How much do baby boomers love to travel? According to industry research, we spend $157 billion on trips every year and many polls rank travel as our No. 1 leisure activity.
Recently, the Preferred Hotel Group teamed up with Harrison Group, a marketing research firm, to learn more about boomers’ travel preferences. “This generation is passionate about travel and want to have fun, says Lindsey Ueberroth, hotel group president. “And for professionals that are not focusing on this, it will be their mistake.”
While it’s hard to make generalizations about 78 million individuals (especially this trailblazing demographic), pundits do point to certain trends among boomer travelers. To give you some inspiration for the 3.7 statistical trips you’ll take in the next year, here are seven of the hottest trends among our peers.
1. Ecotourism Green is the new black when it comes to vacations. The U.N. World Tourism Organization predicts there will be some 1.6 billion eco-inspired trips taken by 2020. But all operators are not created equal. It’s important to do your homework and find a company that works closely with local residents to benefit them. True ecotourism isn’t just zip-lining through the jungle. It helps the local economy and is sustainable. An important fringe benefit: Local residents come to appreciate the inherent value of their natural resources — rain forests, nature preserves, waterways, coral reefs — and realize that they must be protected and preserved.
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2. Adventure As boomers, we don’t think of ourselves as aging. Plenty of us are in as good shape as when we were in our 20s and some are in even better condition. We’ve always been up for a challenge. As a result, adventure travel — kayaking, cycling, hiking, scuba diving, skiing, mountain climbing — is enjoying popularity among the 50+ crowd. Vacation packagers are adding more categories every year specifically targeted to this generation.
Before you book such a trip, make sure you’re clear about the level of fitness required and what kind of emergency backup the company offers. Check with your health care practitioner to help you realistically assess whether the trip is appropriate for you.
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3. Medical Tourism This $40 billion-a-year-trend is mostly spurred by the high costs of medical procedures in the United States. Just compare these national averages: Heart bypass here, $144,000; in Israel, $27,500. Hip replacement here, $50,000; in India, $7,000. Colonoscopy here, $3,000; in Mexico, $800. Dental implants, $2,800 per tooth vs. $900 in Costa Rica; lasik eye surgery: $4,400 vs. $477 in Malaysia.
Care in the leading countries is usually as good as, if not superior to, what you’d get in the United States — and there is oversight. The nonprofit Joint Commission of the United States, which accredits American health care facilities, has an international division that accredits hospitals around the world; most Americans choose one of those 500 centers. Plan properly and you can combine your surgery with an exotic vacation!
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4. Multigenerational According to top travel companies, multigenerational family trips account for more than 10 percent of their entire business. Dan Austin, director of Austin-Lehman Adventures, says they’ve seen a tenfold increase in custom trips in recent years. “Groups range in size from as few as four to as many as 24 family members,” he says.
It takes some research and good planning to make sure everyone is comfortable and has fun. But do it right and you’ll have memories to share that will last a lifetime.
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5. Bucket List We’re at that age where we feel young — but are also realistic about that ticking clock. While some people have been smart/lucky enough to start checking items off their bucket list for years, many of us are only now getting the right combination of time and money to live out our dreams. For some it’s visiting an ancestor’s homeland; for others it’s exotic destinations, like the Galapagos, Tahiti, Patagonia, a tour of European capitals or, as it was for me, Machu Picchu. I finally got to take my long-awaited fantasy trip — and wrote about it in hopes of inspiring others to do something similar.
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6. Passions At midlife, people enjoy combining their passions with wish-list destinations. They might learn a new language before visiting a country where it’s spoken by natives, learn to cook in Italy, follow the chocolate trail through Europe or taste wine in California.
Douglas Grimes, president and founder of MIR Corp., which blends travel and the pursuit of passion, says most of his clients are over 55 — and there’s been a huge uptick in the number of clients over 70 in the past seven years. “Boomers have a drive for self-improvement,” he says. “They come from a work-centric era. The natural extension of this is, ‘How can I grow, learn more, expand my knowledge?’”
Your options are limited only by your imagination (and, well, your wallet).
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7. Spiritual While studies show that 90 percent of travel in this category is undertaken by Christians — to holy sites across the globe — there’s another type of nondenominational spiritual travel. Boomers flock to sites like Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, temples and yoga retreat centers (ashrams) in India, Central American Indian ruins, Australian Outback and “power vorteces,” like Point Lobos, Calif., and Sedona, Ariz.
Sometimes it’s not just where but how you travel that adds a spiritual dimension. You don’t have to climb the Himalayas to bring a deeper meaning to your trip. You can deliberately unplug from email and your phone, move slowly or stay in one place, engage in self-reflection or return to a place of profound natural beauty time and again. Seeing life, and ourselves, in new contexts and from different perspectives, is, after all, one of the abiding gifts of travel.