Today's seniors are eager to see the world, but they are also very aware of the value of money. Seniors on a budget can still enjoy traveling; advance planning and careful saving are the best weapons in your vacation planning arsenal.
Here are some travel tips for seniors on a budget:
Transportation costs can take a large bite out of your travel budget. If you would like to visit another state, province or country, consider traveling in the off-season. You won't have perfect weather, but you could save hundreds of dollars on airfare or train fare alone. Pack light to save on checked baggage fees.
Look for discount airfares, but be sure you read the fine print before booking on a low-cost airline. You may find that you must pay extra for printing out boarding passes, putting a carry-on item in the overhead bin or choosing your seat before your travel date. Get out your calculator and add up the fees before you buy your ticket.
Consider destinations 100 to 200 miles from your front door. Look at national parks, resorts, spas, big cities, historic towns and rural retreats. If you prefer not to drive, investigate the possibility of traveling by train, bus or discount airline.
If you're visiting a large city, weigh the expense of driving a car and parking it against the cost of taking public transportation. Flying to a major city on a discount airline and using the subway or bus can sometimes be less expensive than driving and paying $30 or more per day to park your car – and who wants to deal with all that traffic, anyway?
Where to Stay
Don't limit your imagination – or your travel budget – to hotel rooms. Yes, you may be able to find a great off-season deal on a hotel room, particularly if you consider family-owned hotels, but you should also consider alternative lodgings. Many youth hostels offer single and double rooms in addition to traditional dorm beds, and it's easy to find hostels that accept travelers of all ages.
For long-term stays, consider renting a studio apartment; you'll save even more by cooking your own food. In Europe, take a look at convent and monastery stays. Accommodations are simple and affordable.
Discount hotel websites, such as Priceline and Hotwire, are good resources for last-minute deals. In Europe, bed and breakfast stays are much more affordable, if sometimes less elegant, than they are in the United States.
You can save a lot of money by making some of your own meals during your trip. If your hotel, B&B or youth hostel offers free breakfast, you're already in good shape. Stop at grocery stores and corner markets to buy sandwich fixings, drinks and snacks in order to make a picnic lunch. (Tip: Pack a small, plastic cutting board and a knife in your checked baggage; with these items, you will be able to make sandwiches, slice cheese and pare fruit. If you like mustard or mayonnaise on your sandwiches, save extra mustard and mayonnaise packets from fast food restaurants and pack them, carefully wrapped, in your checked baggage.)
Eat at locally-owned restaurants to maximize value and improve your understanding of the places you visit. Use a travel guidebook or budget travel website to find affordable restaurants in a place you are visiting for the first time.
Tours and Cruises
Depending on where you'd like to travel, you may be able to save money by going on an organized tour or cruise, particularly if you can book many months in advance and take advantage of early-bird discounts. Some tour operators offer two-for-one deals or airfare discounts if you book a year or more before your departure date. Others offer last-minute discounts to spur-of-the-moment travelers.
If saving for a tour is a true hardship, consider applying for a Road Scholar scholarship; Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel, is a non-profit organization that offers educational travel opportunities for adults.
While taking day trips might not seem as glamorous as going on a luxury river cruise, you may discover that you've missed out on some great museums, gardens and historic sites because they are close to where you live. Contact your local Convention and Visitors Bureau and get a list of attractions, festivals and special events in your area, then hit the (local) road.
Discounts and Deals
Senior discounts still exist, although they tend to be small. Most major hotel chains in the U. S. offer senior discounts of 5 – 15 percent off their rack rates. You may find that you can save more money by looking for a weekend hotel package or staying in a suburb.
Seniors often qualify for discounts, again of the 10 to 15 percent variety, on train travel. Do some research before you buy tickets to make sure you are getting the best deal. A travel agent may be able to help you take advantage of senior train discounts in other countries.
Before you buy a multi-day museum pass, decide how many museums you can realistically see in a day and add up the individual museum admission charges. If you visit only one museum each day, you may find that the pay-as-you-go approach will save you money over the multi-day pass.
Look for free things to see and do at your vacation destination. If possible, plan your trip around free and pay-what-you-wish museum days. New York City alone has dozens of museums that offer free or pay-what-you-wish admission on specific days of the week. (Tip: If you visit a museum on a free day, get there before the museum opens. Museums are notoriously crowded on free days, particularly in cities such as Paris and Rome.)
Finally, always ask if a senior discount is available. You may save some money in unexpected places.
Health and Safety
Unexpected medical expenses could drive up the cost of your vacation. Talk with your doctor several weeks before your trip begins. Find out which immunizations are required and recommended, particularly if you are traveling to a tropical zone, and fill any prescriptions you will need while you are away.
Wear good walking shoes and stay in hotels with elevators if slips and falls are a concern.
If you use supplemental oxygen, check with your airline, railway line, tour operator and/or cruise line to make sure that you understand the requirements for traveling with portable oxygen. Bring extra batteries for your portable oxygen concentrator, particularly if you are flying to your vacation destination. Be sure to reserve train seats in advance, even if you need to pay extra to do so. Never choose a seat in a smoking car; find a different train instead.
Be sure you understand your medical coverage before your trip begins. Medicare, for example, does not pay for any costs incurred outside the United States. If necessary, buy a travel medical insurance policy that will cover you during your trip.
Medical evacuation coverage could save you a great deal of money if things go wrong during your vacation; this type of insurance covers the cost of getting you home if you are ill or injured.
There are many types of travel insurance, covering everything from trip delay to lost baggage. Talk with your insurance agent to see if your existing policies will cover you during your trip, and consider buying travel insurance to bridge any gaps in coverage.