Everyone needs a break now and then, including Boomers. We need vacations from our jobs or our routine everyday existence even if youre retired or just no longer working. We need to get away every now and then, to reconnect with family and friends, to see and do something different and basically rejuvenate ourselves, otherwise, we run the risk of burning out.
Now you may be feeling like youre tapped out financially, burdened by credit card debt, student loans to still repay, or a slim to non-existent vacation or travel fund. Well, this column is dedicated to you because there are ways to travel without costing you a fortune and in some cases for free.
Cynthia Clampitt is a 58-year-old Illinois-based Boomer who does programs on Travel Savvy, has been to 37 countries on six continents, and is author of Waltzing Australia. Cynthia says, Even with the economy in tatters, there are travel options, from hugely discounted tours from operators who are hurting as badly as anyone else to discovering the delights near home.
Based on the extensive research I have been doing over the last two years for a book on travel as well as the additional research for this article and my own domestic and international trips over the years, here are 11 ways to travel more inexpensively whether its to the next town, country, or around the world:
1. Stay with relatives or friends.
Yes, it is nice to be able to stay in a 4-star hotel but if money is a challenge right now and you can at least pay for gas, or the plane ticket, swallow your pride and take your relatives or friends up on that longstanding offer, You can always stay with us when you visit. Offer to reciprocate when they visit you and bring a nice house gift such as a fruit basket or a bottle of wine so you dont feel too guilty about imposing.
2. Add time before or after a business trip as vacation time.
If you already have to travel for business, extend your trip before or after your work is done, of course picking up the extra nights in the hotel or other costs yourself. If you are attending a conference, see if the conference organizers have some pre- or post-conference travel itineraries to suggest or if other attendees want to join you in exploring together to share the transportation or touring costs.
3. Redeem your frequent flyer or reward points.
Instead of continuing to hold on to your unused points or miles, look into your various accounts and see if you can redeem those points or miles for a plane ticket or two. You may be pleasantly surprised to realize that you have enough for one or more airline tickets or even a few nights in a hotel. If youre missing the minimum number of points or miles for a reward, do the math if it makes sense to buy additional reward points or miles to get the free trip or accommodation.
4. If your job does not include travel, and you enjoy traveling, switch to one that does.
Thats what 62-year-old Rich Carlson did. He traded a job in the newsroom at a San Francisco affiliate station of a major network for a career as a travel journalist whose work is published on Examiner.com.
Pat Chiappa and her husband created a lifestyle in which they can work from home in virtual offices. Pat says they have the freedom to travel whenever wanderlust strikes. Her husbands a financial guru -- SpiritusFinancial-- and Pat is now the author of her first self-published book, A Couples Guide to Dream Big, Plan Well and Live Well (Spiritus Press). Says Pat, We can pick up our laptops and as long as we have a DSL connection, off we go.
5. If your parents can afford it, ask them to come along and to help defray the cost of the trip.
Eileen Ogintz, whose syndicated travel column is called Taking the Kids, says that each family works out a way of covering the intergenerational trip that is comfortable for them. In some cases, the grandparents may totally pay for everything, says Ogintz. In other cases, theyll pick up the cost of the house rental and some other stuff and the kids pay for their own flights.
If your parents are slow walkers or even if they are wheelchair bound or on a walker, it is still possible for them to travel with you. Just consider their physical challenges when you plan your destination. Check out the books on this topic by Candy Harrington who has been specializing for the last fifteen years in what is known as barrier-free traveling including her book, 101 Accessible Vacations (Demos Medical Publishing).
6. Save on lodging costs with home swap or home exchange or staying in a room rental in a private home.
There are simultaneous swaps where you have to swap with another house or apartment and also a non-simultaneous swap which offers more flexibility because only one party needs to swap. The Vacation Exchange is a membership program that started in 1997 and which is based on home swapping of vacation and second homes. Another option is staying in a private home which is usually less money than a hotel room. That is the option that California-based Pat Chiappa prefers when she visits her extended family back East. She discovered a homeowner willing to rent out a room for just $60 not far from Pats parents home.
7. Take a medical vacation.
Do your research about the cost benefits of having certain elective medical or dental procedures done in other countries. With the money you save by traveling internationally for your medical or dental care, you could pay for your trip and possibly even have some extra money in your pocket. For more on this topic, see Medical Vacations - A Good Idea? by Fred Yager.
8. Travel together.
There is a group of Boomers who get together and take road trips within the U.S. Midlife Road Trip Show was started by Rick Griffin and now it has more than 1,300 followers on Twitter.com as well as hundreds of fans on its Facebook.com page. Vicky Akins, 48, who has been a nurse (LPN) since 1985 but is not working now, is a member and their volunteer marketing director. Vicky says that the goal of the group is to get Boomers off their butt and realize their best lives are ahead of them. You can see pictures from the trips they have taken so far at their website.
Often you can save by traveling with a roommate, if you are single, rather than shouldering all the expenses on your own, or sharing the cost of a house with another couple or family instead of staying in hotel rooms.
9. Schedule wisely.
Whether traveling internationally or within the U.S., schedule your travel so its less expensive and check for discounts.
I often recommend city hotels on the weekend and bed and breakfasts during the week for people who can do that, says Deborah Sakach of American Historic Inns in San Juan Capistrano, California. They can truly save fifty percent. If possible, travel during the low tourist season and when it is not school breaks or summer vacation. There are some amazing out-of-season deals available like rooms at half-price and kids under 16 stay free.
Also check for discounts whether that means booking earlier, or at the last minute, using comparative shopping online travel sites for airline tickets, hotel rooms, or car rentals, like Kayak.com.
10. Explore all inclusive not-for-profit or commercial tour programs that do all the planning for you with keeping costs down as a priority.
Consider such well-regarded programs as Elderhostel, with the new name, Exploritas, that offers lower cost trips by affiliating with educational institutions for lodging rather than more luxurious expensive hotels, or volunteer programs which still cost money to participate in but some or most of the cost of the trip is reduced.
Some volunteers may even find a local company or service organization to sponsor you by picking up any charges as well as your airfare. Or you might consider having your trip put together by a travel agent or company that has a reputation for having access to discounted airfares, cruises, or package deals not easily found on your own such as Quench Trip Design, based in Toronto, Canada. As Mercedeh Sanati, owner of Quench, points out, The trends that were finding in this economy are that Boomers are willing to spend money on experiences, such as cooking classes in a farmhouse in Tuscany or elephant safaris in India, but theyre a bit less interested in spending loads of money on accommodation.
11. Take a "staycation"
Forty-nine-year-old stand-up comedian and actor Dan Nainan is on the road for his job 100 days a year for work; he flew 195,000 miles on Delta just last year. If your job also includes a lot of travel, staying home might actually be a welcome change for your vacation.
Yes, it is possible to have a vacation without leaving home but the key is to make sure that it still stimulates all your senses as you explore or rediscover places and even people within or near your community that you have not had the time for recently. Try out new restaurants; get together with old or new friends.
Barbara Gibson, who works with The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC), a mammal hospital, research, and education center that she describes as a real treasure, which is just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, notes, As a Boomer myself, Im staying closer to home with my travels and looking for under-the-radar local bargains to help me match my love of travel with my feeling of pending financial doom.
Even if you stay at home or close by for your vacation, make sure you break up your routine with fresh experiences especially if you are addicted to the Internet. As 60-year-old Boomer and author T.B. Fisher notes, The Internet isn't experiencing life; it's viewing life. We need to breathe, touch, and smell. He continues, It's too convenient to blame the economy for not venturing out. Boomers don't need to travel far to leave their sphere. Regardless of where you live, different cultures exist within your zip code, across the river, down the highway.
Whether near or far, prioritize travel by reminding yourself that it is good for your mind, body, and soul.
Sixty-three-year-old R. Kevin Price, author of The Successful Retirement Guide (Rainbow Books), discovered that three factors contribute to an optimum retirement: Staying intellectually, socially, and physically engaged. Travel is one way to accomplish all three engagements at once especially if you take the time before your trip to steep yourself in the culture and history of the places you will be visiting. That is the process that Price, who retired from his executive job in 2002, highly recommends and that he and his wife have applied to their trips over the last few years to Morocco, Antarctica, and their next trip in September to Italy.
Peace of mind insurance
A Boomer couple I know had purchased tickets on a cruise but the husband had to go into the hospital because of an irregular heart beat and they couldnt go. Fortunately had they bought travel insurance. (They were offered insurance from the company they bought the cruise tickets from but a cancelation would have only led to a credit. The independent insurance policy they purchased provided a full refund, which was definitely preferable.)
If you are going on a cruise, taking a plane, buying a packaged vacation, or having to prepay for hotel accommodations that will not be refundable, you may want to get travel insurance. But make sure you are very clear about what is and what is not going to be reimbursed by the insurance company if there is a medical emergency or an airline cancellation.
Finally, look into your health insurance policy and see if it covers you while you are traveling. If not, look into obtaining travel health insurance as well. A related service to consider is membership in MedjetAssist, a company that offers a discount to AARP members, and that will transport someone who is hospitalized for an injury or an illness more than 150 miles from their home to their hometown hospital or any hospital of their choice.
Whatever you decide about where or when you will travel, keep in mind that the vacation you take that you didnt think you could afford will be money well spent and a sound investment in a healthier and happier present and future.
- Tom Glaister, Taking Travel into your own Hands. Consumeraffairs.com, February 7, 2006.
- Eileen Ogintz, Taking the Kids: Multigenerational Trips Becoming More Far-Flung. Tribune Media Services, Pulse, April 4, 2010
Resources for Volunteer or Educational Travel Experiences
- Ecology Project International (EPI) Educational non-profit organization based in Missoula, Montana with travel programs in Costa Rica, Baja, Galapagos, and Montana for high school students with 10-14 adults joining in as well.
- Global Volunteers Trips last for one to three weeks with fees ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 to cover housing, food, and related costs.
- VolunTourism Provides information on this travel option.
- Sierra Club Six or seven day trips, known as service trips, throughout the U.S. are offered at a cost of $300 to $1,000 for meals, lodging, and program assistance. Offers around 90 trips each year.
- Boomers Abroad An online community and social networking site for the estimated 7 million Americans and Canadian living abroad, according to this site.
- My Itchy Travel Feet (myitchytravelfeet.com) Site about Boomer travel developed and maintained by Boomer Donna Hull.
- Snabbo.com Free membership social networking site for Baby Boomers with discussion groups on a wide range of topics.
- WatchBoom Site covering Boomer travel, finance, and health, affiliated with Expedia/hotels.com
11 Travel Tips For Boomers...