Travel can be restorative for brain and body—these are the adventures to take throughout retirement.
By Cassie Shortsleeve
In our forties and fifties, we picture retirement as a delicious eternal vacation. Soft breezes, rainbows, so much free time.
Unfortunately, it’s not like that for many older adults, who find that their lives are just as busy and count themselves among the 170 million Americans who haven’t had a vacation in the past 12 months.
Now is the time to go—not only because you’ve earned it, but because it’s good for your physical and mental health. In other words, consider it doctor’s orders.
“Travel serves many purposes,” says Gregory Jantz, Ph.D., a mental health expert in Edmonds, Washington. “Any time we change our environment, we have the potential to change our perspective. And when you change your perspective, you may find pleasure in things that maybe you didn’t know you’d enjoy.”
This is particularly important after retirement, he says, when you’ll surely wonder, “What’s next?”
If you have the time and the means, consider these six types of trips—all are perfect for seniors.
The Bucket List Trip
A long career keeps you fulfilled, says Melissa Gartenberg Livney, Psy.D., a geriatric psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. After all, scoring promotions and reaching goals is rewarding.
Checking a long-term goal off your travel to-do list can replicate that feeling of accomplishment, she says. So if you’ve always wanted to go to Australia for two weeks, do it.
Try this: Whether you want to see the South of France or travel to Thailand, consider letting a travel agent figure out the details. Industry data suggests the number of people using agents has jumped in the past year—as have satisfaction ratings from using one.
The Group Trip
The research is clear: The more socially active you are, the more healthfully you’ll age. That’s why group trips—with friends or like-minded strangers—are ideal for post-retirement travel, says Livney. “Social stimulation is a key factor in successful aging,” she says, “and travel is great way to deepen social connections.”
If you’re more isolated in your day-to-day life, going on a group trip might also provide the opportunity to meet people who you can stay close with once you return home.
Try this: The travel company Eldertreks.com organizes domestic and international group trips for adventurers ages 50 and older.
The Educational Trip
Losing the structure and intellectual challenges that a career provides can tank your mood.
Get a dose of both with an educational trip. Self-guided tours in new cities, trying different foods in faraway corners of the globe, and learning about a different culture can provide the stimulation your brain needs to stay active and healthy, says Livney.
Try this: Road Scholar hosts thousands of experiential learning trips around the country and world.
The Volunteer Trip
Want to see the world in a new way and boost your health while you’re at it? “People who volunteer live longer,” says Livney. “Volunteering will give you the social and educational components as well as that sense of being a good human.”
Try this: Over50andOverseas.com is a resource for seniors looking to give back while they travel. The site has a database of trips helping people, animals, and the environment. It also lists a variety of teaching opportunities all around the world.
The Fit Trip
Physical health conditions that sneak up as we age can be linked with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, says Jantz. But trips that engage us physically can help keep our bodies and minds in shape.
Try this: Think about how you like to move. Love weekend hikes? Spend your mornings swimming laps in your local pool? Jog a 5K every few months? Take your go-to activity and plan to do it in a different environment, suggests Jantz. Hikers might want to head to the Grand Canyon, swimmers to the Caribbean, and runners to wherever there’s an enticing destination road race.
The Long Weekend Trip
Not all travel is stress-free and relaxing, especially as you age. “There is a component of traveling through airports, organizing, planning, packing, and sitting on airplanes that can be more stressful and difficult,” says Livney. That’s where a weekend road trip comes in. Traveling to a destination that’s only a few hours away via car can still feel like an escape.
Try this: Pick a local hotspot you haven’t been to, and book a bed and breakfast for the weekend. If you really don’t want to plan, Livney says senior centers all around the country offer organized trips to big cities as well as seasonal and themed trips throughout the country. They do all the planning. Your job: Sit back, relax, and enjoy retirement.