The internet offers a bewildering array of senior travel and ideas for senior travellers. Many of us have the time and resources for serious travel and we are aware of the health benefits of physical activity. But we’re also a diverse group, so not all senior adventures that pop up on the internet or in brochures will be relevant to all of us.
For one thing, the age range of seniors (50 and older) is wider than any other group. We bring a variety of life experiences and physical abilities. A friend my age (74) spent the last summer vacation doing her “usual activities”: biking, canoeing, and backpacking. I prefer to take long walks to get to know a travel destination. Other seniors use their vacations to visit the best dude ranches or luxury glamping resorts, or simply take advantage of AARP travel discounts at nice hotels.
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Some active seniors may not want to go flat out every day of a trip. Some may have health or mobility issues, or be traveling with someone who does. We might want to travel with people who have very different interests and physical abilities – for example, a Skip Gen vacation with our grandchildren. And while some seniors have very specific bucket lists, many just want to go somewhere, do something, and stay healthy.
Here are five different types of travel for active seniors that accommodate a variety of travel styles and interests.
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1. National Parks and State Parks
In recent years, many older travelers have chosen to “hike close to home,” choosing senior adventures that offer active pursuits but don’t require long plane trips. The 63 US national parks are excellent senior travel destinations for biking, bird watching, water sports, rock climbing, scuba diving, fishing, hiking and wilderness hiking, horseback riding, water sports and winter sports. Breathtaking landscapes can also be found in Canada’s national parks.
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State parks tend to be less crowded and can be equally rewarding for senior adventures. Several national parks could fit in New York’s 6 million-acre Adirondack State Park. Beautiful Letchworth State Park and Franconia Notch attract visitors from all over the world. Hikers, cyclists and horseback riders can enjoy the hoodoo rock formations in Texas’ Palo Duro Canyon and seasonal wildflowers in California’s Anza Borrego Desert.
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2. Walks, hikes and bike rides for active seniors
Many tour operators offer hiking and biking adventures, allowing active seniors to combine outdoor and city experiences. Europe tours are particularly good at bringing hikers and cyclists to beautiful cities and countryside in a single trip. Country Walkers and VBT Bicycling Vacations offer both US and international tours with guided and self-guided options and can provide any assistance you may need.
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Most tour operators will indicate the activity level of a trip and many will tell you approximately how many kilometers you will walk or bike each day. The active travel specialist Backroads also categorizes its tours by travel type; While it doesn’t list a “50 and older” group, active seniors who enjoy traveling with family or a variety of age groups may fall under “Family” or “20 and older.” And a new division of Backroads, Dolce Tempo, offers varying levels of “loose” excursions.
Tours marketed specifically as adventures for seniors are no less exciting than others. Eldertreks includes destinations as diverse as the Silk Road, Southern Africa and Madagascar in its offering. Its five activity levels are geared toward seniors. Senior Cycling focuses on the eastern US and Canada. And Road Scholar has an impressive list of walking and hiking tours, and a few bike tours that include kayaking and boating.
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3. River cruises for seniors
River cruises combine the opportunity to experience different locations with the ability to conveniently disembark at ports with opportunities for hiking, biking, and other sightseeing. Travelers are assigned cabins for the duration of the trip and can choose not to disembark at a particular stop. This makes river trips ideal for active seniors with one or more less active travel partners.
In Europe, many companies operate river boats on the Rhine, Danube, Douro, Seine and Volga. Walking tours and easy hiking are available at almost every stop, and many companies now provide free bikes for independent tours. Some offer guided trips to ports where cycling is particularly good.
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Viking River Cruises offers a bike tour to the windmills of Kinderdijk as part of a trip from Amsterdam to Antwerp. Avalon Waterways passengers can choose a trip to Austria’s Wachau Valley and active Discovery River Cruises navigate the Ganges, Mekong, Nile, Peruvian Amazon and European rivers. Uniworld offers a trip from Budapest to Passau where cyclists can ride on multiple routes in one direction. AmaWaterways offers a wellness program on each of its ships and offers cycle tours to many ports as well as some hiking opportunities.
4. Longer stays
Like river cruises, longer stays in a single destination allow seniors of varying activity levels to enjoy a vacation together. Resorts allow some guests to stay by the beach or pool while others take buses into town or organize tours and other activities. Seniors who love all aspects of planning can use vacation rental booking sites like Vrbo or Airbnb to explore and plan their own trips.
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The educational travel company Smithsonian Journeys takes a different approach with its cultural stays. Week-long visits to places like Barcelona, Krakow and the Italian Lake District include itineraries that allow seniors to be as active as they like to explore the neighborhood and region. Three-week “living-in” breaks in Andalucia, Florence and Aix-en-Provence put travelers in apartment hotels and offer interest-based topics such as cooking, language classes and hiking.
5. Skip Gen Vacation
Skip gene travel is an emerging trend, with grandparents and grandchildren vacationing together, skipping the generation in between. Children help keep seniors active, although it can be difficult to find activities that both generations are happy to share.
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A pioneer in this field, Road Scholar offers around 150 different intergenerational and intergenerational “learning adventures” around the world. Tauck offers “kid-approved on-tour adventures” like zip-lining in Costa Rica and jet boating in Alaska through its Tauck Bridges program. Small-group tour company Intrepid Travel designates certain tours for families only. Like Backroads, Intrepid offers plenty of active travel options, but doesn’t specifically cater to seniors; Some trips may require particularly fit grandparents.
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