Five Questions To Ask Before Booking A Senior Travel Tour

September 16, 2019

A 2018 survey found that 70% of people dream of traveling during retirement. That’s no surprise. Travel is fun, even if doing the research, dealing with transportation logistics, and sorting through hotel options isn’t. That’s one reason for the popularity of senior group travel tours.

Ideally, there are no surprises with a group tour because you know where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, what you’ll see, where you’ll stay, and how much it will cost.  Even so, it’s important to do your research before booking a senior tour. Answer these five questions before booking.

1. What Kind of Tour Do You Want?

[Verona, Italy]

Tours are often geared toward specific interests and activities, so think carefully about what you want from your trip. For example, if your goal is to kick back, relax, and get away from it all, then an organized tour that has you climbing on and off a tour bus for 12 hours a day, is not going to work.

If you have a specific interest or passion though, there’s probably a tour for you!

  • Adventure tours: Enjoy an entire vacation focused on hiking, skydiving, snorkeling, safaris, etc.
  • Food and wine tours: Visit wineries in Napa or indulge your passion for Italian, Asian, or other cuisines.
  • Cultural tours: Learn about the history of a particular region and make personal connections.
  • Genealogy tours: Family heritage tours help you discover your roots.
  • Nature/ecology tours: Often organized by conservation organizations like the Sierra Club.
  • Entertainment tours: Visit locations from favorite movies & TV shows, attend live performances of operas, symphonies, and theater.

One of the best things about these types of “special interest” tours is that you know you’ll have something in common with your fellow travelers. Conversation will flow more freely and it’s easier to make friends.

2. How Active Do You Want to Be?

In the 1969 movie “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium,” a group of American tourists visit nine European countries in 18 days. That’s quite the sightseeing and travel schedule, and not for everybody. Make sure your tour matches your physical ability and expectations.

For example, Smithsonian Journeys (affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution) rates its tours based on five activity levels, from easy to challenging. The “Easy” tours stay in just one city, have shorter travel days, and generally stay on level terrain. Travelers interested in “Challenging” trips are warned to expect “up to 15 hours of physical activity per day” and “limited leisure time.”

If you have limited mobility and require a wheelchair or scooter, make sure the tour operator is prepared to accommodate your needs. Remember that historic inns and smaller hotels may not have elevators and other accessibility features that are standard in larger hotels in urban areas.

Travel expert Rick Steves suggests asking these accessibility questions before you select a tour:

  • What route will the guide use? Does it involve curbs, steps, steep hills, or cobblestones? Where are the accessible bathrooms located? Will the guide physically assist you if needed (i.e., push a manual wheelchair)?
  • Is this a private tour, or will you be with other travelers? Are you expected to keep up with able-bodied tour members?
  • How many people with disabilities have they guided in the past year? (If it’s been a long time, the guide may not be aware of the latest regulations or updates regarding accessibility.)

3. Where Do You Want to Go?

Solo travel in some countries can be quite difficult due to language barriers, poor infrastructure, civil unrest, or complicated visa requirements/restrictions. A tour operator will take care of many details that often frustrate solo travelers.

For example, before visiting Russia, you must first obtain a “visa support” document that contains a tourist voucher (issued by a local travel agency in Russia) and a reservation confirmation documenting that you have a place to stay. Then you have to fill out a detailed visa application, and submit your documents. Tour operators often help travelers with all the paperwork requirements before the trip.

In general, the less familiar you are with a destination, including its language and culture, then the more you should consider an organized tour – at least on your first visit.

4. How Much Can You Spend?

Group tours are often more expensive than solo travel, but they also offer convenience and less travel stress. You don’t have to worry about getting from Point A to Point B or where to spend the night because you’re paying someone else to manage the details.

Once you’ve chosen your destination, get pricing from several different tour companies.  Be a savvy shopper!

  • Compare prices between similar trips and itineraries.
  • Read the fine print – all of it!
  • Calculate the extra cost of add-ons like tips, optional excursions, and meals.
  • Check to see if airfare is included.

If you’re traveling alone and don’t want to share a room with a stranger, be sure to consider the extra cost of the “single supplement.” Tour operators try to match people based on interest and personalities, but there are no guarantees.

5. What’s Your Travel Personality?

A group tour means that you’ll probably have very little time alone. You’ll have to keep up with the group, eat meals together, and stick with the schedule.

Before embarking on a long, ambitious tour with a group of strangers, consider “test driving” the group tour concept on a smaller scale. Even a short 3-day trip to a nearby city or popular vacation destination can help you decide if a longer tour is right for you.

I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them. – Mark Twain

Find a Tour Company That Caters to Seniors

There’s no “best” tour company for seniors, but some have consistently high ratings from travel experts and travel forums.

  • Road Scholar (formerly known as Elderhostel): A non-profit company that offers older adults lifelong learning opportunities through travel. Trip themes include history, culture, language study, art, hiking, and more. Some multi-generational trip options are available.
  • Eldertreks: This adventure travel company offers small group tours worldwide for people aged 50+. Tours are offered for a variety of activity levels. Specific tour focuses include archaeology, photography, rafting, wildlife, and more.
  • Access Tours: A non-profit organization that specializes in accessible, small-group tours of the American West and Canadian Rockies. Slow walkers, scooter users, and wheelchair users are all accommodated on these fully-accessible tours.
  • Senior Discovery Tours: This is a Canadian company that offers tours worldwide targeted to senior travelers. Most tour packages are all-inclusive, so all expenses (including airfare and trip insurance) are included in the price.

Enjoy your travels!

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