarating … educational … relaxing. And usually, the traveler comes home to find that this is the best place after all. NH
This article appears in the August 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine