How to Choose the Right Destination for Retirement Travel

For many people, retirement is a time for exploration and adventure, and a well-earned opportunity to finally travel to those longed-for and dreamed-about locations. Yet choosing a retirement travel destination can be a complex process. You’ll want to consider several different factors, including budget needs, health limitations, weather concerns, and more. It’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed. Here’s how to plan your dream adventure, choose the right destination for your retirement travel, and avoid travel mistakes.

1. Create a retirement travel wish list

Do you have a bucket list for retirement travel? If you don’t have one, or if you’ve only thought about this casually, now is the perfect time to put your thoughts on paper. Start by thinking back to travel documentaries you watched or books you read about someone else’s dream vacation. If you ever thought to yourself, “Someday, I’ll go there!” write that destination down.

Don’t worry just yet about whether you can afford that particular trip or if you can physically manage to visit a certain attraction. Right now, you’re simply writing down a wish list. You can later pare down your list based on practicalities. Even if you do have to pass on a specific destination, however, you can always use that location to come up with similar trips that might be easier to arrange.

2. Seek recommendations

Now that you’ve started your dream trip destination list — round it out a bit (and maybe even pare it down!) by asking friends and family members for their recommendations. This can be a great conversational icebreaker at family get-togethers or dinner parties. Simply ask people to tell you about the best trip they ever took and what made it so enjoyable. You might also want to follow up by asking what the worst travel experience they ever had was and why.

Another idea is to join a travel group for retired individuals. This can help you get a sense of what destinations other retired travelers have enjoyed and may give you some new ideas to consider. You might even decide to join a group on a future trip, which could also save you additional money, time, and energy.

3. Determine your budget

As a retired traveler, you may have a fixed budget to work with. Consider how much you can afford to spend on travel costs such as flights, accommodation, and activities. The financial aspects of retirement travel can be a bit daunting, if not overwhelming. You’re likely working with a fixed income, and unless you’ve specifically saved up additional amounts for retirement travel, you’ll want to look for ways to save money wherever possible.

Moreover, retirement travel costs can really add up. From additional fees associated with flights to the local cost of food and drink, hidden costs can present an unpleasant surprise. To counter those surprises, budget an extra amount to have available as a buffer to cover unforeseen expenses.

Other ways to save on retirement travel include:

  • Look for destinations a few hours outside a major destination. You can save on hotels and food while still getting to see the sights during a day trip.
  • Use points or other credit card travel rewards to help finance the trip.
  • If you’re traveling by train, check out overnight trips. These fares are usually less expensive as they’re not as popular.
  • Pack as little as possible to save on extra checked-baggage fees.
  • Book your travel as far in advance as possible. This may help you save quite a bit on both airfare and on accommodations.
  • Explore ways to save on food, such as booking rooms with kitchenettes or Airbnb stays where you can prepare your own food. And definitely pack your own snacks.
  • Spend a little time looking into various discount opportunities from travel sites, attractions, and memberships such as AARP.

Planning a retirement travel budget can be a daunting task. With some careful planning and a bit of research, you’ll be able to set a budget that you can stick to during your trip.

4. Consider your travel style

What’s your pleasure when you’re traveling? Do you prefer relaxation or adventure? Cultural experiences or beach vacations? Thinking about your preferred travel style will help narrow down your destination options.

Some retirement travel style choices are fairly simple. For example, if you need lots of quiet time to properly unwind, it wouldn’t make a great deal of sense for you to schedule a beach trip during the spring break season. If you crave cultural experiences, such as opera, ballet, or theatrical productions, you’re not likely to find much to do in a tiny mountain village.

Other considerations might require a closer look and a bit of research:

  • Accommodations: Depending on your chosen location, you can choose from various accommodation types. Whether you’re looking for a luxury full-service hotel, a “glamping” campsite, or something in between, getting clear on your desired accommodations may help you lock down the right destination.
  • Dining and food preparation: Fabulous restaurants, hotel room service, and lodgings with access to kitchen space can all play a part in keeping you fed during your trip. Think about the dining experiences you want to have and jot those down.
  • Proximity to airports and other transportation: Are you longing to experience a long, scenic train voyage? Do you want to avoid driving at all and thus need a destination with an airport and access to ride-sharing or taxi service? If you’re prone to motion sickness, you’ll want to avoid destinations that can only be reached by boat.
  • Day trips and sights of interest: What kind of activities do you want to pursue during your trip? You might prefer visits to historical attractions and museums, amusement parks, shopping, or beaches. Or perhaps you crave sitting by the hotel pool with the latest bestseller. Whatever it is you want to do, see, and experience, make a note of it now.

5. Research destinations

Now that you have a better idea of your travel style preferences and budget, it’s time to start narrowing down your list and researching possible destinations. You’ll also want to consider the cost of living, safety, accessibility, and other factors.

You might want to start by creating a simple chart or spreadsheet that lists out the factors that are important to you. For example, budget, physical accessibility, access to specific features such as beaches, etc. Score each possible destination choice on a scale of one to ten. Or you may prefer to simply gather information until you get a better sense of what location aligns most closely with your needs.

Where should you look for the information you need? You’ll find lots of options on the web. Start with general interest travel sites. Websites such as Lonely Planet, Travel + Leisure, and Atlas Obscura are great resources for destination information and retirement travel ideas. Then you can narrow down your research by looking at sites for a destination’s tourism boards and visitor’s bureaus.

You may also want to look for independent reviews of specific facilities, hotels, restaurants and accommodations on sites such as Yelp, Better Business Bureau, and individual Facebook pages for each business.

6. Take your physical abilities into account

As you get older, it’s important to consider your health concerns, physical abilities, and activity restrictions as you choose a destination. It’s important that you ensure your own safety and comfort in all aspects of your trip. If you have mobility issues, for example, a destination with good accessibility options and a less strenuous pace of travel might be more suitable.

To keep yourself well and safe, research the accessibility of the destination and all locations you expect to visit. Look into the availability of emergency and walk-in medical care services. Are there services that might be tailored for senior travelers? For example, concierge medical services or tour guides that specialize in helping older visitors navigate area attractions. You’ll also want to get some idea of any associated potential safety risks that the location might pose to visitors who aren’t fully able-bodied and familiar with the terrain.

7. Think about the weather

The weather can have a big impact on your travel experience. Researching the weather and climate of potential retirement travel destinations is an important part of the decision-making process. Knowing what to expect in terms of temperature, precipitation, and other weather patterns can help you choose the destination that best suits your preferences and needs.

Consider the time of year you want to travel and the climate of your destination. If you have health issues that are affected by extreme weather, this is especially important to consider. For example, many people say that cold and rainy weather exacerbates joint and arthritis pain. On the other hand, hot temperatures can make neuropathy and other nerve-related pain worse.

Start by finding out which of the several available weather forecasting sites have the best track record for accuracy for the area in question. Enter the destination name or its zip code at Forecast Advisor. Two sites that consistently rank well for accurate forecasts across the country are Accuweather and The Weather Channel.

You can look for historical data as well. Use the process outlined on the federal government’s National Weather Service website. This should give you a broad idea of what the weather is like for a specific destination during the time period you’re thinking of visiting.

8. Don’t forget about the logistics

The logistics of a trip to a particular destination can make or break “the trip of a lifetime.” These details might seem small or even inconsequential but can add up to major headaches and challenges:

  • The total length of travel time (longer flights may mean a greater risk of deep vein thrombosis and other health risks for some travelers)
  • Layovers (especially when you’ll need to switch planes, trains, or gates)
  • The extent to which you speak the local language and the availability of translation services
  • The difference in time zones, which can throw you off your schedule and complicate medication routines
  • The availability of local travel between your hotel and sites or other attractions you’d like to visit, if you’re not renting a car once you’ve arrived

These factors can impact your overall travel experience and should be taken into account when choosing the right destination.

9. Keep an open mind

Finally, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Try a destination that’s a bit outside your usual wheelhouse. If you’re usually a fan of beachside resorts, why not explore the mountains? Or, if you usually shy away from large cities in favor of more isolated locations, perhaps a mid-sized city could be the perfect way to expand your horizons.

You never know — you may discover a new favorite place to visit.


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