Travel in Retirement: How It’s Different and Why It Matters
This blog accompanies Episode 13 of The Retirement Oasis Podcast. To listen to the podcast, you can visit your favorite podcast platform (Apple, Stitcher, Podbean, etc.) or go here:
Travel is usually the number one area of interest for recent retirees. Indeed, many people retire early just so that they can have more years to travel. So, we know it is an important topic for you. We will cover key travel considerations in retirement, beginning with why we travel in the first place. We will explore how travel is different in retirement, including who we travel with and what we do on our travels.
Vacation v. Travel: It is More Than Semantics
Before we go deeper into travel, I did want to take a side excursion to discuss the differences between vacation and travel. While the definition of vacation versus travel may be semantics for some people, they can indeed be different experiences. Vacation generally refers to getting away from something like work to relax and refresh. Travel, in contrast, may mean experiencing a different place or different people and it generally involves some element of adventure, however you define that. I like how one blogger stated it on onemileatatime.com: “Vacation is for reenergizing yourself…and melting away your stress and anxiety.” Now, I would consider a trip to Disney more of a vacation, but I do not know if stress was reduced – it can certainly re-energize. The blogger describes travel as “seeing the world, revving up your sense of adventure and putting your brain to work processing new experiences.”1 I like how an article on pursuitcollection.com described travel as a journey that is about transformation. The article stated that the idea of travel is “to step outside of your routine… The goal is to return home a smarter, healthier, and better person.”2 On wanderwisdom.com, the author described travel as “a kind of adventure that leaves you with a lasting sense of awe… It opens your eyes, you learn who you are, it will help you discover new skills, and (it) gives you perspective.”3
Some say travel is more prevalent in retirement while vacation is for those still working. I disagree as you can and should both vacation and travel in retirement, and you can even do both on one trip. From here on out, we will talk about traveling in the broader sense but perhaps lean towards talking about the more adventurous travel type. In retirement, taking trips can include a wide variety of types of travel so we don’t want to exclude either type. That does lead to what is the purpose of travel in retirement.
Why We Travel in Retirement
Before we decide whether we want to travel in retirement, I think it is important to explore why we travel in retirement. Too many people dismiss the concept of travel because their view of travel may be limited to their trips they made during their working years. At a minimum, travel in retirement can give you a break from life’s daily structure and refresh and reenergize you. At its best, travel can transform you. Traveling in retirement is important for several reasons.
One, it may get you out of your comfort zone. Getting out of familiar surroundings of home can keep you mentally sharp and requires you to continue to use your communication and social skills.
Along those same lines, travel can also be a part of your life-long learning experience. Learning is not done merely in a classroom setting. There is so much to learn from interacting with other people, especially if it is a vastly different culture.
Travel can expand your horizons, change you in various ways, and open you up to continual exploration. It makes you and your life more interesting. I have heard some say that travel in retirement is “more alive and more profound” because there is more of a sense of urgency.4
But, taking a trip can also be done to relax and rejuvenate. This is more like the concept of vacation. Just because you are retired does not mean you will not have responsibilities and certain stressors in your life. You may want to get away due to family stressors – for example, you may need a break from watching the grandkids. You may still be working in a semi-retired capacity or you may be heavily involved in volunteer activities. Taking a vacation can refresh your senses and help bring new energy to your projects when you get back home.
Of course, many of you may travel merely to see family. That’s a solid, practical reason to travel.
Many of you may travel to be connected with others and develop relationships. As our listeners know, we are big promoters of this idea that having strong relationships in retirement is a big part of fulfillment. Why not combine deepening relationships with travel in retirement?
How is Travel Different in Retirement Compared to Your Pre-retirement Years?
Before we delve into different ways to travel in retirement, it is important to set the context by establishing how travel is different in retirement.
First, you likely have more time to travel. Not only can you perhaps take more trips (if the finances are there), but you can take longer trips – and that has a profound impact on how you travel.
Second, you likely have more time flexibility on when you travel. This also can lead to different ways of traveling and lead to lower costs.
Third, you may no longer be able to rely on your company for a nice travel budget. Those expenses are now your sole responsibility so it is wise to budget appropriately.
Fourth, you may have a limited window to travel. As we age, our health will likely prevent or at least minimize the extent that we can travel. Of course, this varies widely amongst individuals. We probably know folks in their 90s that still like to travel and some that have stopped traveling before age 70 due to a sudden disability, but most say that our 60s and 70s provide a good traveling window. Many do indeed slowdown in their late 70s and early 80s.
Fifth, along those lines, we probably need to be a bit more cautious about health and security issues as we age. We may need to take more precautions around your meds and be careful about health insurance portability. For security, as we age, we may be more prone to thieves or the like so we just need to be cognizant about that.
We also likely have a wider group in which to travel. During our working years, it may have been limited to your spouse and children or with co-workers. It was probably difficult to tell your children you were going on a great trip without them. Now, you can! We will touch on this a bit more.
Travel in retirement can indeed be different because it is a unique season of life. Because of all of the reasons we stated, who we travel with, what we do during our travels, and how we travel could be different during retirement.
Your Traveling Companions in Retirement
Who will travel with during retirement can indeed be different. We are no longer perhaps just traveling with our kids who we might have tailored our traveling towards during those years.
Traveling with Family.
Traveling with family will still be important, but this requires being proactive and perhaps helping financially a bit. Of course, your adult children will likely not be able to travel as much as your travel schedule dictates, or they may not be able to travel during the times you want to travel. They will have their busy careers and families, and they may have more budget limitations. However, this does not mean you should discount the idea of traveling with them. In today’s age of more remote working, this should be more doable for many. It will require planning well ahead of time – perhaps a year or more in advance.
Do not expect them to offer the idea of traveling with you. While they may very well tell you that they cannot take certain trips, you might be surprised about how willing they will be to travel with you. It takes one person to ask, and that person is you. If you can fit it into your budget to help with certain travel expenses, then they would obviously be more likely to travel with you. We often hear from clients that they want to help their children during their lifetimes rather than leave them a chunk of money when their kids are age 65 or whatever.
Of course, they may indeed have limited time to travel, and they may want to spend that valuable vacation time with their spouse and their kids. After all, life is probably busy for them, and vacation may provide those rare moments where the family can be together. So, you will want to respect their space, and appreciate the fact that you can travel with others, as discussed below.
If your kids are indeed busy, considering going on a trip with only the grandchildren. Some people call these “skip generation” trips. Perhaps you pick one grandchild at a time or a few. This could have many advantages. The grandchildren may not otherwise have the chance to travel due to either lack of resources or their parents do not have the time to travel. It gives each generation the chance to bond and make memories together. One idea that I think would be neat is to involve different grandchildren that are cousins – perhaps you take two grandchildren that are close in age along with you – that has the added benefit of allowing them to bond, especially if they don’t live in the same city.
The memories for all family members in this situation can be significant. It is one thing to take a grandchild to the local museum or ballpark, but it’s another level to experience New York City, a working ranch, or Yellowstone with your grandchildren for the first time. (Of course, grandchildren always welcome a trip to Disney.)
Traveling with Siblings or Cousins.
In addition to traveling with your more immediate family, many retirees travel with family members they were once close with but perhaps distance and time kept them apart. Traveling in this manner gives them a chance to rekindle relationships and reinforce that family bind. With children and grandchildren often being busy, siblings and cousins tend to be in their retirement years when you are, of course, and that provides an ideal opportunity to travel with them. While you can travel to one of the other relative’s cities, you also can obviously travel to a location that is distant for both of you and meet there.
Again, this will not happen organically unless someone asks. As their tastes may vary a bit more than yours, it is important to either find mutual interests in traveling or be willing to give each other some space when traveling. You obviously do not need to be with each other 24/7, but the shared traveling experience can still be rich.
Traveling with friends.
Traveling with friends in retirement is a growing trend. Traveling with friends can give you a different perspective than traveling with family or merely with your significant other. They will bring their background, their experiences, and their passions to the trip – likely to be different than yours. There is value in that alone.
Just like traveling with siblings or cousins, you will want to have many of your travel goals align, including what you see and especially your budget. Be upfront with what your ideal situation looks like. If one couple wants to stay at a $80 hotel and one couple wants to stay at a $300+ hotel, then this might not work. Do not break your budget merely because you want to travel with a friend, and do not necessarily compromise your ideal trip over budget reasons.
Traveling with friends may also allow side trips that are more appealing to one group than others. Perhaps one set wants to visit the local museum and cafes, while the other wants to hunt for the Loch Ness Monster. Traveling with friends may provide that opportunity to share experiences while also providing the opportunity to do your own thing.
While you can certainly travel with family and friends, traveling solo – regardless of age or stage of life – can be immensely pleasurable. Traveling solo is growing in popularity as on recent study said that about 40% of those traveling internationally took a solo trip. Whether you are in a relationship or not, traveling solo can arguably provide better opportunity for growth. Traveling solo allows you more head space – more freedom to think about your place in the world; traveling in this manner arguably provides more of a journey of self-discovery. Even if you are retired, do you really have a lot of opportunities like this? Outside of the mental aspect, traveling solo provides a better opportunity for you to see the things you want to. You can be as selfish as you want. It may also force you to get out of your comfort zone a bit more. If you are the introverted type, perhaps you are stretched to be a bit more extroverted. If you are extroverted, having more time on your own may indeed be a challenge – but, it can be good for the soul at the same time.
Not being in a relationship at any point during retirement should not be an excuse not to travel. Going alone may provide the best growth and experiences that travel can offer. And, merely because you are traveling solo, does not necessarily mean you have to travel alone. You can join a group to travel with.
Planned Tours and Group Traveling.
Traveling with tour groups could indeed be a great option for either solo travelers or couples. One of the benefits is that you do not have to plan the logistics – it is relatively stress free in that regard. You don’t have to negotiate with your fellow travelers what you will do since it is planned in advance. Also, you may have a tour guide provide expert local knowledge and guidance to make it more enjoyable. Others join tour groups to meet other people – both singles and couples enjoy this aspect of it.
Planned group travel can be especially popular for travel to areas that you are not familiar with and that may seem more foreign. You might want to consider group travel for some international travel that may seem overbearing to organize on your own.
Traveling with new people in groups can also help provide social connections and social stimulation, all benefits of successful aging.
There is a plethora of tour groups available, whether it is some we mention later like Road Scholar, Smithsonian Journeys, and Elder Treks. There is a nice list put together by the folks at Travel and Leisure. There are even local travel groups you can join, and that could allow you to travel with folks that you may have more in common with. For example, here are some local group travel options for cities we serve: Nashville’s Fun Happenings Group, Atlanta’s various travel groups on MeetUp, Orlando’s travel groups on MeetUp, Tampa’s travel groups on MeetUP, Jacksonville, Huntsville, and Indianapolis.
Planned tours are not for everyone, of course. They generally run a tight schedule, and you will have less flexibility in your itinerary. It may be more expensive than traveling on your own but this is not necessarily the case. If you are not too social or if you always prefer your privacy, then tour groups may not be ideal.
What You do During Your Travels May be Different in Retirement
Your interests dominate. While you may need to compromise on what you do and see during your travels if you travel with others, traveling alone or as a couple will allow you to finally focus on what interests you. That Disney trip that wore you out – that can be a thing of the past. I have seen many people fail to focus on what interests them because they are caught up in the mode that their trips need to be of the same type they were as when they had a younger family. It’s your trip. You call the shots. Sometimes, it can be hard to narrow down what you truly want, but that visioning and planning exercise can be for a different podcast episode.
More time to live like a local and slow travel. Because you have the ability to take longer trips, you can do more of the “travel” that we spoke of earlier. The ability to do slow travel can create a totally different experience. You can get more immersed in the culture and live more like a local. Perhaps you can even make friends when you travel! Rather than taking a one-week trip where two of the days are transportation days with five days packed with activities to maximize your time on the trip, you may be able to take a more leisurely approach to retirement. That obviously requires more budgeting if you do take longer trips, but the experience can be vastly different.
Traveling to see family and friends. Of course, you may use your freedom in retirement to travel to see family and friends. As we have discussed in other episodes, having strong” relationships in retirement is critical for fulfillment. The relationships do not have to be with those that live nearby – thus, traveling to deepen those relationships can be an important part of your retirement. It may not only provide an opportunity to rekindle relationships or strengthen bonds, but it might also provide a way to see more of the U.S. or even the world. In some cases, it can even provide for discounts on travel – can you say “free lodging”? Of course, you need to understand your boundaries if you are staying at someone’s home, but if you are budget conscious and your hosts are more than willing to share space, then do not be shy about taking advantage of this opportunity. Just be willing to reciprocate when the time comes.
Travel and learning. On our podcast, we have often referenced the benefits of learning throughout retirement. Keeping the mind engaged does not only lead to a more interesting retirement, but keeping the mind active can help keep the brain muscle strong which can lead to a better health span in your later years. Why not combine learning as part of your travel?
This can involve learning about the places you are going to visit before you go, whether it is the area’s history, culture, or language. Speaking of language, if you really want to get immersed in the culture and engage your brain, learning a new language can be extremely fulfilling and rewarding. While there are many tools these days to allow you to communicate without learning another language (e.g., Google Translate, iTranslate Voice, TextGrabber), taking time to learn the language before you travel can be done. There’s no doubt it takes time to learn the language even at a basic level. Some estimates say it takes 600 – 750 hours to have a basic understanding of the language. The degree to which you want to learn the language will obviously dictate the time, but you will get out of it what you put into it. You obviously don’t need to do this for every country you visit, but perhaps you plan to visit multiple Spanish-speaking countries. Putting in the time to develop your Spanish-speaking skills may be worthwhile. (If you don’t want to learn the language, perhaps this is another reason to take a grandchild that may be immersed in learning an applicable language.)
In addition to learning the culture or language before you travel, you can focus on learning while you are traveling, of course. Whether it is immersing yourself informally in the culture by going to museums, speaking to the locals, or merely observing from the window of a café seat, you can learn on your own terms. You can also take formal classes while you are there – often, these are arranged by group tours that you can go on. Whether it is engaging Road Scholars, a travel program that boasts being able to provide “learning adventures”, or Smithsonian Journeys (that is said to “unlock knowledge and cultural awareness”) or others, there are many options available to go on organized trips with a learning element.
Travel and renewal. So, learning is one important area of fulfillment in retirement so we should definitely think about ways of combining this with travel – it is so natural. Another form of fulfillment in retirement that we have spoken of in our podcast is renewal – renewal of the mind, body, and spirit. Travel can provide a perfect opportunity to for such renewal. While you can certainly combine travel with an aspect of vacation where vacation is defined as more of a means to relax and rejuvenate, focusing on renewal is perhaps taking the concept of vacation to another level. Perhaps the sole purpose of the trip is to renew the soul. One type of travel focused on renewal is retreats.5 While there may be retreats available in your backyard, there may be epic retreats that are more distant. For example, some cool retreats could be found in Sedona (AZ), Lake Junaluska (NC), Sante Fe (NM), and countless others. Note that I have never been to those retreats that have been linked, but it gives you an idea of some options that are available. As an example of one type of retreat, you can find an interesting blog written by a retiree that stayed at a Trappist monastery for 5 days.
Combining travel and vacation. Speaking of complementing each other, combining travel with vacation is certainly doable and even suggested. Again, we are defining vacation as more of a mode of relaxing and relieving stress. You may find yourself a bit worn out if you do travel with intensity – taking a break from this is a good idea. You can take a mini-vacation within your travel schedule. Being able to look forward to the vacation aspect has many benefits, and similarly being able to look forward to getting back out to traveling has its own benefits. With increased time for travel and less of a need to worry about pleasing the kids (in most cases), you get to decide the right amount of travel and vacation for your needs.
Travel and volunteer. During our working years, we often don’t take the time to volunteer during our travels. Arguably and somewhat understandably, we are more focused on taking a vacation – we want to relax and rejuvenate. Or, if we do more of an adventurous travel, we don’t have the time to volunteer – we only have so many days of time off from work. But, in retirement, it’s different. We have more time to spend outside of our homes, and with that extra time many retirees are turning to combining travel and volunteer.
There are a variety of volunteer or work options to travel and see the world. If you scoured the internet, the options appear to be endless. The PeaceCorps may be one of the most popular programs to offer volunteer opportunities.
More specifically, there may be mission opportunities through your church or related organizations. As you know, you can go on short-term mission trips lasting a week to more-long term mission trips where you would sell your home and move to the foreign country.
More organizations abroad are looking for individuals that can teach English, especially in Europe and Central America. Not only may you get room and board covered, but you may also receive a small salary. Organizations to look into for this include PeaceCorps and International Volunteer HQ.6
But, volunteering does not have to be through a formal travel group. Perhaps you are called to go to a city to serve after a storm or you are called from reading about a particular issue in a community that needs volunteers. There’s something special about finding a cause that is well beyond our immediate surroundings and unselfishly serving total strangers.
And, just because you travel to do some volunteer work does not mean you cannot see the local sites or break out and do some adventurous travel. Combining the traditional concept of travel and volunteer travel can indeed be done on the same trip, and both approaches can complement the other.
Travel and work. Somewhat like travel and volunteering, many retirees are combining paid work with travel – they are looking for flexible work options. In previous episodes, we talked about all of the non-financial benefits that work can provide so many are choosing to work past a normal retirement age, but the desire to travel may also be significant.
Perhaps you are a digital nomad working for yourself, or you are semi-retired with the occasional need to go into the office but have several months off per year, or you have to travel as part of your job and you are able to combine some leisure travel with your business travel. There are many ways to get there.
You may go this route either because you are passionate about your work or you may need to work for some extra money. Regardless, in today’s mobile society with increasing use of technology, it is easier to travel and work in a semi-retirement mode. Perhaps you either can take several months off a year, your schedule may be flexible, or you can work remotely.
You may not even be retired yet. Perhaps your spouse is retired, you both want to travel, but you also want to keep working for a variety of reasons. Either your current position could allow you to travel or you find your next position that would allow you to travel while you work. Although your current position may not be conducive with current travel, there may be other positions at your company that would allow for combining travel and work. Sure, you may have to take a pay cut, and you want to make sure that fits into your overall financial plan. However, if you can work a few more years while still being able to cross off items on your travel bucket list, then that might be the right prescription.
Short trips. Taking frequent short trips – especially during the weak to save costs – may be more of an option in retirement. These can be especially beneficial because you don’t have the stress of air travel and you can be flexible on the time that you depart and return. It is amazing the number of attractions within driving distance that we can all likely still experience either for the first time or as repeat visitors. If you live in Atlanta, for example, traveling to Jekyll Island or Charleston may be exactly what the doctor ordered. If you live in Nashville, perhaps a road trip to see a football game in an SEC stadium coupled with a golf outing might be a perfect weekend for you.
As you can see, travel can be quite rewarding in retirement. While you don’t have to see the world to find fulfillment in retirement, being open to visit different communities and different cultures and being open to explore the world beyond your home can help you grow as a person and perhaps help you understand how you fit into the world a bit more. The flexibility in your retirement years to travel can provide you with rich experiences to learn, expand relationships, renew, and reach new horizons.
1https://onemileatatime.com/travel-vs-vacation/. Nick, April, 2016.
4https://medium.com/publishous/3-reasons-why-travel-is-more-important-in-retirement-bfc632dfe9c3. Jane Trombley. August 2, 2018.
5To quote Marcus Aurelius, “Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself; and let thy principles be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send thee back free from all discontent with the things to which thou returnest.” The Meditations, 167 A.C.
6For a list of countries needing assistance in this area and a list of considerations, see Ryan, pp. 225, 230.