Thursday, May 19, 2016

6 Ways Age Changes How We Travel

With age comes savvy, free time and a keen sense of what's important
By Irene S. Levine for Next Avenue

Credit: Getty Images

For starters, as we get older, we travel a lot.

An AARP study of 2015 Baby Boomer Travel Trends found that older travelers anticipated taking four to five trips the following year. Most respondents (97 percent) planned at least one domestic trip and nearly half (45 percent) planned international ones. While most research on over-50 travelers focuses primarily on boomers, data on the Silent Generation (those born between 1925 and 1945) suggests that with improved health and increased longevity, these folks, too, are opting to travel — as opposed to retreating to recliners.

Of course, being part of the same age cohort doesn’t necessarily put everyone in the same proverbial boat (or on the same cruise). Individuals vary widely in terms of their economic status, lifestyle, interests, attitudes and values—along with health and physical stamina. Yet travelers 50 years and older, as well as travel experts, identify six ways travel changes as we age:

1. Convenience Over Cost

Older travelers are typically willing to spend more to avoid hassles and inconvenience. For example, they’ll pay extra for direct flights; pay for a later flight departure so they don’t have to leave home before sunrise or upgrade to premium economy seats for more comfort and priority boarding.

Older solo travelers may choose to pay a singles supplement rather than share a hotel room or ship stateroom with a stranger.

And service trumps do-it-yourself as we age. Older travelers are more willing to pay bellhops and porters to help with luggage; to take escorted tours rather than deal with the complicated logistics of independent travel and to hire drivers or taxis rather than risk renting cars on unfamiliar roads.

2. Self-indulgence

With children out of the nest, older travelers can finally travel where and how they choose.

“When my husband and I became parents, we wanted our son to experience the road trips we enjoyed as kids; vacations were an educational experience,” says journalist Cindy La Ferle, who writes a column on midlife issues for Michigan Prime (a supplement to the The Detroit News & Free Press). Now, she and her husband travel to escape winter’s chill or to expand their cultural horizons. “We have a greater interest in checking things off our bucket list,” La Ferle says.

In addition, older travelers tend to have less patience in “making nice” with annoying fellow travelers and they’re less willing to overlook inferior products and services on vacation. A recent survey by Leading Hotels of the World found that boomers are less satisfied with guest services at hotels than younger travelers, too.

“We don’t say we’ll do it ‘sometime,’ because none of us knows what the future holds,” says a member (tartanexile81) on a thread dedicated to senior cruising on the popular Cruise Critic Message Board Forums. Travelers use these forums on (a cruise planning website) to converse, and exchange information and ideas.

3. Health and Mobility Issues

Even active older travelers experience transient aches and pains and realize they need to do things more slowly or differently than in the past. “I can’t walk fast for as long as I once did,” says Ronni Bennett, producer of Time Goes By, a blog that focuses on “what it is really like to get older.” Not knowing the distances between gates, Bennett now allows more time between connecting flights.

On, travelers talk about pacing themselves to avoid exhaustion; accepting assistance when offered (e.g., grabbing someone’s arm when climbing a high step on a tour bus) rather than risking a fall and considering proximity to hospitals and emergency medical care when planning trips. They also say they are less tolerant of temperature extremes, look forward to more frequent restroom breaks and are more risk-averse to experiences that could result in injuries (like zip lining, skiing or surfing).

Older travelers are more likely to insure their trips, too. According to data provided by (a travel insurance review and comparison site), travelers over age 50 accounted for 67 percent of all annual trip insurance policies sold in 2015 and 58 percent of all policies for single trips that included trip cancellation. These customers also tended to purchase the insurance earlier than travelers under 50 (94 days ahead of the trip vs. 52, on average) and search for policies covering pre-existing conditions.

4. A Change of Pace

There are perks to age that can make trips more enjoyable as departures from day-to-day life: having more time to travel; being able to travel when there are fewer tourists and rates are lower (such as the spring or fall shoulder seasons) and being able to take advantage of special deals (such as discounted hotel rooms or tours).

Aging can change your mindset about traveling, too. Many older travelers feel they no longer have to “see it all” — so the pace of travel becomes more leisurely. They have more time to dig more deeply into a destination, perhaps staying for weeks or a month, rather than days. Similarly, cruisers often book longer itineraries and/or opt for pre- and post-cruise land excursions. Another member (Griffy116) characterized the change of philosophy she experienced: “I wasn’t afraid to stroll instead of run.”

5. Planning

Paradoxically, even though older travelers are less bound by work and/or school schedules, they tend to schedule trips further in advance than younger ones — with two notable exceptions: when they can snag a last-minute travel deal or when they can schedule multigenerational trips with children and grandchildren. Older travelers appreciate opportunities to share experiences and create memories with their extended families. Cruises and all-inclusive resorts are popular multigenerational choices because they allow for people of different ages (with different interests, energy levels and sleep habits) to spend time apart and come together when they want.

6. Traveling Smarter

Older travelers tend to be more sensible about packing. They choose clothes and shoes for comfort and practicality as much as for appearance, and downsize the dimensions of their luggage to lighten their loads, literally and figuratively. “The less we carry, the more we enjoy our trip,” said member (iancal).

Older Travelers In Their Own Words

Comments from three more members nicely sum up the emotional underpinnings of travel as we age: 

“We take ourselves less seriously because we have lost loved ones and realize what really is important in life (MommaBear55).” 

“Life is unpredictable and I think we need to do as much as we can while we can (Cruisa Loosa).” 

“Loving every minute of travel even when it isn’t so great. Aren’t we lucky to be able to go? (Mrsosci)”

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2016. All rights reserved.


Purposeful Aging: A Model for a New Life Course

New possibilities for older adults produce dividends for all 
By Paul H. Irving for Next Avenue 

Credit: Thinkstock

Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of, offers an insightful observation about the promise and potential of longer lives. “Thousands of baby boomers each day surge into their 60s and 70s,” he wrote in a recent article for The Wall Street Journal. “It’s time to focus on enriching lives, not just lengthening them; on providing purpose and productivity, not just perpetuity.”

While population aging brings health, financial and social risks, an understanding of the opportunities is emerging. At the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, we study, convene, report on and respond to these risks and opportunities, searching for solutions to bring beneficial change. Joining with others who share our vision, we believe that it’s time to challenge conventional wisdom and established norms — that new possibilities for older adults hold promise for strengthening societies, expanding economies and improving life for all ages.

Traditional retirement is being re-imagined as older adults reject age segregation, decline and mass leisure to work, pursue learning, launch businesses and contribute to their communities through volunteerism and civic engagement. A longevity economy is developing as markets recognize the demand for products and services to meet the needs of the emerging aging demographic. Innovations in medicine and technology present hope for increasing life and health spans, while advanced research is revealing the power of the aging brain. 

The Power of Purpose

So many new opportunities are unfolding to enrich aging lives. But none is more hopeful than the possibility of elevating beneficial purpose as a new life course model for aging populations across the world.

Purpose enhances psychological and physical health, and is correlated with greater productivity, creativity and resilience. People with purpose tend to be more involved with their families, communities and colleagues.

Purpose is uplifting, providing the fuel for enhanced engagement, effort and contribution. Sherry Lansing, the pioneering entertainment industry leader, whose eponymous foundation supports encore career opportunities and other causes, says, “I always thought if I was lucky enough to achieve the dreams I had in the movie business … I wanted to have a third chapter that was about giving back and about the things I cared about.”

is powerful medicine. In his study of “Blue Zones” (communities in which people are more likely to live past 100), Next Avenue Influencer in Aging Dan Buettner identified factors that centenarians share, including a strong sense of purpose. People with purpose were also less likely to develop impairments in daily living. Yale researcher Becca Levy and her colleagues found that older individuals with a positive self-perception of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those who are less positive. Patricia Boyle of Rush University Medical Center found that participants with a high level of purpose were 2.4 times more likely to remain free of Alzheimer’s disease.

Purpose is a buffer. The pain and frustration of ageism, illness and loneliness can be mitigated by purpose. In Man’s Search for Meaning, the remarkable memoir on his experience in Auschwitz, psychiatrist Victor Frankl wrote that “life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

Purpose is family-changing, community-changing and world-changing. It’s about reaching out, getting involved and acting on those instincts and inclinations to add value for others and meaning to life. As Nelson Mandela said, “A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”

We are at an inflection point, at the intersection of a fundamental demographic change and a search for meaning. We have the opportunity to elevate purposeful aging as a goal for older adults across America and the world, and in doing so, marshal a powerful human resource to make change.

Purposeful aging — a model for a new life course, and a better world. 

Editor’s note: This article is part of Next Avenue’s 2015 Influencers in Aging project honoring 50 people changing how we age and think about aging. Paul H. Irving was a member of the 2015 Influencers In Aging Advisory Panel. 

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2016. All rights reserved.


Monday, May 16, 2016

The Magic of Leaving Your Comfort Zones in Retirement

He's done it around the world, but you can do it at home
By Jonathan Look for Next Avenue

Credit: Thinkstock

One of the biggest goals of my career as an air traffic controller was having a worry-free retirement. I envisioned a comfortable place where I could lie back and watch the world pass by; where I could live not only without work, but without challenge, worry or stress.

As retirement started getting closer, however, I realized that living in that place would not only be extraordinarily easy, it would be excruciatingly ordinary and boring.

What Fulfilled Retirees Have In Common

I had been reading a lot about what people do to get the most fulfillment from their retirement years. The most inspiring stories were of ones who’d taken retirement as an opportunity to try new things, push their boundaries and seek new horizons. They all intentionally lived (at least a portion of their lives) outside of their “comfort zones” — mental boundaries we construct to keep ourselves content, provide a sense of security and keep our anxieties low.

Because I’ve always had a passion for travel, the new horizons aspect of their lives was what appealed to me the most. So, in 2011, at age 50, I decided to sell everything I owned and travel the world.

I realize, to some people, that may seem impractical or a little radical, but it made sense to me. I had always dreamed of exploring new places and didn’t want to waste my new freedom by settling into a complacent rut little different from when I was working.

The Problem With Not Challenging Yourself

It is the unchallenging nature of comfort zones that, on the surface, tends to make them so appealing. The problem is that when we are unchallenged, we don’t try new things or unlock our hidden talents or potential.

Studies have proven that learning new and demanding things outside of our comfort zones (and maintaining an active social network) is key in keeping us sharp as we age. Merely exercising the mind with things that don’t push our boundaries, such as reading or puzzles, doesn’t necessarily improve cognitive function. It has to be new things that create a bit of anxiety, but offer potential rewards.

Himalayan Climbing and Cobra Eating

Since I retired, I have lived in four countries and visited many others. I love it. I have climbed to Tiger’s Nest Monastery high in the Himalayan Mountains of Bhutan, scuba-dived in the Indian Ocean and eaten the still-beating heart of a cobra in Vietnam (talk about stepping out of a comfort zone!). I have slept on mats in hill tribe villages and in five-star hotels and traveled by every conveyance possible, from private planes to horse carts.

Even when I am in my ever-changeable “home base,” I try to push my boundaries every day.

Learning new skills, making friends from around the world and putting myself out there by writing my Life Part 2 blog has made my world larger, more nuanced and flavorful (figuratively and literally). By pushing my boundaries, and getting out of my comfort zones, I have become more confident, less judgmental and more open to new ideas.

Challenging Your Comfort Zones Where You Live

It doesn’t have to be about climbing mountains, diving the oceans or challenging your palate with unusual things for you, though. There are thousands of ways to expand your horizons and challenge your comfort zones, even right where you live.

Getting started can be as simple as striking up a conversation with the neighbor you’ve seen for years but haven’t met. It could be as easy as looking on the Internet for a thespian group, joining a hiking club or learning to salsa.

Trying new things or even daring to look at our lives in different ways can be scary. But inaction created by fear or inertia robs us of the potential that results from trying new things.

Retirement is the perfect time to explore and take advantage of new opportunities. Comfort zones should be places where we go to relax, reflect and rejuvenate. They should not become permanent retirement destinations where we passively allow time to slip away.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2016. All rights reserved.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Where Older Workers are Valued and Honored

Volunteering as a docent in retirement can deliver generous rewards

Credit: Kathryn Lance Caption: Ann Nierenberg, docent at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Although it’s common to hear of older workers being laid off or pushed into retirement, there is also one type of place where older people are valued and sought-after: museums, art institutions, zoos and other venues that rely on unpaid docent volunteers in their 60s, 70s and 80s. I speak as someone who has found a new life as one of those older docents.

Six years ago, at 66, I visited Tohono Chul Park, a nature park near where I live in Tucson, Ariz. I’d been looking for a volunteer opportunity and was struck by the knowledge and enthusiasm of the docents who worked there, giving their time and expertise to educate others about the desert. I learned that these docents not only answered visitors’ questions, they led tours, interpreted (taught about) birds, plants and animals and manned special stations that demonstrate desert lore.

From Professional Writer to Docent

After 40 years as a professional writer, I was ready to try something new. “I could do this,” I thought. “I could become a nature docent.”

Three months later, I was sitting in a classroom with 20 other late-life learners, studying the plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert. Every week of our training, we were expected to roam the grounds and identify plants, as well as take and pass quizzes. It was much like a college seminar, except for the ages of the participants.

When I graduated six months later, I knew more than I could have imagined and couldn’t wait to share my knowledge with park visitors. The word “docent,” after all, comes from the Latin docere, “to teach.”

I liked being a nature docent so much that four years later I also enrolled in the docent program at the world-famous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a combination zoo and desert botanical garden near Tucson.

Why Older Docents Are Prized

Marie Long, Associate Director of Conservation Education & Science there, explains that when interviewing prospective docents she looks for “a passion for learning, the desire to share knowledge with others, a positive attitude, love of the Sonoran Desert and the desire to work with youth.” She especially prizes applicants over 50, because, Long says, “this group is transitioning from their professional careers and looking to reconnect with personal interests, give back to their communities, and connect with new friends with similar interests.” She finds them “among the most dedicated and mission-supportive people in our volunteer corps.”

Many older docents volunteer at more than one venue as I do. Priscilla Herrier, 69, who docents at Tohono Chul Park and the Tucson Museum of Art (TMA), admits that being a “double docent” is time-consuming, but she loves her work at both places.

“Tohono Chul nurtures my love of the desert and the Southwest and TMA nurtures my love of art,” says Herrier. “Both offer me the pleasure of working with the public, meeting people from many different places and constantly learning new things.”

The ‘Best Part of the Experience’

Visitors to the venues where I volunteer frequently remark in surveys that the docents are the best part of the experience. The comment cards often speak of the docents’ warmth and depth of knowledge.

“They made us feel as if we were visitors in their home,” one family told the Desert Museum. A high-school teacher described her students’ visit as “like taking a bunch of little kids to Disneyland.” Just the other day, a longtime resident of Tucson thanked me for teaching her about the local trees. “I’ve lived here 40 years,” she said, “and now I see the desert in a whole new way.”

Though they are not paid, docents are rewarded by their institutions in various ways, ranging from badges for the amount of time donated to free admission for family members. But most would agree that the real reward is docenting itself.

Noreen Geyer-Kordosky, 67, who has been a docent at the Desert Museum for more than 35 years, says she “enjoys helping visitors look at ways to become good stewards of the environment.” First-year Desert Museum docent Betty Eppler, also 67, agrees that interacting with visitors is her favorite part of the job. And, she adds, “it’s nice to be regarded as a competent and valued individual as well. This is not a common experience for older people, especially women.”

Where to Find Docent Openings

If you’re interested in becoming a docent in retirement, there are opportunities in every city and state in the country. In addition to zoos and art museums, countless other specialized institutions such as the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento and the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village in Dover, whose docents interpret the history of agriculture in America. The Smithsonian Institution, which has nearly 10,000 volunteers among its 19 museums and research facilities, offers a huge range of opportunities for its docents.

To find docent positions in your area, check the websites of museums, zoos and other public institutions and look for “volunteer opportunities.” Most places offer docent training once every year or two and require a volunteer commitment of two years. Docents typically work for one hour or more one to three days per week, but this varies by institution as well as by docent.

Loren Bullock, who is still a docent at 90, has volunteered at various Smithsonian venues since 1959. He currently works at the National Postal Museum which documents the history of the postal service. Bullock, who retired from marketing computers in 1989, was attracted to docenting because of his love of history.

He takes seriously the purpose of the Smithsonian, described by its founder James Smithson as “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Docents fulfill that purpose, Bullock says, as “storytellers who make our history and culture come alive for visitors,” adding with a joke that “Being a docent is fun, and allows us to contribute to others; besides, they double our salary every year!”

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2016. All rights reserved.


Friday, May 6, 2016

A Poem for a Rainy Mother's Day

The Rain Catcher

On Mom’s red jacket, raindrops did fall,

They made such a racket, a resounding call,
They bubbled and glistened and rolled off with ease as mother, warm, dry and so very pleased
said “listen, listen!”

 “I miss the sound of the rain,” she led,
Curious that, what’s that she said?
“The pitter patter on roof top gutters,
The split and splatter on sidewalk and shudders,
Listen, listen!”

“I live in a high-rise, no chance to hear
the raindrops as they come so near
It’s just a sound I remember clear,
it brings back memories ,oh, so dear,
Listen, Listen!”

A little thing, but perhaps one of many,
A raindrop catcher, can’t cost a penny?
A tin pan placed on the patio rightly
catches the pitter patter more than just slightly,
“Listen, Listen!”

 -Lauren Moulton-Beaudry, Ed.D,
Lauren Moulton-Beaudry, Ed.D, is Director of Ethics and Education of the Front Porch Organizational Accountability Group. This poem was written for her mother, a resident of Villa Gardens Retirement Community in Pasadena, California.