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Why you’re never too old to travel

Where do you want to go to next?

Travel agent Susan Wolfson and husband David in the Cambodian countryside during a Mekong Delta cruise that many seniors travel.
Travel agent Susan Wolfson and husband David in the Cambodian countryside during a Mekong Delta cruise that many seniors travel.Read moreCourtesy of Susan Wolfson (custom credit) / Courtesy of Susan Wolfson

Where to next?

That burning question of impatient youth reignites for many as they hit their retirement years. It’s no accident that river cruise lines sponsor so many of the PBS TV shows that older demographics favor. Seniors want to see the world!

River cruises, great as they are, are emphatically not the only option, though. All options are available to the senior traveler, because it’s not about age, folks. And it’s not about destination, either.

The devilish details are in the how.

“It’s not once you get to a certain age, it’s once you get to mobility issues,” said travel agent Susan Wolfson, owner of Go Astro Travel in Allentown. There are many workarounds for those issues, she is quick to add. “There’s pretty much nowhere in the world I’d say, ‘At your age, don’t go there.’ ”

There is a first step to your next journey, though: self-reflection.

“You have to have a true picture of yourself and what your abilities are and what your fears are,” advised a Center City octogenarian who prefers to be identified as “a seasoned traveler.”

He sure is, too, taking at least three major trips a year with his wife to destinations such as Edinburgh, Arizona, and Italy.

Used to be, the couple walked everywhere to explore a new place. Now, he can’t walk very far, so they take public transportation — “a wonderful way to see a city” — and choose more centrally located homes or apartments to rent for their typically extended stays.

An AARP travel study found that baby boomers, who began turning 65 in 2011, anticipated taking four to five trips in 2018, spending on average $6,300. More than half the boomers surveyed had international travel on their calendars.

“People are in pretty darned good shape these days,” Wolfson said. “And they’re traveling older. I have a lot of clients in the 70-to-80 range, but I’m getting a lot more in the 80s who are still enjoying it. And it’s not just Caribbean cruises.”

Unless cruises are your thing, of course.

At 87, Philippa Lord goes on at least two cruises a year and loves it. “That’s my expertise. I felt comfortable with that as a widow,” said the former Lansdale resident now living in Richmond, Va. She favors all-inclusive trips. “I like to know exactly what it’s going to cost,” she said. She sticks with one line, Regent Seven Seas, that specializes in smaller ships and that rewards her loyalty with “little niceties, a little special attention” she appreciates.

There’s a friendlier atmosphere on the smaller ships, in Lord’s experience. She’s struck up lasting friendships with couples from around the world and sometimes meets up on a cruise with another solo traveler who lives in England.

Many ships hold a social hour the first night for people traveling alone, and Lord recommends attending. “It’s a nice way to start,” she said.

Tour companies and cruise lines are catering more to those traveling alone, offering smaller staterooms or not charging a singles supplement, said Wolfson. “There are lots of great options for single travelers now.”

Like that Center City couple, Lord has been frank in assessing her own changing needs. She used to cruise everywhere but now feels more comfortable choosing itineraries closer to the United States. “There are still plenty of places to go,” she noted.

Lord sends her luggage in advance through the valet service Luggage Free, which also returns the bags to her doorstep after a trip. “It’s not free money-wise, but it’s free from hassle,” she said. “When you get to your stateroom, there are your suitcases on your bed.”

A traveler departing and arriving in the continental United States typically pays $106 for one piece of luggage up to 50 pounds. “It solves a problem” for those who can’t or don’t want to lug heavy bags, said Luggage Free general manager Ross Stamford. Cruise ship passengers constitute about a third of Luggage Free’s business, depending on the season, and the percentage of senior customers is growing, he said. This time of year, the company’s busy helping “snowbirds” head south for the winter.

There are myriad ways to explore the world – that’s the encouraging news from travel pros and pro travelers.

AmaWaterways, a river cruise line Wolfson works with, has some slower-paced trips and ships that accommodate wheelchairs and scooters that can be rented onboard. Wolfson also has used Special Needs Group/Special Needs at Sea, which rents and delivers medical equipment directly to a stateroom, resort, or hotel. Some tour companies, such as Tauck, can provide detailed information on the physical demands of an itinerary, right down to the distance you’ll walk from a parking lot to a restaurant.

Facing a long flight from New York to Asia? Break it up with a stopover in Las Vegas or Los Angeles.

Concerned about jet lag before embarking on a cruise or land tour? Head to the departure city a few days early to acclimate, Wolfson advised. When you’re retired, “You have the time.”

Time is a gift for senior travelers, noted the Center City octogenarian. You can vacation in the offseason when crowds are thinner and prices are lower. He described himself and his wife as DIY travel planners “who would rather stumble around and get lost” to explore a new destination. What works for them isn’t for all, he acknowledged.

“You have to know your own temperament, that’s the key,” he said. “To turn that around, you should push yourself a bit. … It’s too easy to stay at home. You should push yourself to go on trips, see things you haven’t seen before, go places that are beautiful.”

That’s good travel advice for any age.