Grace Lower | Jan 21, 2022
As a group, baby boomers are continually proving that age is a state of mind. Born between 1946 and 1964, the generation that defined itself by breaking convention is now redefining the art of travel. Rather than slowing down, boomers are hitting the road in search of opportunities for discovery and growth.
According to Expedia’s 2018 “Generations on the Move” report, most boomer travelers simply aren’t content with low-key vacations. While millennial and Gen X travelers prioritize relaxation, baby boomers rank experiences like sightseeing and touring as the most important parts of travel.
Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, traveling boomers want experiences beyond the everyday. According to AARP’s 2021 Travel Trends report, 25 percent of boomers who expected to travel internationally in 2021 said they were planning a bucket list trip.
This generation’s unwavering sense of adventure has challenged travel companies to rethink their approach with older and retired clientele. As a result, “experiential travel” has become a major industry trend.
Experiential travel (also called “immersion travel”) is a type of tourism where visitors prioritize “experiencing” a destination by engaging with local customs, culture, and cuisine.
While it’s been argued all travel is experiential, what many boomers seek is authenticity, novelty, and human connection. Of course, self-contained experiences — like resorts and cruises — remain popular, but boomers are increasingly shaking up their travel plans with hands-on learning experiences.
Because of boomers’ burgeoning interest in experiential travel, expert-led tours have become an especially attractive option.
Gone are the days of shuffling behind an umbrella-wielding tour guide; many boomers have been booking smaller, niche tours led by local experts. And the options to meet this demand are endless: from an author- and historian-hosted tour of Quebec, to a culinary tour of Morocco, to a guided bicycle trip through Vienna and Prague.
Boomers are increasingly seeking educational travel experiences that offer the “behind the scenes” glimpse they crave.
Prior to the pandemic, instead of sticking solely with a pre-determined travel group, boomers were becoming increasingly interested in expanding their social circles while abroad. AARP’s 2018 Travel Trends report found that 53 percent of boomers were interested in dining with locals while abroad, while 49 percent expressed interest in participating in tours with locals (up from 40 percent in 2017.)
The organization’s 2021 Travel Trends report showed a shift related to boomers’ cautious approach to pandemic-era travel. The generation indicated it planned on more domestic travel, road trips, traveling only with immediate family, and avoiding crowded destinations.
With health concerns and travel restrictions found to be the top barriers to travel in 2021, trends will likely continue to shift with improved vaccine availability and public health precautions.
There are plenty of theories why boomers have sought more adventurous travel options than their predecessors; but ultimately, unprecedented access to technology makes all the difference.
As a whole, boomers have been quick to adopt and embrace technology as an essential part of travel, with as many as 84 percent of boomers booking some of their travel accommodations online. What’s more, online reviews provide additional insight and advice, making it all the easier for boomers to find the right travel experiences for them.
In addition to navigating online tools, baby boomers have joined the ranks of content creators, and they are developing resources of their own. While much of the buzz about bloggers centers on millennial and Gen Z creators, there is a wealth of resources created by and for boomer-aged travelers.
TripAdvisor has a fantastic list of the top baby boomer travel blogs; My Itchy Travel Feet and Travel Past 50 are two standouts. Equipped with a wealth of digital tools and resources, boomers have everything they need to research, plan, and book adventures of their own.
And, of course, there’s the matter of time.
As more boomers enter retirement, they are granted a greater degree of flexibility while planning their travels. When compared to younger cohorts, boomers are more likely to travel for a week or longer, and they tend to book their trips well in advance.
This additional travel time means retired boomers can enjoy a more in-depth experience of their destination, rather than simply breezing through the highlights. What’s more, boomers tend to “unplug” more easily while on vacation — especially when compared to younger generations.
According to research from AARP, working boomers spend less than 10 percent of their vacation time answering emails or completing other work-related tasks. Extra vacation time and a more clearly defined work-life balance make it easier for boomers to engage in immersive travel experiences.
For boomer travelers looking for adventure without overly chaotic hustle and bustle, Frommer’s has compiled a diverse list of destinations that will not disappoint. The best vacation destination for seniors is going to depend on the type of experience they’re seeking.
For road trip warriors and retirees living the RV life life — traveling by personal vehicle or rental vehicle were overwhelmingly seen as the safest modes of travel in 2021, regardless of generation — there are many domestic travel destinations worth exploring. Visiting U.S. national parks is a budget-friendly way to explore the many unique landscapes the country has to offer. Seniors can even get a lifetime pass for all national parks at a very low rate.
Additionally, active seniors looking for outdoor adventure and unique experiences domestically may want to consider Alaska or Santa Fe, New Mexico. In Alaska, you can opt for picturesque train rides or view its incredible landscape via helicopter or small plane. Depending on the time of year, you might also catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. If you’re a history buff with a preference for warmer climates, Santa Fe offers art-worthy mountain views and a rich, cultural history.
Seniors looking to see the world might also enjoy visiting Central Europe and taking a river or bike tour to explore historic castles, landmarks, vineyards, and so much more. With a variety of guided tours available, this region is an excellent option for tourists who want an immersive, European experience without the hustle and bustle of more popular destinations.
These days, there are a variety of options for seniors looking to book a group travel experience. There are companies that cater specifically to ages 50 and over, as well as travel organizations that offer packages tailored to your desired level of activity and leisure.
Here are a few senior-friendly travel companies we recommend:
Trafalgar - a top-rated travel company with senior-friendly packages all over the world.
Road Scholar - a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing learning and travel experiences for adults. They offer cost-effective travel tours based on interest and activity level.
Walking the World - for active senior travelers looking for adventure, Walking the World offers unique walking tours both domestically and abroad.
ElderTreks - this adventure travel company is designed for travelers 50 and over. They offer a wide range of experiences across 100 different countries.
Of course, these are just a sample of the many travel companies offering experiential travel packages for seniors. But choosing the adventure is only the first step. It’s also important for boomers to get the right travel insurance to stay protected.
The best travel insurance for seniors should offer a wide range of benefits like trip cancellation protection, lost baggage protection, medical coverage, emergency evacuation, and more. Especially during these times, your health needs to be safeguarded while traveling.Our RoundTrip® Travel Protection Plan offers trip protection benefits for trip cancellation, interruption, and delay. It also provides medical coverage for illnesses and injuries that occur during your trip, an important benefit that many countries require for entry. Contact us for a quote and to learn more about our travel insurance offerings.