Not Your Grandma’s Road Trip: Westchester’s Seniors Are Traveling More And More
County companies are making it easier than ever.
Lately, trying to get my longtime, tightknit bunch of 50-something friends together for a birthday dinner has become like Where’s Waldo? Westchester-style. “Heading off for a mission to Cuba,” emails one. “Still in Israel. Have fun,” says another. And recently, from me: “Am in Panama, sorry.” At any given time, Westchester’s seniors—I personally prefer “seasoned travelers”—are on photo safari in South Africa, rocking out at Graceland, or hiking to Machu Picchu.
The size of the senior travel market is estimated to be close to 4.5 million strong, according to MyTravelResearch.com, a website specializing in travel industry market research. Included in this group are Baby Boomers (like my pals), who will be between 50 and 68 this year. “Today’s mature travelers are older, healthier, and probably wealthier and more educated than their predecessors,” notes Rye’s Susan Yubas, an eldercare specialist and founder of FYI Senior Living Solutions. “Travelers in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and even older are not as interested in completely leisurely travel as you might think,” she adds. “They would like their vacations to be well planned and have variety—some adventure, some culture, some structured tours, some downtime.”
Sure, you can put together a trip on your own. But why not leave the hassles of planning to an expert and take advantage of both the economies of scale and opportunities to meet new friends? Whatever your style—whether you want a sunrise spin class followed by kayaking, or time to shop, hit the spa, and, yes, nap—hey, it is a vacay—there’s a senior-specialized tour operator for that.
We’ve put together a sampling of the most “seasoned” available—all test-driven by real Westchesterites. All welcome both solo travelers and groups, clearly describe the activity or mobility level required, and use local guides and experts on-site. And, not to worry—there's nary an "If it's Tueday this must be Mumbar" one in the bunch.
It’s All in the Family: The Upper Class
This Mamaroneck company offers a great way to try out organized group travel with day, overnight, and multi-night bus-tour options. Founded by the Lawer family in 2002, it was inspired by its matriarch, Grandma Florence. When Florence was widowed in her late 70s, her family encouraged her to move from Long Island to Westchester to be closer to them. “She left behind an active social life and found it hard to find new friends and recreational activities here,” says Brooke Lawer, the company’s “Granddaughter in Charge of Marketing.” Thus the business was born.
Florence selected the company’s name, says Lawer, because it “not only describes the age seniors have reached in their lives, but also the service that they deserve.” Welcome receptions, a tour director who makes personalized introductions for solo travelers (“Oh, you’re from Brooklyn? So is Bernice!”), and thoughtful planning—like providing comfortable folding chairs for battlefield re-enactments—will make you feel like a member of Florence’s family, too.
The company started with two trips a year and it’s now up to 200 annually; premium buses offer reclining seats and onboard WiFi, movies, and a restroom, and all departures are from Westchester. Those needing mobility devices and even small portable oxygen tanks are happily accommodated as long as the guest is able to navigate the bus stairs and go down the aisle on his or her own. The focus is on the East Coast, but trips go as far as Chicago and Branson, Missouri. Day trips average about $99; three- to six-day trips, $300 to $600; and nine- to 12-day excursions, $700 to $1,200.
Marie Elena Spruck and Stephen Spruck, a retired couple in their late 60s from Yonkers, have gone on about 50 day trips and 25 overnights with the group. They call Tennessee a standout. “I don’t like to drive anymore, so it was great being able to see all the Elvis memorabilia, Graceland, and Nashville,” says Stephen. “And we stayed in a beautiful round hotel with gorgeous views of the Smoky Mountains from every room,” Marie adds.
By Caarl Studna
The Professor Emeritus of Education Travel: Road Scholar
This not-for-profit leader in lifelong learning, founded in 1975 and formerly known as Elderhostel, has scrapped the hostels and bare-bones accommodations for more modern hotels. “But there’s still a learning component in every program, whether you are skiing or surfing,” says Stacie Fasola, associate vice president of public and media relations. Based in Boston, it features 5,500 “educational adventures” in every state, 150 countries, and afloat, as well as multi-generational family, grandparent-and-child, and custom charter groups.
The organization offers programs with higher activity levels, which the Boomers prefer over traditional classroom models, because, says Fasola, “Boomers are more fit, active, and health-conscious.” Also popular: increasingly exotic locales, since “seniors are better and more widely traveled than ever, having gotten their passports earlier and often studied abroad.” Offerings run from a five-day excursion in Michigan for $600, to 14 nights in Antarctica at $7,100—and even include a 51-day World Academy for $14,795 (pricing does not include airfare). People with physical limitations are warmly accommodated and counseled beforehand to ensure a good program match.
Carole Bergen of Irvington, a divorcée and retired college professor in her late 60s, loved her visits to Ventura, California, and San Antonio, Texas. But her highlight was a trip that included excursions to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park. “We had wonderful lectures from geologists, environmentalists, and park rangers where we could appreciate the beauty of what we were seeing and understand some of the earth science,” she recalls. “And because we stayed in national park lodges, every morning we woke up to the park.”
The Grand Tour Gets a Facelift: Grand Circle Travel
Also Boston-based, this 56-year-old company got its start providing trips to Europe for retired teachers through AARP. Today it’s open to all, offering mostly international adventures by land, sea, and river cruise to 80 different countries. “We are known for taking people off buses and boats and into homes, schools, and communities for face-to-face cultural interactions with villagers, artists, and musicians,” says Priscilla O’Reilly, the company’s vice president of public relations.
The company offers 85 trips annually across three brands: Grand Circle Travel (18 escorted land tours of everything from the Great Wall of China to the Canadian Rockies for up to 40 people); Grand Circle Cruise Line (international river boat cruises and tours, as well as small ship vacations); and Overseas Adventure Travel, or OAT (41 up-close encounters off the beaten path like Botswana, Vietnam, and Indonesia for small groups of active, experienced travelers). The fastest growing of the three, OAT, offers a very popular 15-day Galápagos Islands tour, which starts at $4,759.
“Europe is hot for the boomer market,” notes O’Reilly. “Boomers who had gone there during college, backpacking on a Europass, now want to see it in a different way.” A much-in-demand 15-day excursion on the Rhine, Main, and Danube rivers through Austria, Germany, and Amsterdam starts at $2,195. Armonk’s Don Jacobson, an 85-year-old retired financial analyst, calls his experience cruising down the Danube to see Prague, Budapest, and Vienna quite special. “They know how to treat seniors very well,” says Jacobson. “Everything is well considered—they care.”
While OAT offers custom excursions, the company does not offer organized multi-generational trips, though children 13 and older may accompany travelers. Many adults give trips as presents to their parents, and they all travel together.
Don’t Pack the Geritol: ElderTreks
Think exotic, off the beaten track, and active—this Toronto company calls itself the world’s first adventure travel company exclusively for people 50 and over. With 100 tours a year for groups of 16 or fewer, its trips are the antithesis of drive-by, big-group touring. “Our programs enable adventurous older travelers to explore the world the way they want to,” says Jane Canapini, manager of Marketing and Communications, “and not on a big bus with hordes of other people.” Participants include “those who want to keep doing what they’ve always done and those who finally have the time to do what they always wanted to,” she adds.
Land and see adventures are offered in more than 100 countries on all seven continents and include African safaris, hiking in the Andes, expeditions to Antarctica and the Arctic (the latter onboard an icebreaker), and cultural journeys to India. Activities range from the physically demanding—trekking, rafting, and snorkeling—to those less so, like photography, cultural immersion, and historical studies. Prices range from $3,000 to $45,000, including a very popular trip to Papua, New Guinea, that starts at $13,000. Trips are on the longer side—many are 20 days—because, explains Canapini, “if you’re going a long distance to get to some place like Southeast Asia, you’ll want to spend more time there.”
Scarsdale resident Kathy Sparrow, 71, a retired teacher, was recently widowed when she started going on ElderTrek trips with a girlfriend in 1998. When her friend couldn’t make a trip to New Guinea in 2008, Sparrow went solo, and came home with a souvenir no money could buy—she met retired anthropologist Robert Morey, 76. The two married in 2012 and continue to travel with ElderTrek, most recently to Tunisia.