Countless studies show that people are living longer, healthier and more active lives than ever before. In fact, by 2030, the population of American seniors will increase dramatically to more than 60 million as Baby Boomers reach their golden years.
Few are slowing down. Instead, many Columbians in the 65 and older age group are disproving the old English proverb: Age is a bad traveling companion. They are making up for the “lost” time they spent with their noses to the grindstone by embarking on adventurous vacations.
Lynda Hayworth, 70, has done most of her traveling in the past few years. While her late husband was alive they traveled to all 48 contiguous states in the United States – primarily to beaches and mountains. However, after she retired from working in the Lexington school district and assisting her friend Juliana’s late husband in his real estate business, she decided to accompany Juliana, a seasoned traveler, to a few remote destinations.
“Juliana has been everywhere,” says Lynda. “I had peace of mind that she knew what she was doing when she set up our trips.”
Together, the two women toured Alaska and Switzerland, and Lynda says the highlight of both those trips was traveling by train. “We went through the Denali National Park in Alaska and through the mountains in Switzerland.” Traveling by train, she points out, allowed them to see more while relaxing in a comfortable train car. They could move around the train and meet others. Plus, there are bathroom facilities and food readily available.
On Lynda’s travel wish list for the future is Australia, New Zealand, Iceland and Greenland. She says that she would like at least to partly experience these sites from a train.
Seventy-year-old Dr. William H. (Bill) Bates, Ph.D., a retired professor emeritus of music at USC, has also enjoyed most of his journeys in the past few years. Carol, his wife, passed in 2010, and since then, he has accompanied the USC Concert Choir on two-week musical tours of Italy and Spain. These were opportunities to expand his knowledge of architecture, art, painting and culture – not to mention music.
Bill has also taken two 14-day, biblically-oriented tours of Greece and Israel. He points out that, with arranged tours, all the details are handled, and travelers need simply relax and enjoy. Tours are highly educational and provide immersive experiences. The tour guide on his Greek trip was a native Grecian, so they had fabulous local food each evening. In Israel, a foremost archaeologist – and one of the discoverers of the Pool of Siloam – joined the tour group for a special lecture.
Jo and Alex James of Forest Acres typically stay in an area for several weeks precisely so they can savor the ambiance. Alex, a retired architect, and Jo, who taught elementary school for 30 years, spent the past two summers living in England for four weeks. Renting a flat and living in a neighborhood in London allowed the couple to feel a connection as travelers instead of rushing through to hit the highlights. Daily, they walked, biked, rode the Tube (British subway), or took a ferry to their destination. When they had seen enough for the day, they returned to their one-bedroom flat.
The Jameses explain that the main cost of an extended-stay vacation is in the plane tickets and the accommodations; however, renting a flat for a month in London was less than what it would cost to rent a house on the beach for the same amount of time. Affordable transportation passes can be purchased to jump on the Tube or the ferry, and renting a bike in London is free for 30-minute intervals. Travelers simply pick up a bike at the many bike stations around the city, ride it to a destination, and check it in at a nearby station. Walking, of course, is free and much is accessible on foot.
“We don’t want to be ‘tourists’ while we are traveling,” says Alex, 67. “We want to immerse ourselves in the culture. Every day we can walk a short way for exercise and see and experience something different.”
Jo, 68, adds that figuring out each day where and how they were going to get around is a good mental exercise. “It keeps these old minds working!” she says.
Another enjoyable retirement travel experience for the Jameses has been riverboat cruises in Europe. The couple took a cruise to Normandy in France this summer after they left their flat in London. This past year, a river cruise down the Rhine in Germany involved site-seeing medieval castles.
“They truly pamper you on these cruises,” says Jo, “and it’s a wonderful way to see things. Especially for people who are more infirm, river cruises are the way to go. The cruise company will arrange your flight, pick you up at the airport, and completely take care of you. Plus, you meet the most wonderful people.”
Joan and Bill Jowers, 84 and 80, have been motivated to travel throughout their marriage due to Bill’s interest in scuba diving. They have been just about everywhere in the Caribbean, as well as the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and the South Carolina coast to scuba dive and snorkel. Their last big diving trip was about 15 years ago, before health issues began to surface. However, age and health have not deterred the Jowerses from traveling. About 10 years ago, Joan traveled to England with a group from a senior center where she was taking art classes. It was her first trip to Europe, and the group toured and painted.
After that European experience, the two traveled as a couple to Germany and Austria during one holiday season. In their retirement years – after he successfully operated businesses and she worked as a hospital guidance counselor – they have also enjoyed visiting areas that feature entertainment. Branson, Mo., and Las Vegas, Nev., have been favorite destinations because of the live shows.
“We’ve been to Las Vegas four times,” says Joan. “One time, while in Las Vegas, we took a helicopter ride to the bottom of the Colorado River and joined a group on a rafting adventure. That was very exciting. We slept in sleeping bags, and we were at least in our 60s then. It was so nice to sleep under the stars.”
“Planning for the trip is half the fun for us,” says Alex James. Often, plans take months, but he and Jo insist they enjoy the challenge of the process and the discoveries they make along the way.
The couple first decides destinations based on interest, affordability and weather. “In the summer we want to escape the heat of Columbia,” says Jo, “so that is one thing that drives our travel planning.”
The Jameses take care of all their travel arrangements online. For their summer month-long stay in London, they searched several real estate sites that offered rentals on a monthly basis. They found a site that offered a one-bedroom flat on the top floor of an eight-story building, and the satellite map allowed for a view of the building and the area around it. “The virtual map took us through the streets around the site of the flat so that we would know what was in walking distance, where the nearest Tube was, things like that,” says Jo.
The Jowerses say that each time they travel, they learn what they absolutely need to take and what they can leave behind. One mistake that Bill observes about American senior travelers is inflexibility. “You have to be adaptable wherever you go,” he says. “Don’t expect to find everything exactly the same when you travel as you have at home – especially if you travel outside the United States. You might go to a supermarket and they don’t have exactly the brand or the item that you want or need. I have heard Americans fuss and complain to people about the silliest things.”
Joan says she likes the challenge of traveling. She enjoys trying to figure out how to make-do when she has forgotten something or cannot find what she needs. “I think I could have been a pioneer woman,” she says. “If you want exactly what you have at home when you travel, then you should stay home. Traveling is about expecting the unexpected and enjoying it.”
Finally, those who travel during their golden years can benefit from tour groups that cater to particular interests and expectations. “They’re knowledgeable, and they take care of all the details so you don’t have to worry about anything,” says Bill. Travelers can hook up with tour groups involving buses, trains, river boats, cruise lines, camping and safaris that cater to certain ages, interests and even religions.
Bill Bates adds that traveling with experienced guides made him feel secure. “At no time did we feel unsafe, even as we traveled through the West Bank and wandered through the various sections of Old Jerusalem.”
Dr. Frank Hill, 68, a Columbia ENT for 29 years, travels the globe for work, pleasure and missions. His travel advice is to relish sites in small doses. He says, “I find the antiquities of Egypt are more interesting and more memorable that way.”
Besides traveling abroad or to remote areas of the United States, local seniors say that they regularly seek out trips within driving distance. Because Columbia is approximately half way between beaches and mountains, day or weekend trips are doable.
Lynda recently journeyed to North Carolina to view the famed frescoes in the West Jefferson area. The Jameses regularly take their RV to the Blue Ridge Mountains for getaways and site-seeing. Frank and Paula, his wife, often travel to the coast and to the mountains. The Jowerses, as well, sometimes stick closer to home, as they did this past year when they toured Pigeon Forge in Tennessee.
Many Columbia seniors insist that it is traveling, whether close by or to faraway places, that keeps them interested and enthused in their elder years.