As 55+ travelers, Chuck and I aren’t the hostel, backpacking type anymore.
Don’t get us wrong; we love following other travel bloggers, the under 30 crowd as they backpack, and ride motorbikes across the world.
Old But Not That Old
What’s funny to me is when you start to search Senior Travel or 55+ Travel, the tips and suggestions that come up sound like these travelers have one foot in the grave.
Comments about booking direct flights, so they don’t get confused in strange airports or have to wait too long between connecting flights, making sure that someone is there to escort them to the gate and handle their wheelchair and oxygen.
I TOTALLY get that some older people have difficulties and need a little extra assistance. But, there is a HUGE segment of 55+ travelers who are still very active and adventurous but now want a bit more comfort.
Aches and Pains
Trust me, Chuck has had back surgery, and my knees aren’t what they used to be after years working on my feet 20 hours a day.
But, we climbed the Great Wall of China, did some pretty intensive off-road explorations in Kenya, and are heading to Machu Picchu late next year.
For me climbing the Great Wall was more about the experience and less about getting to the top. Chuck, on the other hand, climbed to the top!
With age, it’s become more about enjoying the journey and connecting with people through their food, art, and traditions.
Solo vs. Group
A half dozen or so years ago, we had ongoing conversations about solo travel vs. booking a tour group. Having seen large tour groups from oversees exploring our City of Brotherly love and teenage groups taking over Walt Disney World on our trips there, we were unsure.
Senior tour groups, especially those we saw on cruises, left us feeling like we would be the young pups wishing that bingo and trivia were over.
On Our Own
Around that time, we had booked a trip to Amsterdam. Chuck found a property with multiple rental units in it, close to the Amsterdam Centraal Station and quaint local neighborhoods.
We booked a local food tour, explored on our own, booked tickets in advance for the Anne Frank House, shopped at local markets, cooked, found exciting restaurants, and even booked a few last-minute day trips to get farther out of the county.
We set out own pace, slept in if we wanted, and spent time exploring places that caught our interest.
Our First Group Tour
Shortly after our trip, Chuck found a group tour package to Thailand through Gate 1 Travel.
Their 9 Day Central Thailand and River Kwai package was on special and exceptionally affordable for everything included.
We really did a lot of digging and decided that given that Thailand is the third least English speaking country in Southeast Asia and that the things we wanted to see where fairly spread out that a group tour might be the most practical way to navigate this country.
We researched all of the featured hotels and calculated the amount of free time while looking at how walkable the areas around the hotel might be and decided this was an excellent option for us. It was an active tour, but not overly physically demanding.
We actually found the hotels, meals, inclusions, and guides to be an excellent value for the price we paid. We also realized that we enjoyed having someone navigate the internal travel, hotel check-ins and event tickets, and admission for attractions.
We decided that while we LOVED the freedom of solo travel that a group tour, especially their small group tour, was perfect for countries where communication and navigating multiple cities might be an issue.
We used them again in China, where we were able to visit four major cities with stops in several others, and a cruise on the Yangtze River. We did a small group tour in Kenya as well.
We have booked Gate 1 Travel again for India with seven cities in fifteen days. I had a recurring vision of me with a backpack and duffle bag hanging off the doorway of a packed commuter train trying to get to our next destination and thought it was undoubtedly another group destination.
What we found not booking a senior group tour was that we connected with a group of people in varying age ranges and life experiences.
We made friends with 30 somethings who enjoyed travel and active 55+ travelers who wanted to experience some of the same things we did in terms of street food and excursions.
I’d be lying if I said we connected with everyone. We had a mother and daughter in Thailand who were habitually late, and the tour manager corrected that quickly. We also had one woman in Kenya that nearly everyone avoided.
But overall we have found it to be a good value, well organized and we’ve seen places we might never have trekked on our own.
All in all, the decision of solo trips and group travel, for us, comes down to value, how much easier the group tour might make our experience, and whether it can get us to places we might not go alone.
Which do you prefer? Solo travel or tour groups?