Adventurous Travel for the Senior Set

The options don't stop at cruises



Illustration By Emma Moreman

If leaky and collapsing tents, moldy sleeping bags, unexpected storms, creepy crawlers, uninvited guests in the guise of wild animals and inedible food have spoiled your appetite for camping, it may be time to go glamping.

Glamping, the portmanteau for glamorous camping, is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways for retirees bitten by the travel bug to satisfy their wanderlust and sense of outdoor adventure without sacrificing any of the luxuries to which they are accustomed.

“It’s fantastic. We have a few places for glamping that we work with, and they are great options for the senior set,” says Kathy Burns Lamphier, the owner of Posh Travel in Greenland since 1988. “Retirees just love this type of travel.”

“Retirees will say they don’t want to go camping, that they’re too old for that. This is entirely different and very luxurious,” Burns Lamphier says. “One of the places we send clients to is in Montana, where the tents are alongside a rushing river. But they are tents with carpeted floors, ceiling fans, private full baths with flush toilets and featherbeds. Each even comes with your personal butler.

“Another place we send our glamping clients to is a very remote and incredibly beautiful part of Vancouver Island, where each luxury tent even has a claw-footed bathtub. It’s one of the best places for stargazing, so they serve gourmet dinners with fine wines under the stars while a guide points out the constellations,” she continues.

Glampers surely expect to be pampered.

“They do everything for you. You don’t have to chop firewood, haul water or do anything you don’t want to,” says Burns Lamphier. “You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to go glamping.”

Penny Pitou, however, is an Olympic athlete. The owner of Penny Pitou Travel in Laconia was the first American to medal in a downhill event, earning two silver medals at the 1960 Winter Olympics. Though she’s now in her late 70s, she still personally escorts the physically fit on annual ski trips and hiking tours to Europe.

“Penny’s retired clients really like the ski trips, and a lot of people equal to her age and even older go on them. Many of them are just as active and fit as she is, and they enjoy it so much they come back every year,” says Don Clarke, a longtime travel agent at the Lakes Region business.

But most seasoned citizens are looking for-less taxing travel and seek out what is now categorized in the industry as a “soft adventure.” The trips are more sedate than a white-knuckled whitewater rafting excursion, yet more exhilarating than photographing landmarks through a bus window.

River and canal cruises, which dock in the center of a destination, are ideal for those with limited mobility or a disability. Rail car trips through Ireland, England, France or Canada — or even on The Orient Express from Singapore to Bangkok — are another great fit, as they don’t require much walking or exertion.

Other soft adventures in high demand are backroads bicycle outings, tours of the Galapagos Islands and Antarctic adventures, notes Burns Lamphier, because they offer graduated levels of activity and thus are easy for seniors to enjoy.

One of best tips for older adults who want to cross items off their bucket list is to sign on for educational travel. It’s the fastest-growing segment of the industry.

Alumni departments at colleges and universities across the country team up with established tour operators to offer plans to their graduates, and here in New Hampshire, Dartmouth College and the University of New Hampshire have robust alumni travel programs. Part of the beauty of this type of travel is that one’s alma mater takes care of all of the planning, bookings and organizing of the all-inclusive excursions while avoiding potential pitfalls and problems. 

“We’re one of the oldest alumni travel programs in the country and have been around for 30 years,” says Robin Albing, the director of Lifelong Learning in the Office of Alumni Relations at Dartmouth. “There is a lot of competition in this field, and what makes us different is the Dartmouth connection and the Dartmouth touch. We run about 40 trips a year all over the world and in the US, and have about 700 to 800 travelers per year.”

What also separates the various alumni programs from other group travel offerings is that a faculty member will come along and provide insights on the locations, history, people and culture of the places visited.

“Our travelers like to travel with people who have same sense of intellectual curiosity and want to be lifelong learners,” says Albing. “The Dartmouth professor can give them something additional, whether that is political or artistic, or something from any number of disciplines.”

But, to experience educational travel, one not need be an Ivy League graduate or Rhodes Scholar.

You can, however, be a Road Scholar. Formerly known as Elderhostel, Road Scholar is a nonprofit organization providing opportunities for those 55 and older to explore the world. Founded in 1975 by two UNH administrators, Marty Knowlton and David Bianco, the company now has more than 5 million of its own “alumni” and takes 5,500 seniors on learning adventures all over the world each year.

The accommodations are comfortable and affordable, with travelers no longer staying in hostels but on college campuses, at retreat centers, and in inns and hotels. The budget-friendly program can cost less than $100 per day. Even better, Road Scholar provides some scholarships.

For those wanting a more exotic (albeit more expensive) adventure within a small group setting, ElderTreks may be the ticket. The first company designed exclusively for active travelers over 50 provides all-inclusive, off-the-beaten-path experiences in intimate groups no larger than 16 people.

African wildlife safaris; demanding hiking trips through the Rockies, the Himalayas and the Andes mountains; and Artic and Antarctic expeditions while sailing on an icebreaker rather than a luxury liner are among ElderTreks’ most popular offerings.

No matter the method or the destination, travel enhances and enriches the lives of retirees.

“It keeps their minds sharp and engaged, and makes people more interesting as they get older. It keeps them young,” says Albing.

The best tip for a successful trip?

“Be realistic and know your limitations, but don’t ever let them limit you,” advises Burns Lamphier. “Life is short. Never be afraid of adventure.”

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