Seniors, take note -- traveling just might extend your life. According to a report in USA Today, geriatrician and author Dr. David Lipschitz believes that travel helps senior citizens live longer lives. Whether the travel bug has always been abuzz or happened to bite a bit later in life, your senior years are an excellent time to travel. Because many seniors are retired, unusually flexible schedules are the norm. You may be excited to see the world (or at least the items on your bucket list) now that children are out of your hair -- or maybe you're simply looking forward to visiting loved ones.
Experiencing new cultures and exploring new places is food for the soul, if not the elixir of youth. The good news: That soul food doesn't have to eat up your entire nest egg, and deep travel discounts are not relegated solely to the hostel-hopping crowd. These six tips will get you out on the road for less green.
Never book anything without asking if there's a special rate or price cut for seniors. These discounts are not always advertised well (if at all), but they do exist. Some are more generous than others, so do some research. For example, while many hotels offer only 5 to 10 percent off, Marriott properties promise "15 percent or more" for those age 62 or older. Few airlines offer meaningful savings programs, but we've found that flashing a smile, regardless of age, is often enough to get an upgrade or other perk. You never know unless you ask.
One caveat: Don't assume that the senior rate is the absolute lowest! Check any quoted discounts against other offerings (AAA, "best available," early booking) that may be available to you.
AARP members have access to savings and discounts on all types of travel, including cruises (Windstar Cruises Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line were two we spotted), car rentals (up to 30 percent off at Budget), vacation packages and hotels. And don't forget about activity and restaurant discounts. Many discounts, including special limited-time offers, are listed at discounts.aarp.org. Again, as above, double-check AARP rates against other special offers that could save you more money.
Visiting destinations during their off-peak or shoulder season (fall or winter in Europe instead of summer, for example) presents many benefits to travelers -- a smaller price tag, to be sure, but also cooler weather and fewer crowds. Seniors are well suited to take advantage of low season discounts because they typically aren't trying to plan trips around stringent work, school or holiday schedules.
There are a few things to bear in mind, however, when traveling out of season. For one, be sure to pack appropriately for the weather and work some indoor activities into your plans in case you're faced with chilling winds or rain. Also, check in advance on the operating hours of museums and other attractions you have your heart set on, as some scale back their hours -- or shut down altogether -- outside of the high tourist season.
The gift of time also makes alternate methods of travel more attractive for mature travelers. Train travel has long been popular overseas and is now making a comeback in the U.S. The many hassles of flying -- from security checkpoints to the oft-uncomfortable flight itself -- can be avoided by riding the rails. It's also an increasingly cheaper alternative, even before factoring in senior discounts; on Amtrak, for example, travelers 62 years of age and over save 15 percent on most fares. And don't forget to factor in baggage fees. You can bring up to four 50-pound bags on Amtrak trains for free (two carry-on, two checked) -- imagine trying that on an airline!
Renting a car is another option for self-guided and self-paced scenic travel, both as a way to get to a destination and a way to explore a destination once you've arrived. Just be sure to read the fine print of your rental agreement if you plan to rent a vehicle overseas, as some companies do impose maximum age restrictions.
It may seem odd that we're recommending spending more money among our tips for paying less, but this expense could save you a bundle if anything goes wrong while planning or on your trip. Travel insurance is especially important for individuals who may get sick and need to cancel at the last minute, or may encounter medical difficulties while traveling. Trip cancellation insurance covers you in case unforeseen events cause you to have to scrap a trip or come home midway through. Travel insurance can also provide replacement value on lost baggage and default coverage when travel suppliers go out of business, and supplemental health insurance can cover expenses Medicare or other providers might not, particularly outside your home country.
Tip: Purchase insurance from a trusted company, preferably a third party; ask your travel agent for advice if you aren't sure where to start. Also, be sure to take the time to read the fine print, as some scenarios, such as pre-existing medical conditions, may not be covered.
6. Travel with friends or family.
Bringing along your children, grandchildren or other travel pals can result in significant savings, particularly if you share a vacation rental in lieu of booking hotel rooms or can snag a discount from a travel company that offers group discounts. Traveling with friends and family members is also a fantastic opportunity for bonding and creating lasting memories together. And that's priceless.
Got other tips to share? Post them in the comments below or on our message boards.
--written by Melissa Paloti