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Bison roam Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Dennis Cox/WorldViews

Bison roam Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Dennis Cox/WorldViews

Cotopaxi, a company that makes backpacks, jackets and other outdoor gear — and donates a percentage of its earnings to worthy causes around the world — has come out with an infographic in celebration of this year’s 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service.

It shows the top five U.S. National Parks in terms of annual visitation, plus five “Hidden Gems” that are far less visited.

The top five visited National Parks, in order, are Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, Arizona’s Grand Canyon, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain, California’s Yosemite, and Yellowstone, which extends over parts of three states: mostly Wyoming, but also Montana and Idaho.

I’ve visited all of the most popular ones at one time or another, but have to admit I’ve never been to any of the Hidden Gens: Washington’s North Cascades, Florida’s Dry Tortugas, South Carolina’s… Continue reading

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Research has shown that as we get older, we tend to become more altruistic

As “narcissistic and materialistic values wane in influence” (with age) writes Jim Gilmartin, CEO of the Chicago-based agency Coming of Age, which specializes in marketing to baby boomers and seniors,”concern for others increases.”

In the travel field, this trend has helped fuel the rapid rise of volunteer vacations, also known as “voluntourism”

The concept is simple: rather than go on a more traditional vacation, such as taking a cruise or staying at a resort, you sign up with a company or agency that sets you up to work on a project such as helping in wildlife conservation, building classrooms and  homes, or improving local water systems, usually in the developing world.

Yes, you pay for the privilege of helping others, but it’s not necessarily all work and no play, and benefits accrue to the travelers… Continue reading

The view from the fortress above Nafplio is stunning. Photo by Clark Norton

The view from the fortress above Nafplio is stunning. Photo by Clark Norton

Although I’d been to Greece twice before, I wasn’t familiar with the town of Nafplio (also spelled Nafplion) until four members of my family and I spent several days there recently to attend a baptismal ceremony and celebration for the baby daughter of some friends. (More on that in my next post.)

Nafplio is  about a two-hour drive from the airport in Athens, and is located at the northern end of the Peloponnesian Peninsula, where the Peloponnesian War pitted the Athenians versus the Spartans in the 5th century BC.

The militaristic Spartans prevailed over the once-dominant but philosophically minded Athenians, dealing a fatal blow to the golden age of ancient Greek democracy.

It was kind of like the Michigan State Spartans football team taking on the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. Ouch.

Nafplio,… Continue reading

Fourth in a Series: 

The entrance to one of our favorite tavernas on Milos, Merthismeni Politeia. Photo by Clark Norton

The entrance to one of our favorite tavernas on Milos, Merthismeni Politeia. Photo by Clark Norton

During my week on the Greek island of Milos, I saw no Mexican restaurants, no sushi bars, no French bistros, or even a Chinese take-out joint.

Yes, there were casual cafes that served pizza, burgers, or crepes as part of their offerings, but no dedicated ethnic eateries or American fast-food places.

All this was fine with me. My family and I ate Greek food three times a day — more if you count the occasional snack — and never got tired of it.

Not only was it almost invariably fresh and delicious, but the variety in selection  and  preparation  far surpassed what you might expect to find in a Greek restaurant in the United States. Our diet went way beyond the familiar gyros,… Continue reading

Third in a Series:

Swimmers at Paliochori Beach, Milos. Photo by Clark Norton

Swimmers at Paliochori Beach, Milos. Photo by Clark Norton

During my recent week’s stay on Milos, one of the most beautiful of Greece’s Cyclades islands, I sampled several different beaches. And when I say different, I don’t mean merely separate — I mean distinctly different from each other.

Along with notable history, scenery, whitewashed villages, and food, Milos excels in its beaches.

Dozens of them are scattered around the island, some of them accessible only by boat, others by rough road, still others easy to reach by any vehicle, including bicycles. One long stretch of sand, along the inner harbor, is close to the island’s largest town, Adamas, and features calm waters, a beach bar, and even a touch of thermal warmth left over from Milos’ volcanic past.

Colorful cliffs form a dramatic backdrop to Paliochori beach on Milos. Photo by Clark Norton

Colorful cliffs form a dramatic backdrop to Paliochori beach on Milos. Photo by Clark Norton… Continue reading

An ancient Roman amphitheater on Milos comes with water view. Photo by Catharine Norton.

An ancient Roman amphitheater on Milos comes with water view. Photo by Catharine Norton.

Second in a Series: 

Driving on a Greek island is easy — if you let your spouse take the wheel.

I’m fortunate, in a way, that my wife, Catharine, gets a bit nauseous if she tries to read anything — such as a map — in a moving car. That means that in unfamiliar territory without a GPS, I get to navigate, and she has to drive.

Getting to our house on Milos — which we had rented for a week’s vacation with our son, daughter-in-law and six-month-old grandson — was something of an adventure.

Driving up from Adamas, the largest town in Milos and site of the ferry terminal and waterfront marina,  required following a winding road up through the hills while cars zipped around us, passing on blind curves. Catharine stuck… Continue reading

A whitewashed church overlooks Milos' harbor. Photo by Catharine Norton

A whitewashed church overlooks Milos’ harbor. Photo by Catharine Norton

Milos — one of Greece’s sun-soaked  Cycladic islands that include the better known Mykonos and Santorini — had not been on my radar until a Greek-American friend of ours suggested it might be the perfect place for a three-generation vacation.

The three generations? My wife, Catharine, and I — first-time grandparents as of six months ago — our son, Grael; daughter-in-law, Nona; and our young grandson, Conrad, making his first trip abroad, brand new passport in hand. (Well, not in his hands — though he would have liked to have gotten hold of it, along with anything dangling and shiny.)

Because we’d all be traveling with a baby, we didn’t want anything too hectic and crowded — that eliminated Mykonos and Santorini — but we did want a good choice of lodgings, restaurants,  cafes, and beaches, as… Continue reading

Greece was idyllic -- flying there not so much. Photo by Clark Norton

Greece was idyllic — flying there not so much. Photo by Clark Norton

I just returned from an idyllic two-week stay with three generations of my family in Greece, which I’ll be writing about at length in coming days.

What was not so idyllic were the flights to get there and back.

Torturous flights: hardly a news flash. Most flyers these days just grit their teeth and put up as best they can with the crowding; delays; security hassles; extra fees for checked baggage, “premium” seats, food, etc.; lost luggage; and often chaotic airport scenes.

After all, flying does (usually ) get us to where we want to go faster than other forms of transportation. But that doesn’t make it a pleasant experience.

Some Things to Try

Since I fly quite often, I try to alleviate the pain as much as possible:

I check-in online within 24 hours of… Continue reading

The lifetime Senior Pass for national ;parks and recreation areas is just $10.

The lifetime Senior Pass for national ;parks and recreation areas is just $10.

One of the best perks for turning 62 — if you’re a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident — is the “Senior Pass” that allows those aged 62 and over to enter any of the U.S. national parks, monuments, and recreation areas for all of ten bucks. Let me repeat that. That’s a “ten” with one zero.

And that’s not all, fellow baby boomers! The pass is good for life. It never expires until you do (and if you never expire, so much the better!).

And wait, there’s more! You can get your pass as you drive into many of those same parks and recreation areas. Just ask the attendant at the gate, show some proof of age (driver’s license is good), and you can usually get your pass on the spot. For $10.

Those under 62… Continue reading

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- part of a trend? Photo courtesy of Mandarin Oriental.

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — part of a trend? Photo courtesy of Mandarin Oriental.

First, let’s establish one thing: I’m not a particularly  affluent traveler, certainly by U.S. standards. I don’t really know where I fall in the spectrum of what I spend roaming the world , but I know that when I’m traveling on my own dime price is definitely an object.

Sure, I like to stay in a five-star hotel, dine in a Michelin three-star restaurant or fly first class as much as the next guy, but only if someone else is paying for it. As a consequence, I’ve stayed in some real dumps, eaten any number of meals in greasy spoons, and sat cramped in coach for up to 14 hours at a time on hundreds of flights, all to feed my travel addiction or in furtherance of getting a… Continue reading

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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