“When you’re traveling, opportunities are offered to step out of your comfort zone. You might think you’re too old. But you’re not!” says Matt Berna, a president at Intrepid Travel, a world leader in global travel. “We discovered that the things that seemed initially the scariest turned out to be the most thrilling, the most exciting, the most enlivening. So go for it.”
We heard a slew of variations on the Nike JDI slogan when we spoke with travel industry experts about senior travel: Just do it!
In some ways, traveling can become easier with age. Seniors, often retired or semi-retired, have more flexibility. They can travel off-season when prices are lower and popular destinations are less busy. They can travel longer, as there’s no need to cram it into a one- or two-week vacation. And often, they have more money to spend on travel.
So, what are you waiting for? Here are three top companies, specializing in small-group travel. We talked to them about popular destinations in 2024, and their tips for traveling seniors.
This longstanding company offers some 1,150 tours, focusing on local culture, and led by local experts. Globally, 51 percent of their bookings in September 2023 were from the over-50 crowd, and they see their senior bookings trending up. The average group size is 10.
“Smaller groups provide the ideal balance of being able to travel independently, while also having ready-made travel companions to share the experience with,” says Berna. “We’ve found that it’s not only about the sights you see but the people you meet along the way, the friendships you make.”
The company is also seeing a rise in solo travel. “We’ve seen a shift within the travel industry where solo vacations are experiencing unprecedented growth, and it’s the senior set leading the charge,” says Berna. “Many seniors are not waiting around for friends and family and are choosing to go on their own.”
In North America, 75 percent of Intrepid solo travelers are women, and 64 percent are over age 50.
You can feel good about booking an Intrepid trip, too. Globally recognized for its commitment to ethical and sustainable travel, they became the world’s largest travel company to achieve B-Corp certification in 2018, given to businesses that meet certain social and environmental standards. Intrepid Travel is also the first tour operator with near-term science-based climate targets through the Science Based Targets Initiative, and its not-for-profit, The Intrepid Foundation, has raised more than $13 million for more than 135 partners.
Popular destinations for seniors in 2024: Africa, Australia, and Asia. US seniors traveling solo are heading to Southeast Asia, Central America, Turkey, India, and Nepal.
Here’s a tip: Consider more frequent, closer-to-home trips. “You might want to budget for several cheaper long weekend excursions versus one longer expensive vacation,” says Berna. Also check out their Best Tours for Seniors and 7 of the Best Destinations for Solo Travellers Over 50.
Overseas Adventure Travel
This company is part of the Grand Circle Corporation, established in 1958 to exclusively serve members of the American Association of Retired Persons. They’ve been dedicated to senior and solo travelers, specializing in small group trips, with no more than 16 people on land trips and 25 on their small boat cruises. Active Americans ages 50 and over are their primary market, but all its tours have an activity rating that ranks tours from one (easy) to five (strenuous) to help travelers find the right fit.
More than 65 “soft adventure” trips are offered on all continents, conducted by local English-speaking experts, and designed to showcase local culture and make connections with local people. For example, you might share a meal on a hosted visit with a local family or visit a local school.
OAT is a leader in solo travel; more than half of their customers are solo travelers, and they offer some of the best rates in the industry, with free or low-cost single supplements. In fact, 92 percent of their single spaces are available without an additional single supplement cost, and the remaining eight percent have some of the lowest single supplement costs in the industry.
Popular destinations for seniors in 2024: Egypt and the Nile, Sicily, Japan, Morocco, Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean fjords, and the Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe safari.
Here’s a tip: Learn a bit of the local language. “Making friends (and just getting around) will be much easier,” says Harriet Lewis, chair. “Even if you mangle every word, it’s a great icebreaker and most people will genuinely appreciate your effort.” Also, check out their 101+ Tips for Solo Women Travelers, which are applicable to all traveling seniors.
Love to learn? Road Scholar, a nonprofit organization, is arguably the world leader in educational travel for seniors. Founded as Elderhostel in 1975, the organization offers learning adventures, hosted by expert faculty, in nearly 100 countries abroad and throughout the United States. In 2024, the organization will offer 683 program itineraries.
Group size is small, an average of 21 people, encouraging social connections. “Every day, we hear how much our participants enjoy taking part in lively discussions and getting to know their fellow travelers,” says Matt Faucher, senior director of participant experience. “Countless Road Scholar participants have walked away with new lifelong friends, many of whom also become travel companions on future trips.”
Road Scholar offers programs for all levels of mobility. You can filter the thousands of programs they offer by activity level to find the right fit for you.
Between 25 to 30 percent of Road Scholar travelers are solo travelers, and 85 percent of those solos are women. “Solo travel is on the rise among seniors,” says Faucher. “Road Scholar offers ample opportunities for traveling solo, but with a group, which can be particularly valuable for seniors.” Faucher says, more than half of their solo travelers are married but travel without their spouse.
Most popular destinations for 2024: In North America, Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Georgia, lead the list. Popular international destinations include Italy, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, and Egypt.
Here’s a tip: “Be honest with yourself about your physical abilities and familiarize yourself with the physical demands of the destination you’re visiting,” says Faucher. “We remind our participants at various points before and after enrolling to familiarize themselves with the physical demands of their programs so that they can be sure it’s a good fit for them and they can prepare accordingly. It’s no fun for you or the group if you’re on a program that feels too difficult or not challenging enough.”
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org