Escapes: Adventure Travel for Seniors

April 20, 2015

It’s within your reach!

By John and Sally Macdonald

Photo at right: A group picks its way through a steaming volcano on White Island in New Zealand. Photo by John Macdonald


Remember our youth when we thought tours were for old folks?

We wanted action—scaling the heights, kayaking the whitest of rapids. No all-day bus rides for us or afternoons in a stuffy museum, ogling the efforts of some old dead guys.

We planned our own trips. We drove ourselves and hunted down our own lodging. We ate what we wanted, when we wanted. And we sought out the adrenaline highs we wanted.

Now we’re a bit older. We still want the excitement, but we know our bodies can’t stand the pace we once thrived on. Off-piste (executed in record time!) are for days gone by.

Even finding a room on our own seems like more of a chore now. And, driving on the wrong side of the road? Uh-uh.

Take heart, seniors. No matter where you fit on the activity spectrum, the travel industry knows our plight and has come to the rescue.

Adventure Meets Comfort

Many adventure-travel firms, for example, are offering a menu of trips—a rough-and-tumble version for the youngsters, and alongside it, a more comfortable experience for us who are a bit older. The destination may be the same.

Kurt Kutay at Seattle’s Wildland Adventures is a pioneer in planning active eco-friendly, yet exotic, outdoor trips to your own comfort level.

And, Edmonds tour operator Rick Steves, who began offering low-cost tours in the 1970s, keeps changing with the times.

Steves started off using older buses and out-of-the-way, inexpensive bed-and-breakfast accommodations. They were a step up from the backpacking/hostel trips of the previous generations, but they weren’t necessarily for the faint-of-heart or the creaky-of-joints. His early back-door travelers were OK with bathrooms “down the hall.”

Today, Steves’ basic tours offer a similar itinerary, but with in-suite bathrooms and sleek newer buses.

While potty stops in Asia can still be an adventure, primitive toilet stops that were a feature of European bus tours in the old days have been replaced by sparkling highway marts that also sell ice cream on a stick and touristy gewgaws.

And remember hostels—those lodgings we might remember as being too basic for anyone over the age of 20? Today, many are surprisingly comfortable and more tour companies are using them to house cost-conscious seniors.

Our most recent hostel was in Berlin and featured a wing specifically for families and older travelers—quieter and more private than the less expensive dorm-style wing. The room was not elaborate, but it was squeaky clean. There was a television and an in-suite bathroom with a hairdryer. Downstairs was a comfortable lobby with a bar and internet café.

Many of today’s mountain hostels meet “senior” comfort demands for both winter and summer adventures.

A Boost from Technology

Changing technology also has helped keep us seniors happily on the road. Advances made with luggage—light-weight materials, sturdier wheels and shoulder straps—help get our things from here to there. And, often if you’re on a tour, there’s a fellow traveler with a good strong back who’ll volunteer to help.

On the athletic front, some firms offer cycling tours featuring electric bikes. If a rider gets a bit tired or faces a challenging hill, the battery kicks in and provides the needed extra boost.

Medical advances have helped, too. Not long ago, even a minor disability might have kept a would-be traveler at home. Today, it’s not uncommon to see folks in wheelchairs or toting portable oxygen tanks among travelers wondering Rome’s ruins, Swiss mountain trails or American Civil War battlegrounds.

Tour companies usually describe fairly accurately the “exertion level” of their trips. Some companies (Rick Steves is one) will expect you to handle your own luggage, be able to be on your feet for a number of hours or walk a certain distance. But, if you worry you can’t do all that, many companies can arrange to help you keep pace.

Keep on Truckin’

We may be changing as we age, but we still love to travel. Perhaps not as far, fast or aggressively as we once did. But, we don’t want to be homebodies, either.

And, tour companies know a good thing when they see it—they’re well aware that we’re willing to dip into what may be a limited income to keep on engaging in active and healthy pursuits.

These tour operators are more aware than ever that if they don’t keep up with our special “senior” needs, there’s always another company that will.

More to Consider!

You’re not alone if you’re a bit intimidated by a mountain of travel choices. Here are some things you might consider as you make plans:

• First, what kind of travel experience do you want? Be honest with yourself, but don’t let restrictions deter you. They may be just bumps in the road, not roadblocks.

• What kind of traveler are you? Do you want to fill every waking moment with sightseeing or activity? Or, do you want to spend time relaxing and let the experience soak in. Perhaps a combination?

• Do you like to travel alone or with a companion? Spouses often have different interests, so it’s not unusual for married people to vacation separately. On most tours, it’s less expensive for single travelers to share accommodations with someone of the same gender, and most companies are helpful in pairing up singles.

On one tour, Sally put in for a roommate. But, when no other single women signed up for the trip, Sally found herself alone in large hotel rooms, and once or twice in a suite—all for the singles price.

John and Sally Macdonald are retired writers from The Seattle Times. John was assistant city editor for a decade and for 20 years was the newspaper’s travel editor. Sally was in the news and features department for 24 years. They have been freelance journalists, mostly in the travel field, for 14 years.