If you thought gap years were the preserve of the young and carefree, think again. It’s not only university students who jet off on faraway adventures – over 50s are also becoming increasingly intrepid travellers. Forget fusty stereotypes of ‘staycations’ and all-inclusive cruises: travel’s new generation of adventurers are waking up to the benefits of extended trips, solo travel and taking the road less travelled to far-flung destinations.
There’s been a huge shift in how people plan and think about retirement in recent years with older generations preferring adventure to relaxing at home. Research conducted by YouGov and the National Employment Savings Trust showed that exploring the world is now the nation’s top priority when it comes to planning for retirement.
And for solo travellers, it’s never been easier to head off on an adventure. Titan Travel, for instance, has responded to the trend by doubling the number of dedicated solo departures for 2019, adding long-haul destinations such as China, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and Vietnam to its books, while other operators such as Journey Latin America have scrapped single supplements.
Travel blogger Kathryn Burrington, who first travelled solo well into her forties, finds going it alone to be liberating. “I get a real buzz out of being alone in a new city,” she says. “It surprised me just how much I enjoyed solo travel and how much it boosted my confidence.”
According to Kathryn, being an older traveller also has its perks, too. “Being that bit older gives you more confidence and I’ve found I’m less worried about making a fool of myself. When I was younger you would never have found me joining in a tribal dance in West Africa, for example. Now just try and stop me! If you’re worried about taking an extended break in your older years, don’t put it off for too long — embrace every experience.”
When it comes to funding their trips, this generation is getting financially creative: for example, some over 50s let their homes in order to travel around the world for several months. Geoff Bates, head of brand and communications at leading retirement homebuilder McCarthy & Stone, has noticed another trend. He says: “We see many over 60s selling their often large homes and buying retirement apartments because of the great lock-up-and-leave lifestyle this affords them.
“A lot of retirees tell us that they feel much younger than they are. Their priorities are often very different from retirees in the past — they consider living life to the full more important than leaving behind an inheritance and want to embrace new experiences and places as much as possible. We have a number of homeowners who jet off to different destinations all the time; others who go cruising frequently and some who visit family in Australia or New Zealand a few times a year.”
Others are taking the chance to pocket a tax-free 25% lump sum from their retirement funds once they’ve stopped working to fund their trip or investing their money through ISAs or simple investment accounts, making their money travel further. In short, many of today’s older generation aren’t prepared to just sit at home – they’re proving it’s possible to juggle investments and have fun abroad, taking advantage of comprehensive travel insurance deals. And as many are finding out, travelling alone at an older age is less daunting than it sounds.
Blogger Heather Cowper, who writes about travel experiences for the over 40s on heatheronhertravels.com, says: “I think that many people, especially women, are put off extended travel because they have no one to go with, but it shouldn’t be a barrier as there are so many opportunities to connect with locals or other travellers on the road. If you can make it work financially and personally, I’d seize the chance to travel and see where it leads you.”
For cautious travellers, she recommends finding a travel style that feels safe. “Perhaps you can go and visit friends who live in another part of the world or join a group tour or organise a trip where you’re joined by different friends and family at different times.”
Heather believes those who try travelling solo won’t look back. “I actually find it quite liberating not having to worry about what someone else wants to do — you can follow your own path and interests.”
But how do you gain the confidence to take that initial leap? Travel blogger Zoe Dawes recommends careful research and planning. “As long as you plan ahead, have contingency plans in place and an open heart, you’ll have a great time. Every time I’ve escaped everyday life for a long or short break I’ve had a ball, and the older I get, the more fun I have.”
She adds: “When I travel solo I often meet up with other travellers. However, if I’m totally honest, I prefer meeting up with locals. It helps with getting to know a place more intimately, slowing down, and having time to sit and absorb the atmosphere of an area before choosing where and when to move on.”
So what’s her advice for first-time solo travellers who are older and want to be a bit bolder? “Just do it. We usually regret the things we didn’t do and if you have a dream, follow it — you won’t regret it.”
Ready to set off on that adventure you always dreamed of? Read advice from some of the UK’s best travel bloggers for insider tips on how to fund your travel, travel solo and protect your health while away.
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