Recent declines in the stock market have many baby boomers wondering if their visions of exotic travels in retirement need to be scaled back, perhaps involving more of their living rooms and less of the world. But travel experts and retirees themselves say that not only is traveling on a budget possible, it can lead to even bigger and better adventures.
For Woody Woodring, 73, and his wife, Janie, frugal traveling often involves renting condos instead of hotels. On a recent trip to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in the Great Smoky Mountains, the couple cooked their own meals, which saved them a few hundred dollars on the three-night trip. They also rely on the travel sites www.travelzoo.com, www.vacationstogo.com, and www.smartertravel.com, which alert them to discounts. Woodring regularly spends a few hours sorting through the specials and taking notes. "In the days when we were young and working and making a decent wage, we could afford to splurge and take some chances, but we can't do that now," says Woodring, a retired procurement official who lives in Greenville, S.C., and shares his frugal travel tips at www.retirement-on-a-budget.com.
Judie Fernandez, 70, a retired attorney who lives in Menlo Park, Calif., takes advantage of Elderhostel, a nonprofit that organizes educational trips for seniors. (The organization recently changed its name to Exploritas.) She took her grandsons on a Harry Potter-themed trip to London in 2007 and has also traveled to Russia, Mongolia, China, and India with Elderhostel groups. "It's like a university without walls," she says. Unlike many commercial tours, Elderhostel trips cover all costs—including food and activities. The average daily cost for international trips is about $250 (excluding airfare). Seniors can also opt for less expensive programs; hundreds of Elderhostel programs ranging from three to five nights cost less than $600.
Many of Don and Judy Mac Isaac's trips have taken them far away from their home in New York's Catskill Mountains. The couple, authors of Adventures After 50, went on tours to Tanzania, Nepal, and Antarctica after Don retired from corporate life. They managed their costs by focusing on tours that incorporated camping and other low-cost accommodations with regular hotel stays. As the couple have gotten older—Don is now 82, Judy 78—they have opted for lower-key getaways, such as visits to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum and the adjoining home of Eleanor Roosevelt in Hyde Park, N.Y.
The Woodrings, Fernandez, and the Mac Isaacs make their trips affordable by planning extensively, taking advantage of group programs, and carefully selecting their destinations. Travel experts also recommend the following strategies:
Make the most of senior discounts. AARP negotiates discounts for members with tour providers, hotels, and car rental companies. An Expedia website designed for AARP members (www.expedia-aarp.com) lets seniors search for discounts—usually about 10 percent off the regular price—that apply. With DuVine Adventures, which organizes cycling vacations in North America and Europe, AARP members can get $325 off tours through the end of the year.
AARP isn't the only organization offering deals: For those 62 and older, the National Park Service sells $10 lifetime passes to parks, and Amtrak gives a 15 percent discount. Many cities also offer reduced-price or even free rides on public transportation systems; in Philadelphia, everyone 65 and older rides the subway, buses, and trolleys free. Some airlines, including Southwest, sell a limited number of senior fares.