Hit the Road! Travel Bucket List Ideas for Older People

Senior couple traveling
November 12th, 2018

Many of us spent our younger years dreaming of the days when we could travel anywhere we wanted any time. Why wait any longer?

“I realized that waiting for the right time to travel might never come, so I booked a ticket to Prague to experience the holiday markets this December. It’s been on the bucket list,” says Lisa Larsen of Ft. Lauderdale. “I have made a resolution to explore one city in one country I have not previously visited per year until I pass – regardless of what repairs the house needs! I want to know as much as possible about the planet I live on before I die.”

Now’s a great time to revisit your bucket list of travel adventures – or create a totally new one.

Travel Bucket List Ideas: Top Destinations

Older adults enjoy domestic and international travel for family trips, solo adventures and milestone celebrations, according to the annual AARP Travel Research report. Here’s a peek at the top destinations in their survey for the last year:

Domestic destinations:

Florida, California and New York. About half of those surveyed for the most recent report planned to travel within the U.S. for summer vacations, family events or weekend getaways.

International destinations:

Mexico/Caribbean, the UK and Italy. About one-third of these travelers go beyond our borders aboard a cruise ship, and 22% make the trip to cross an item off their travel bucket lists.

See how the TSA can actually make senior travel easier.

Health Benefits of Travelling 

There are many reasons a little change of scenery is good for our health, says Jean Kim, MD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington University.

“Travel expands your experience, which in turn stimulates your cognition and your creativity,” she explains. “Novelty is being introduced in your brain, which activates reward circuitry and can improve your mood. It can also stimulate cognition by exercising new ways of problem-solving, like managing new customs, neighborhoods, transportation, etc. Finally, it also distracts you from everyday issues and refocuses you on new experiences.”

And even if we don’t follow through on our travel bucket list or New Year’s resolution, our brains still benefit.

“Just the act of goal-setting helps organize your thought process and enhances your focus,” Kim notes. She adds “It makes your brain work – just the planning part takes work, but that’s half the fun!”

Learn about protecting your health when you travel.

Other Benefits of Senior Travel

Travel is one of the most popular bucket list ideas for older adults. The AARP senior travel trends survey shows that older adults spend about $6,400 on travel across four or five leisure trips each year. Here are the top three factors fueling our urge to explore:

Bonding Time

The AARP report found that 57% of older Americans travel to spend time with friends and family. “Traveling together creates memories,” says Charlie Marcus of Suffern, N.Y., who planned a multi-generational cruise including his mother, brother, in-laws, cousin and kids. “Rather than a family reunion at home, often around stressful holiday events, a ‘getaway’ is infinitely more special and a nice break from the norm. Nobody hosts, everybody has a sense of freedom, and it lends itself to magic moments that all the generations remember forever, together, as a family.”

Recovery & Rejuvenation

Almost half of us travel to relax, reduce stress and recharge, the data show. Kim notes that a change of pace helps lower stress hormones. “When I travel — often solo, often in a new city — I marvel at how my tasks are reduced to the essential: find the hotel, meet at 2, return by 5, gather in the lobby by 6…,” laughs Mark Sullivan of Washington, DC. “Hit these marks reasonably well, and your day is a perfect success. You walk, you gawk, you eat, you laugh — you have a great day — and all you have to do is to pay attention. Because, when you travel, paying attention is your highest and best purpose. You don’t lose weight, make a doctor’s appointment, file an application, get bids for house repairs — none of those responsibilities that define your future. Instead, you admire museum exhibits of ancient civilizations, architectural landmarks on the street, unexpected encounters with delightful strangers — life that demands your attention, now. I find this so satisfying. The worries of the future fade away. Into the void swoops energy, curiosity, empathy. I’m a better me. How could I feel anything but recharged?”

New Experiences & Learning

Another popular reason we travel: to get away from everyday life and experience new things (47% of those surveyed). “Sometimes we get so caught up in our every day lives and habits and rituals that we stop pushing boundaries and learning and growing,” explains Anna Harouvis, a chef and healthy living consultant in Cleveland. “The best remedy is travel. Feed your soul and you realize that the world is so big and your problems are so small.” Couvreux, Petaluma, CA-based author of Sail Cowabunga! A Family’s Ten Years at Sea, agrees. “I still have much to see and learn and want to travel more than ever. The fact that realistically, being 64, I may have only 20 years left, I am earnestly pursuing more travel for the sake of my own spiritual equilibrium. I love getting out of my comfort zone – to be in places where I don’t know the language or the culture, to learn it, understand, or at least get a familiarity with it. It’s all about learning, interacting, communicating. It’s humbling.”

Get useful travel tips for seniors.

“Travel is a life-enriching experience that staying at home doesn’t provide,” says Chicago-based Robert Berliner Jr. “You never know what or who you’re going to stumble into along the way, as well as what you’re going to find at your destination.”

What are you waiting for? Start brainstorming travel bucket list ideas and travel resolutions!