I’m always glad to run guest posts that contain valuable information for baby boomer travelers, and my friend Samantha Scott at StrideTravel.com has put together a good compendium of the most popular trends in boomer travel today — as well as some excellent suggestions for tour companies that will help you join in the fun.
Samantha’s post strikes on many of the themes I’ve been discussing here for nearly three years now: that baby boomers are dedicated travelers and life-long learners, love to take river cruises and travel with their grandchildren, are embracing the wide diversity of tours now available — including adventure travel — and are far more tech savvy than is generally believed.
While not a boomer herself, Samantha “gets it” — boomers are big travelers, are open to and eager for new experiences, and they’re willing to spend money and take the time to find them.
Here’s Samantha’s post, a slightly different version of which originally appeared in StrideTravel.com. (And yes, I’m quoted in the piece, but that of course has nothing to do with my recommending it….)
Last year, AARP reported in their annual travel research survey that “practically all baby boomers (99%) anticipate traveling for leisure in 2016, with approximately four or five trips in the works.” Forty-five percent reported that they would take a combination of domestic and international trips, while five percent planned to focus on international only.
Baby boomers are the generation born between 1946 and 1964, and account for approximately 26 percent of the total U.S. population. They were raised by a post-war 1950’s mentality, including their parents’ desire for a picket fence stability. Disillusioned with this vision, they rebelled against it with a vengeance in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Baby boomers sought out and embraced a more complicated world, delving into the nuances of other cultures and inspiring a voracious interest in world travel.
Some even took it a step further. Multiple “go off the beaten track” tour companies, such as Intrepid Travel, and Mountain Travel Sobek were founded in the 1970s and 1980s, fueled by this spirit of exploration and curiosity about other cultures.
When the baby boomers entered the workforce, they had less time to travel, but no less interest. In the next stage of their lives, establishing careers and starting families, they built the resources to travel longer and farther.
Now that many boomers are reaching or are in retirement, they’re heading out to travel again. And they have the time and money to do it their way.
So what kind of trips do baby boomers take? Why do they travel and what are the trends? Here are our findings on the most popular trends in baby boomer travel:
If the 1950’s ushered in the emergence of the “American teenager,” the mid-to-late 60’s saw the introduction of the “college-aged” adult. Because of the sheer numbers of college students at the time, they created their own demographic.
The counter-culture, civil rights, and feminist movements all contributed to a more educated populace who, today, continue to broaden their horizons.
So it should be no surprise that among boomers, educational tours have become one of the most popular types of tours.
Road Scholar (previously Elderhostel) is an excellent example. Founded in 1975, and designed specifically for older travelers, Road Scholar provides learning tours all over the world.
One of the draws to Road Scholar is their emphasis on tours led by experts in their fields along with interesting, varied subjects. You might be learning about Egypt from an archaeologist or visiting Shakespeare’s house with an Oxford professor. Booking a tour is akin to booking a class for the semester, only without the burden of homework!
Stephen Ambrose Tours is another popular learning tour option, especially for veterans, whether they fought abroad or served on the home front. Tours are led by military historians and focus on WWII, though Civil War and Lewis and Clark expeditions are also offered.
Learning tours aren’t always about book learning. Cultural tours — where you might learn a new craft or skill — or food tours, where you might participate in a local cooking class, are all ways to combine a love of travel with a love of learning.
“Multi-generational travel” — trips that grandparents, parents, and kids can enjoy together — has exploded in popularity in recent years, and tour companies have responded accordingly.
Often, it’s the baby boomers (grandparents) who originally come up with the idea of a multi-generational trip, and foot the bill for everyone! These tours can be very special experiences: a great way for grandparents to connect with their younger family members.
Some ideas for multi-generational trips:
More Choice In Tour Companies And Styles
The guided tour sector is more diverse than ever before and baby boomers are their largest group.
If you have preconceptions of the guided tour experience — perhaps you’re envisioning an enormous group with matching hats, hitting only the major sights alongside other large groups, and all jostling for the same picture — think again. There are now hundreds of group tour options, suitable to just about every type of personality.
Small group tours with flexible itineraries are available to those travelers who are more adventurous, but still want some creature comforts:
For those more comfortable with scheduled itineraries, all inclusive tours or coach tours are a great option:
Short breaks and weekend trips are now popular, especially for boomers who are still working. Many tour companies have adjusted their tour schedules to accommodate the high demand from boomers who need to be back in town for work after a few days.
The Allure Of River Cruising
By far one of the fastest growing segments in group travel is river cruising: growth propelled primarily by older travelers.
Europe is one of the top destinations for boomers, and a river cruise is the ideal way to see it. River cruise boats are able to travel on narrower, shallower bodies of water, allowing for diverse itineraries and easy on, easy off exploration of ports.
Germany, France, Austria, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania are among the most sought-after European river cruise destinations, with the Rhine, Danube, Elbe, and Seine among the most popular rivers.
Still Seeking Adventure
For older travelers, the thought of “adventure travel” may not sound as appealing as it once did.
But boomers are seeking new adventures — which is not necessarily a contradiction. “Adventure” doesn’t have to include a daring physical component; it can simply mean exploring a new culture, meeting the locals, and trying new foods.
“I prefer to think of it as ‘adventurous’ travel,” says Clark Norton, who writes about baby boomer travel at clarknorton.com. “It probably isn’t bungee jumping over Victoria Falls — but it may involve some new physical challenges, and it’s definitely adventurous in the sense that boomers are getting off the beaten path, exploring new cultures and traveling to the far corners of the earth.”
Norton has achieved some incredible feats in his travels, including riding camels in North Africa, rappelling off a mountain summit in British Columbia, whitewater rafting in Nepal, swimming with piranhas in the Amazon, and learning to scuba dive in Micronesia — all after the age of 50.
He notes that all these adventures came thanks to experienced guides. “I don’t consider myself particularly brave,” he admits. “But if I trust the guide, I’ll try just about anything.” Read more about Clark’s take on adventure travel for boomers.
But keep in mind, as Clark notes, that adventure can also be as simple as taking a long hike on your day tour from the cruise ship, a bike tour through wine country, or a “glamping” (luxury camping) trip in South Africa.
The “Bucket List”
In 2015, AARP reported that among the 50+ travelers traveling internationally, one of the most popular categories is what’s commonly become known as the Bucket List.
The best thing about a Bucket List is that it is personalized and all about meeting a goal — about making a dream happen. It doesn’t matter if it’s finally hiking to Machu Picchu, or at long last taking that luxury wine tasting tour in France. Or maybe finally finding the species that has eluded you for years on a birding tour.
Boomers show no signs of slowing down when it comes to ticking their dreams off the list.
A Tech Savvy Group
Don’t let it be said that today’s older travelers are not technologically savvy.
For starters, more and more boomers are researching and booking travel online. Studies show that over 75 percent of boomer travelers use a travel review site and over 90 percent use a search engine when planning a trip. According to the AARP survey, 43 percent cite available, reliable Wi-Fi as a necessity while traveling.
Boomers are also among the fastest-growing demographic on many social media platforms, including Facebook and Pinterest.
The sheer amount of 50-plus travelers has resulted in an explosion of blogs written from a boomer perspective. Some of these writers have seen great success, with large and loyal followings on their sites and on social media.
Here are some of our favorites:
The Gypsy Nesters (Veronica and David). One of the few boomer blogs to utilize video, The Gypsy Nesters display a humorous and adventurous spirit.
The Travelling Boomer (Paul Marshman). The Travelling Boomer provides easy-to-digest guides, inspiring travel stories, and practical advice on flights, accommodations, and various travel tricks.
My Itchy Travel Feet (Donna and Alan Hull). A great resource for in-depth information on destinations around the world, gear reviews, and theme trips (including their own section on the boomer Bucket List!).
Travel Past 50 (Tom Bartel and Kris Henning). They document their adventures as well as provide practical tips for packing, gear recommendations, and a comprehensive photo tip section. They bring a vast background of travel experience to their blog, giving readers a sense of confidence in their advice.
Life Part 2 (Jonathan Look). He writes about his experience traveling as a minimalist, and has tips for those who want to travel the same way. His blog focuses not only on his many travel experiences but also on his retirement journey and photography.
Clark Norton, quoted above, has been writing about baby boomers and travel for more than thirty years as a professional travel writer. His extensive experience and knowledge is clear in his posts, which cover everything from travel planning tips, to retrospectives on his travels, to pop culture.
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