When south Charlotte resident Pat McCourt told her boss she was giving notice and taking early retirement, he was dumbfounded and struggled to understand why she’d want to give up her position.
“I simply told him I wanted to travel more,” said McCourt, who takes two to three overseas river cruises annually to destinations such as Vietnam, Norway and South America’s Amazon. “I love exploring, and at this point in my life and want to be able to take longer trips and go more often.”
Travel for seniors can be exciting and filled with the promise of natural wonders, cultural discovery, varied cuisine, newly formed friendships and learning opportunities at every turn. But what’s the best way to plan the next great getaway?
The options are as varied as a globe full of exotic locales.
Solo D-I-Y or organized group touring?
Do-it-yourself travel involves more research yet offers the advantage of flexibility in site-seeing, meal choices and pace of travel. DIY-ers are well advised to consider the big three – transportation, accommodations and meals – when planning.
Accommodations can approach 50 percent of your total vacation costs with location, convenience and amenities representing the biggest variables. Daily and weekly rental options such as Airbnb (https://www.airbnb.com/) and Home Away (https://www.homeaway.com/) are attractive alternatives to hotels for independent travelers looking for more space for less money.
Savvy travelers looking to save on meals take advantage of hotel buffet breakfasts, enjoy a late lunch and have a light dinner to save costs.
Organized group tours deliver well scripted itineraries, often with all-inclusive pricing, dedicated guides, vetted accommodations, restaurants, built-in companionship and one-stop planning.
Road Scholar (https://www.roadscholar.org/) is an innovator in educational experiential group travel for the over-50 set. Its programs are rated for physical activity and include meals, accommodations, tours transfers and 24/7 emergency medical evacuation insurance included.
“Road Scholar (previously known as Elder Hostel) created the concept of travel-based learning for older adults in 1975,” says James Moses, Road Scholar president and CEO. “We’ve become a University of the World, offering 5000 learning adventures across the U.S. and in 150 countries.”
Regardless of how you go – pack light. It’s OK to mix, match and re-wear outfits. Travel guru Rick Steves advocates taking one suitcase only, regardless of trip length. His packing tips include bringing layers instead of heavy coats, travel-size toiletries, and packing cubes to organize clothes. (https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/packing-light/packing-smart).
Local day trips and regional travel
Looking for local day-trips and regional travel experiences?
Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte, a community based organization connecting learning programs and services in support of older adults, offers regular Charlotte-based travel programs.
“We offer three types of trips,” says Margery Lindh, Shepherd’s Center director of office operations, volunteer and travel coordinator. “Our overnight trips are two to three days to places like Wilmington, Black Mountain, Pigeon Forge and Savannah and run from $300 to $500.” Lindh noted the typical group size is 25 to 40 and travel is on a comfortable motor coach.
Lindh said the center also offers full day trips, about one per month, for less than $100, and shorter half-day excursions priced at $20.
For Pat McCourt, it’s the thrill of discovery and connecting with others that makes travel so enjoyable. “I always discover new things and make new friends,” she said, “I’m delighted with the variety of all the things to see and experience on my travels.”
Michael J. Solender is a Charlotte-based freelance writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Southern Living, Minnesota Magazine and others. Find him at: http://michaeljwrites.com.
Great 1st time places to visit
Five first-time travel experiences to consider, whether in the car, across the country, or on the other side of the ocean.
An easy DIY weekend road-trip from Charlotte, Hendersonville is in the cradle of the Blue Ridge, often passed over by tourists on their way to Asheville. Downtown Hendersonville is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and home to several sites on the local Heritage Trail. Hike in the nearby Pisgah National Forest and return for a hard cider at Flat Rock Cider Works on Main Street to chat with the locals. http://www.visithendersonvillenc.org/.
2. Whisky Prison Tour - Southern Grace Distillery, Harrisburg, NC
This “On the Go” half-day program is offered by Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte on Thursday, October 26. Originally a prison, the building has been repurposed as a distillery. Tour includes whisky sampling, shopping and lunch at 50’s-style diner. Tour meets at SCC at 10 a.m. returns about 3 p.m. $20.00. http://shepherdscharlotte.org/travel/.
Music City is a great DIY travel destination with Visit Music City’s online visitor’s guide http://www.visitmusiccity.com/vgonline a great resource to start planning with. The Grand Ole Opry, The Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum are among the most popular attractions here. Take in a set at the famed Bluebird Cafe and check out the outstanding food scene – especially in East Nashville, where Walk Eat Nashville will host you on a food tour to remember.
4. Crime Scene Investigator with your Grandchild, Buena Park, California
This 6-day inter-generational Road Scholar program goes behind the scenes with real-life forensic investigators and is a fun learning experience for seniors and grandchildren alike. “Road Scholar’s inter-generational programs are among our fastest growing and most successful experiences,” says Moses. “A grandparent and grandchild going off and learning together is an incredible bonding experience.” https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure/15942/becoming-a-crime-scene-investigator-with-your-grandchild.
5. Rhine Getaway : an 8-day river cruise highlighting culinary, cultural and historic sites in Germany, The Netherlands, France and Switzerland along the legendary Rhine River.
“River cruises are a popular option with seniors. “Do plan ahead,” says B.G. Metzler, Charlotte travel consultant with Cruiseandtravelexperts.com, “Many river cruises are booked up to a year in advance.” Viking River Cruises. https://www.vikingrivercruises.com/cruise-destinations/europe/rhine-getaway/2018-amsterdam-basel/index.html.