'Age is not a barrier to adventure' - How to plan and pay for your retirement trip of a lifetime
Those approaching retirement are as well placed as footloose millennials to embark on new adventures, writes Jillian Bolger
As I approached my 30th birthday, I said goodbye to a job I loved and bought a one-way ticket to Australia.
I wasn't moving there, rather setting off on an open-ended journey with my boyfriend. We'd saved for two years, with just one goal: travel for as long as we could afford to.
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Twenty months later we returned home, having taken in a grand total of five countries. Just five. We drove the circumference of Australia, visited Laos and Thailand, lived with a Tamil family in Sri Lanka, and, for our last three months, explored the length and breadth of India.
Within a year of returning home, we got married, bought a house and were expecting our first child. New-found responsibility may have seen us (temporarily) put away our backpacks, but nothing would ever see us pack away the incredible stories or memories we'd brought home from our big trip.
Travelling enriches life like little else. Undeniably easier when you've fewer responsibilities, those approaching retirement are as well placed as footloose millennials to embark on new adventures, picking up where they may have left off, pre-mortgage or pre-kids, or, in many instances, starting out for the first time.
Retirement offers the perfect opportunity to break the cycle of package holidays. If you've never gone long-haul before, or only ever stayed in resorts, trying something new can seem daunting. In many instances, younger travellers offer ideal inspiration, their spontaneous approach to travel something to aspire to.
Designers Dee Maher and Mick Veale take five or six trips annually and can be away for four months in a year.
"For long trips we choose destinations based on a combination of good weather, affordable travel and the cost of living," Dee explains. "Generally we do more research for a shorter trip in order to squeeze the most from it. For a longer trip, we'd research the essentials but then let it unfold quite naturally, as we go."
They scan the internet for flights, booking only the first few nights' accommodation through Airbnb or booking.com. Spontaneity is important and Dee counsels against heeding others' fears. "Don't be afraid! Over the years we have been given so many warnings: 'You'll definitely be robbed in Prague/ murdered in Rio/blown up by landmines in Cambodia...' If you listened, you'd never leave your house."
Similarly minded, chef Diarmuid Ó Mathúna recently completed a 10-month round-the-world trip with his girlfriend. "Before leaving, we took a week off to lay out a rough travel plan." The couple added milestones along the way but kept much of the plan loose to allow for flexibility. "On our big trip we mostly stayed in hostels, which we prefer because of the facilities. We like private rentals too, where we can cook for ourselves, even if it's just breakfast."
Thirty-year-old Steven Wall has visited 43 countries, and while he admits to drawing up a bucket list, he also looks out for Ryanair and Aer Lingus sales to tempt him into spontaneous European trips. "I'm now trying to discover places I've never been to and that won't require months away." While on the road he recommends soliciting travel tips from travellers and locals, but never takes them as fact. "What others love may be different from what I do, so I make notes and do some research afterwards."
Dublin resident Jenny Benoist has visited all seven continents, and also likes to travel spontaneously, doing minimal pre-trip research. "I'll look at practical information, such as vaccines, visas and climate, and then research local wildlife and the best season to see it."
Blogging at Tales from the Lens, the 32-year-old Frenchwoman finds that locals often offer the best insider information. "I am always on the look-out for great street food, as well as places that aren't in guidebooks."
Round-the-world trips aren't just for millennials, and Travel Counsellor Mary Foyle reports a surge in popularity with older travellers.
"Good pensions, good health and attractive travel packages are all reasons. A lot of my retired clients are heading off on these trips, many handing me a list of everything they want to see in their lives, like the Great Barrier Reef (above) and the Great Pyramids. Age is not a barrier to adventure."
John Spollen of Cassidy Travel also finds that retired customers are now making the trips that their children did when they were in college or on their gap year.
"But in four- or five-star accommodation. Mature travellers are remarkably adventurous and able, we find! Not long ago we had two ladies in their mid-70s that did Machu Picchu. We have a lady who does a tour with us every year on her own and has been to Australia, New Zealand and South America. The death of a partner does not put people off long-haul travel - quite the opposite," he says.
Deirdre Sweeny of Sunway understands that older customers often prefer to be minded and guided throughout the booking process as well as on the ground. Agent for G Adventures in Ireland, she finds their off-the-beaten-track itineraries make an excellent choice for mature adventure seekers and solo travellers. "They have a fantastic programme to suit all ages, fitness levels and budgets. Groups are small, with a maximum of 16 guests, and there's a huge range of itineraries."
John Bridge of Trailfinders is a fan of G Adventures too, especially their National Geographic Journeys.
"There are more adventurous older clients out there who are booking trekking-style trips such as the Inca Trail. They will often pay a little more to avail of slightly upgraded accommodation," he says.
Overseas family can also influence big trip decisions. "With so many relatives living in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada, many of our older clients build an itinerary around visiting family abroad. For example, a couple visiting their daughter in Sydney will often break their journey in Asia, the Middle East or USA on the way out or back as well as visiting other parts of Australia or New Zealand. This type of travel has increased in recent years with emigration during the downturn."
And what of long-haul novices?
Australia and New Zealand are a great starting point, suggests Bridge. "No language issues, drive on the same side of the road and a huge amount to see. Asia is also a great option but if clients are concerned about culture shock, they can always do a cruise itinerary there, which offers a soft introduction to multiple destinations on organised shore excursions or an organised tour."
As for value? All are in agreement that your money goes far in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand.
Four fantastic adventures to look forward to...
16 days in South America
A physically demanding trip, from Lima to La Paz via Machu Picchu and Bolivia's Salt Flats, with National Geographic Journeys. Experience Bolivia and Peru, the former Inca capital of Cusco and the Amazon, a four-day Inca Trail hike with full support team. Or catch the scenic train to Machu Picchu, Bolivia's colonial cities and Salt Flats. From €2,889pps, including internal flights, meals, transfers, activities and upgraded accommodation. gadventures.com
An Indian Odyssey
Experience India's rich heritage on a five-star escorted tour, travelling by air-con coach and staying in some of the country's finest hotels. Highlights include the Taj Mahal, tiger safari and the Pink City of Jaipur. Luxury Gold's Essence of India with Ranthambore and Jaipur, Summer 2020, eight days, from €2,102pps, excluding flights. luxurygold.com
A round-the-world cruise
Sail aboard MSC Magnifica on a 116-night world cruise calling at 43 destinations in 23 countries including Argentina, Chile, Peru, Cook Islands, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Bali, India and Jordan. Departs from Italy on 5 January 2020. €12,499pps, including meals, drinks and shore excursions. Call Cassidy Travel on (01) 462 9100.
Australian road trip
Australia's Iconic East Coast Motorhome Holiday is a 24-night trip including flights with Etihad Airways from Dublin via Abu Dhabi to Sydney. Four-star accommodation includes three nights' B&B in Abu Dhabi, four nights in Sydney, 14 nights' Maui Ultima motorhome hire, from Sydney to Cairns, and three nights in a five-star Cairns hotel and airport transfers. From €2,869pps, trailfinders.ie
Travel Smart: 5 quick tips from the pros
1. Book in one go ...
"For multi-stop trips, book all your flights in one go. Booking individual fares can prove more expensive. Also, sign up to airlines with frequent flier programmes and build up points towards future flights (you may also get upgraded)." - John Spollen, Cassidy Travel
2. When in Rome...
"Always learn a few words of the local language. Download Google Translate to your phone before you leave. It might not always be 100pc accurate but will show that you understand and respect the local culture, and will help you connect with the locals." - Dee Maher
3. Accommodation on the fly...
"Never book flights without accommodation arranged unless visiting family or friends." - Mary Foyle, Travel Counsellor
4. Booking online...
"When looking up accommodation sites like booking.com, focus on the images and the comments. Each gives you different kinds of important information and the internet can be influenced by commercial interests. Good old-fashioned travel guides, like Lonely Planet, are invaluable." - Diarmuid Ó Mathúna
"Take advantage of some of the pre-set Round-the-World tickets, such as One World and Star Alliance, which offer a huge choice of destinations on six continents. Departing at different times of the year can save money: avoid departing Ireland over Christmas, Easter and Summer and you will save money." - Jonathan Bridge, Trailfinders
Expert view: How to budget for holidays in retirement
If you want to travel and take long, luxurious holidays in your retirement years, you need to be planning for it now. That's the message from personal finance adviser John Lowe of the Money Doctors (above), who adds that most people would probably be shocked at how financially difficult retirement can be when it hasn't been properly planned.
"It's a huge change to go from a working income to a pension," he says. "Half of us don't have a pension organised for our retirement and only have the State pension to look forward to, but that's really not very much - €248.30 a week at the moment."
When it comes to holidaying in your retirement, Lowe strongly suggests maximising your advantages - plan to take long holidays at times of the year when the working population can't.
"You get great value holidaying for up to six months at a time in hot countries during the depths of the Irish winter. I know a lot of people who go away to Portugal or the South of France and get cheap accommodation and then come back to Ireland for our summer," says Lowe.
If you are living on a fixed sum, be wary of funding your travels out of it. You need to maintain enough in the pot to fund your ongoing expenses.
"Travel insurance also has an upper age limit of around 75, so if you're over that age, you have to take that into account. It's not nice to think about, but you have to think what will happen if you die abroad.
"An Post has a product it advertises as a death policy that pays out €25,000, which is enough to pay for a half-decent funeral and a good party."
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