Many retirees look forward to finally scratching that itch for travel without pesky limitations such as work or school schedules or limited vacation days. But retirees may have special travel requirements, especially if they’re not as mobile as they once were or are seeing the world on a fixed income.
Pauline Frommer, editorial director of travel site Frommer’s, is not herself retired, but she knows what older people look for when traveling. Her father, the legendary Arthur Frommer, wrote his first travel guide while serving in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Korean War and is perhaps still most famous for his book “Europe on 5 Dollars a Day.”
Europe costs a lot more than $5 a day now. But Pauline Frommer shares with Money Talks News her destination ideas for the retired traveler, from domestic to international options. And she has a little advice too.
“Be careful with traditional senior discounts,” Frommer warns. Advertised senior deals aren’t always the best, so check out AAA discounts, sales or other options before jumping on a senior deal.
Frommer also encourages retired travelers to take advantage of that non-working time and plan in advance, as pricing has gone up and many destinations, including national parks, are now requiring reservations.
Here are Pauline Frommer’s top picks for retiree travel.
Vietnam “may be for the more adventurous (traveler),” Frommer notes, but she praises its fascinating landmarks, delicious food and fairly affordable prices. She also says that more U.S. airlines are now offering direct flights there. And for retirees, who may have complicated memories of the Vietnam War, historic sites may be of special interest.
“Being of the generation who knows that history, (retired travelers) can see how far (Vietnam) has come,” she says.
It’s not uncommon for travelers to meet a Vietnamese war veteran and have a thoughtful discussion with them about days past, Frommer says.
2. European river cruises
Does a “Love Boat”-style cruise sound too wild and crazy? European river cruises aren’t like that, Frommer says, pointing out that her father enjoyed one when he was 83.
“The food is gourmet; wine and beer are included; there’s no party atmosphere,” Frommer raves. And you can begin your cruise at one of numerous points in Europe — Frommer specifically likes cruises on the Danube River — and once on board, you’ll see many sights without having to unpack multiple times.
The French, Frommer says, “don’t seem to think life ends when you’re older.” She believes older travelers in that European country aren’t treated like second-class citizens, as they may be in other countries.
She also praises the country’s “wonderful” trains and other public transport options, which can be a plus for older travelers. And the euro is almost on a par with the American dollar at the moment, so Frommer says, “there’s never been a better time to go to Europe.”
For retirees who didn’t retire from their love of the outdoors, Frommer recommends Iceland. Its natural wonders are easily accessible, she says.
“You can just drive and see a spectacular waterfall or geyser,” she notes. “(These trips) do not require long hikes.”
5. Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca citadel in southern Peru, is “a bucket-list destination” for many people, according to Frommer. It’s an adventurous trip but worth it, she says.
And retirees shouldn’t rule it out. “You can reach (Machu Picchu) by train if you’re not up to hiking the Inca Trail,” she says. Peru as a whole is fairly affordable, and the food is delicious, she notes.
6. The Canadian Rockies
Americans don’t need to cross the ocean to get to the beautiful Canadian Rockies (unless you live in Hawaii). Frommer suggests traveling there by train if you can. Travel on the Rocky Mountaineer with upgraded Gold Leaf service, and you can marvel at the scenery from a two-story glass-domed car.
“(The train) gets you to hard-to-get-to glacial lakes so turquoise you’d swear they were Photoshopped,” she says. “It’s incredibly beautiful.”
7. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Want to stay in the U.S.? Frommer recommends scenic Santa Fe, New Mexico, raving about its walkable downtown, art galleries, shopping opportunities and creative food scene.
And being retired doesn’t mean you need to stop learning. Frommer says her father enjoyed taking a summer class at St. John’s, a Santa Fe liberal arts college. “There are no tests,” she adds. “You learn with an actual professor … and have your afternoons off to explore.”
8. America’s national parks
How many of America’s national parks have you seen? Retirement is the time to catch up on the ones you’ve only read about, Frommer suggests. And for just $80, Americans age 62 and older can purchase a Senior Lifetime Pass to all the national parks. Since admission to just one park can cost $30 without a pass, visiting only three parks makes the $80 price worthwhile.
“Go in the off-season if you can,” Frommer says. “It’s very affordable.” She notes that many seniors rent an RV for a national park trip and suggests travelers look into peer-to-peer RV rental services, such as Outdoorsy.
9. St. Augustine, Florida
Retirees and Florida go together like cookies and milk. Frommer recommends a visit to historic St. Augustine, which is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in what is now the contiguous United States.
History buffs can hop on and hop off the sightseeing trolleys, marveling at such 17th-century buildings as the Castillo de San Marcos. And sure, while you’re there, take a look for the legendary Fountain of Youth, a mythical spring that’s part of Florida legend.
10. Northern Michigan
Northern Michigan might not seem as glamorous a travel destination as some others, but Frommer promises retirees will find much to love. She praises the winery scene and strong arts community. Take in a concert at the Interlochen Center for the Arts or a movie at the Traverse City Film Festival (co-founded by filmmaker Michael Moore).
And don’t miss Mackinac Island, the popular resort area covered mostly by Mackinac Island State Park, where almost all motor vehicles are banned.
“It’s really like a trip into the past,” Frommer says.
11. New Orleans
Many older travelers still enjoy nightlife, and Frommer loves how New Orleans features live music and dancing for all ages. On a recent visit, she says, she saw “people from age 22 to 82 cutting a rug.” New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, of course, but travelers will also find R&B, zydeco, soul, gospel and other genres filling the city’s clubs and restaurants.
New Orleans’ cuisine is justifiably world-famous, tours abound and there are plenty of museums to visit. The National World War II Museum may be of special interest to older travelers, and its BB’s Stage Door Canteen offers 1940s-style live entertainment and dancing.
12. South Africa
Africa is an enormous continent, and thinking of visiting there can be overwhelming. Frommer recommends South Africa for numerous reasons.
You can certainly photograph elephants and other breathtaking animals on a safari tour. But Frommer also praises the country’s up-to-the-minute tourist infrastructure, with plenty of tours, concierge services and more. And there are numerous places to honor and remember the life of legendary anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela, who served as the country’s first president after spending 27 years in prison.
Looking for a relaxing Caribbean beach vacation but unsure where to go? Frommer recommends scenic Barbados, the easternmost of the Caribbean Islands. There, the government subsidizes education for all citizens, leading to an educated populace who offer great conversations and high-level service, she says.
The beaches of Barbados are gorgeous, Frommer notes, and the country is a favorite with horse lovers. The historic Garrison Savannah is the most important horse race track in the Caribbean and hosts the annual Barbados Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing series. And every morning, grooms walk dozens of horses from the track down to the sea to bathe in the therapeutic salt waters, and tourists are allowed to watch, photograph and pet the horses.
Like Vietnam, mentioned earlier, many Japanese people are raised to revere their elders, and older tourists, too, are seen as honored guests, Frommer says. Traveling around the country is easy thanks to an impressive rail network, which includes speedy bullet trains and themed trains such as those devoted to Hello Kitty and Pokemon.
“(Japan’s trains are) so modern and fast,” Frommer says.
Japan may have a reputation for being expensive, but according to Frommer, now is the time to go.
“The yen is weaker now against the U.S. dollar than it’s been in a long time,” she notes.
No one wants to get sick on a trip, but it’s a risk of which all travelers, including retirees, should be aware.
“Heaven forbid anything goes wrong, but if it does, Germany has the best health care system in the world,” Frommer says.
She also praises Germany as a welcoming country, rich with history and museums. Retired travelers who grew up learning about a Germany divided in two may want to seek out the Berlin Wall Memorial, which commemorates the divisive wall’s history and memorializes those who died trying to cross it.
Kentucky is getting ready to mark a special event: The 150th annual Kentucky Derby will be run in May 2024. Frommer notes that love for the Derby crosses age barriers, as the parties celebrating it are multi-generational and offer something for everyone.
Kentucky, Frommer says, has been dubbed the “southern Napa Valley,” but instead of touring wineries and vineyards, travelers can tour bourbon distilleries — complete with samples. And she highlights the state’s museums, including Louisville’s Muhammad Ali Center and its Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.
17. New Zealand
One of the biggest problems with vacation is that many travelers simply can’t take as much time off from work as they really need to fully explore a destination. That’s not a problem for retirees, so Frommer recommends they consider New Zealand, which she says rewards slow and thorough exploration. Its natural wonders include geothermal sites and gorgeous mountain ranges, and travelers can spend a lot of time exploring its wineries and vineyards.
Adventurous retirees may want to get their thrill on in the city of Auckland, where organized commercial bungee jumping began back in 1986.
Stunning Alaska is easier to traverse than you may think. Alaska cruises are, of course, popular. Also, consider the Alaska Railroad’s flagship Denali Star Train, Frommer says, which departs Anchorage every summer morning for the 356-mile, 12-hour journey to Fairbanks, with stops in Wasilla, Talkeetna and Denali National Park.
Alaska’s tourist season has traditionally been famously short due to its long, rugged winters. But Frommer points out that one sad truth of climate change is that the season is getting longer, with tourist attractions now staying open past the traditional tourism months. Retirees likely have more flexibility and can choose to visit in the shoulder season of April or October, which will save them some money.
Pasta, gelato, museums, history — who can pass up Italy? Frommer points out that a large percentage of the Italian population is over 60, and that the country “cherishes older folks.” She also lauds Italy’s incredible food, warmth and hospitality.
Rome, of course, is a favorite, but a simple train ride takes travelers to numerous other delightful destinations. Don’t miss Venice, with its famed canals. Its gondolas are slow and relaxing, and speedier boats take you to such islands as Murano, known for its spectacular glass art and jewelry, and Burano, famous for lacework.
20. Washington, D.C.
America’s own capital city is a bucket-list destination for many U.S. citizens. The monuments that are so well-known from history books are close together and accessible. The Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and Smithsonian museums are among the best-known attractions. Arlington National Cemetery makes for a solemn and meaningful must-see and includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, marked with an eternal flame.
And because so many of the museums in the District of Columbia are federal institutions, Frommer points out, admission is free. That includes the National Gallery of Art, the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Smithsonian Institution’s 17 museums, galleries and a zoo.