The internet offers a bewildering array of senior travel tours and ideas for older travelers. Many of us have the time and resources for serious travel and we’re aware of the health benefits of physical activity. But we are also a diverse group, so not all of the senior adventures that pop up on the web or in brochures will be relevant to all of us.
For one thing, the senior age range (50 and older) is wider than that of any other group. We bring to the table a variety of life experiences and physical capabilities. A friend my age (74) spent last summer vacation doing her “usual activities”: cycling, canoeing and backpacking. I prefer to take long walks to get to know a 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 full-speed on every day of a trip. Some may have health or mobility issues, or be traveling with someone who does. We may wish to travel with people who have very different interests and physical capabilities – a skip-gen vacation with our grandchildren, for example. And while some seniors have very specific bucket lists, many simply want to go somewhere, do something and stay healthy.
Here are five different types of trips for active seniors that take into account a variety of travel styles and interests.
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1. National parks and state parks
In recent years, many older travelers have opted to “roam near home,” choosing senior adventures that offer active pursuits but don’t require long plane trips. The 63 U.S. national parks are superb travel destinations for seniors to pursue biking, birding, water sports, climbing, diving, fishing, hiking and wilderness backpacking, horseback riding, water sports and winter sports. Breathtaking scenery can also be found at Canada’s national parks.
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State parks are generally less crowded and can be equally rewarding for senior adventures. Several national parks could fit inside the 6 million acres of Adirondack State Park in New York. Beautiful Letchworth State Park and Franconia Notch draw visitors from all over the world. Hikers, cyclists and riders can enjoy hoodoo rock formations at Texas’ Palo Duro Canyon and seasonal wildflowers in California’s Anza-Borrego Desert.
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2. Walking, hiking and cycling tours for active seniors
Many tour companies offer walking and cycling adventures that allow active seniors to combine outdoor and urban experiences. European tours are especially well designed for taking walkers and cyclists into beautiful towns and countryside on a single trip. Country Walkers and VBT Bicycling Vacations offer both U.S. and international tours with guided and self-guided options and they provide all the support you’ll need.
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Most tour companies specify a trip’s activity level and many will tell you approximately how many miles you’ll cover each day on foot or bike. Active travel specialist Backroads also categorizes its tours according to traveler type; while it does not list a “50 and older” group, active seniors who enjoy traveling with family or a variety of age groups may fit under “family” or “20 and older.” And a new division of Backroads, Dolce Tempo, offers several levels of “easygoing” excursions.
Tours marketed specifically as senior adventures are no less exciting than others. Eldertreks includes destinations as varied as the Silk Road, southern Africa and Madagascar in its offerings. Its five activity levels are geared to seniors. Senior Cycling focuses on the eastern U.S. and Canada. And Road Scholar has an impressive list of walking and hiking trips and a few cycling trips that include kayak and barge journeys.
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3. River cruises for seniors
River cruises combine the opportunity to experience different places with the chance to easily disembark at ports offering walking, cycling and other sightseeing options. Travelers are assigned cabins for the trip’s duration and may choose not to disembark at a given stop. This makes river travel ideal for the active senior with a less active travel partner or partners.
In Europe, riverboats from many companies sail the Rhine, Danube, Douro, Seine and Volga. Walking tours and just plain wandering are available at nearly every stop and many companies now make free bikes available for independent touring. Some offer guided excursions at ports where cycling is especially good.
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Viking River Cruises provides a bicycle tour of the Kinderdijk windmills as part of an Amsterdam-to-Antwerp voyage. Avalon Waterways passengers may choose an excursion in Austria’s Wachau Valley and its active Discovery River Cruises sail the Ganges, Mekong, Nile and Peruvian Amazon as well as the European rivers. Uniworld has a Budapest-to-Passau voyage where cyclists can ride one-way on several stretches. AmaWaterways features a wellness program on each of its ships and offers cycling tours of many ports, as well as some hiking options.
4. Extended stays
Like river cruises, extended stays in a single destination allow seniors with differing activity levels to enjoy a vacation together. Resorts make it possible for some guests to stay on the beach or by the pool while others take the bus into town or arrange for tours and other activities. Seniors who love all aspects of planning can use vacation rental booking sites like Vrbo or Airbnb to investigate and schedule their own outings.
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The educational travel company Smithsonian Journeys takes a different approach with its cultural stays. One-week visits in places such as Barcelona, Krakow and Italy’s Lake District come with itineraries that allow seniors to be as active as they wish in exploring the neighborhood and region. Three-week “Living-in” stays in Andalusia, Florence and Aix-en-Provence place travelers in apartment-hotels and offer interest-based threads that include cooking, language instruction and hiking.
5. Skip-gen vacations
Skip-gen travel is an emerging trend where grandparents and grandkids vacation together while skipping the generation in between. Children help keep seniors active, though it can be challenging to find activities that the both generations can happily share.
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Road Scholar, a pioneer in this area, offers some 150 different multigenerational and skip-gen “learning adventures” throughout the world. Tauck offers “kid-tested on-tour adventures” like zip lining in Costa Rica and jet boating in Alaska with its Tauck Bridges program. Small group guided tour company Intrepid Travel designates certain tours for families only. Like Backroads, Intrepid offers many active travel choices but does not specifically address seniors; some trips may require especially fit grandparents.
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