Navigating Travel

Seniors are traveling in record numbers these days. “I’ve waited long enough,” they say. “I’ve worked hard. Now it’s time to travel.” Sometimes the trips are all that the travelers had hoped for. But sometimes — well, the best-laid plans can go awry.

A growing number of seniors look to tour companies to provide the perfect trip. They prefer to let an experienced person make the travel arrangements, which seem to grow more complicated every year. They also prefer the liveliness of traveling with a group of like-minded people.

What makes for successful, senior-friendly travel? Don Adams, of the Exeter-based GeoDon Tours, says that seniors want attractive locations and often respond to particular interests, such as tours that focus on history or art. They want to feel confidence in the trip escorts and in the mode of travel. Busses should be late model and comfortable, airlines known and reliable, and hotels and meals high quality.

Many seniors enjoy day trips. They may be competent drivers but prefer to relax on a comfortable bus. “When you can forget about frantic traffic and expensive parking,” says Janet Courchene of Marlborough, “you get more out of the day.” Short trips should depart from a location where cars can be left free of charge and that will be lighted at night. Any tour — extended or brief — should provide safe, comfortable travel, attentive escorts, high quality dining and, if special events are included, good seating.

For extended travel, seniors differ on what they want. Some prefer highly structured trips, with guided tours and group meals. Others want flexibility. A growing number of companies now offer tours that provide the overall structure but leave daily activities up to the traveler. In this more independent mode, the company makes travel and hotel arrangements, leaving you free to design your own schedule of activities. If you take that kind of trip, ask about schedules and flexibility to make certain that expectations match.

Many older women travel alone. This can be lonely if everyone else is coupled with a spouse or a friend. On a senior-friendly trip, the escort will make an effort to introduce a single traveler to others and pay a little extra attention, if needed. The escort should try to create a friendly environment, without being intrusive. Sometimes a woman signs up for a tour and notes that she would like to share a room with another single woman, for the economy. If another woman signs up with a similar message, Adams says he’ll put the two in touch and ask them to meet or have a phone conversation to make certain that this is the arrangement they want.

Senior-friendly travel will accommodate special needs, including diet restrictions and mobility problems. Accommodations should be accessible. A companion may be required if a traveler uses a wheelchair.

Cruises are growing in popularity and are perhaps the most senior-friendly mode of travel. On a cruise, you don’t have to pack and unpack the suitcase at every stop, and your room is always there at dockside. The variety of the shipboard activities appeals to a lot of people.

Norma Bolduc of Manchester began traveling in 1991 and has taken dozens of trips. When she retired from Notre Dame College, she was determined to fulfill three desires — enjoy her family, garden and travel. She has enjoyed a variety of short trips within the U.S. and Canada, and extended trips in Central Europe, Spain and Portugal, England, Scotland, western national parks and, recently, a land and sea trip to Alaska.

For Bolduc, the destination is the foremost consideration. A destination should offer a new culture/environment, or appeal to a special interest. The escorts should “really know their stuff.” In overseas travel, there should be local escorts to introduce the area and explain local culture. She prefers a tour that has flexibility in activities and dining.

“Time to travel is one of the joys of retirement,” says Bolduc. “I’ve had a great time and I’ve never had a bad experience.” NH