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You’ve put in the work—now’s your chance to take all the vacations you couldn’t during your working days.

By Lindsay Tigar
April 01, 2021
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how to travel in retirement - tips (mediterranean view)
Credit: Getty Images

Those Golden Years do, in fact, seem rose-colored. With visions of laid-back afternoons, free time to explore long-forgotten hobbies, and the ability to pick up and travel, retirement is a long-term goal for many people. Finishing our careers and sending our children off to college means we have the opportunity to dust off our passports again, a dream for many, particularly if traveling has been more dream than reality for the last few years (or decades).

Though senior citizen travel is indeed common, with at least 25 percent of those 65 and older leaving the country annually, sometimes, finances do play a factor. That's why it's smart to not only start thinking about where you'll go when you can travel in retirement, but also how you'll pay for it. And, of course, how to save on costs. We spoke with money and travel experts to map out your retirement world tour, geographically and financially.

Start planning 5 to 10 years before you retire

As with any other part of your financial picture, your golden year excursions should be carefully planned well in advance. By five to 10 years before your planned retirement age, you (hopefully) have a robust savings account, a retirement fund your employer matches, and a strategy for how you’ll make ends meet once you’re no longer doing the 9-to-5 grind.

But how much money will you actually have when you do retire? According to data from the Federal Reserve, the average 65- to 69-year old has $206,819.53 in retirement savings. When you tally up your mortgage, utilities, and other expenses, that may not last as long as you’d like. That’s why financial therapist Erika Wasserman suggests a separate fund for retirement travel—and, more importantly, a budget to give you the wiggle-room you need to make it a reality.

“First, define how you want to retire,” she says. “For example, how many trips you would like to take a year. Create a realistic budget to live that lifestyle.”

RELATED: How to Make Your Money Last in Retirement

Create an annual travel budget—and leave room for a splurge

It’s not enough to make that 10-year plan; you should also revisit your financial matters frequently, says wealth manager Michelle Mackin. If you’re comfortable managing your assets on your own, make sure you understand the overall cost of the trip, as well as potential emergency expenses that may pop up with the unpredictable nature of travel. A financial advisor can help you best maximize your savings and ensure you have enough cash to last you for many years—or decades!—to come.

But hey, since you’re retired, you should also treat yourself. You burned the midnight oil for so long; it’s time to enjoy at least some fine things in life, Mackin says.

“Even with the right financial planning, no trip is complete without a last-minute indulgence,” she says. “Allow for wiggle room to account for an unexpected shopping spree, a last-minute excursion, or the realization that you must dine at the Michelin star restaurant on your final night.”

Create a wanderlist

Finances will fund your flights, accommodations, and restaurant reservations, but it’s your quest for adventure that’ll fuel your experiences. And while checking off every single country on the planet would be a dream, once you’re past the age of 65, you might lack the energy or mobility to ride camelback or take a lengthy bus ride. That’s why it’s essential to narrow down your travel wishes into what Virtuoso travel advisor Sandy Pappas calls a wanderlist.

Once you’ve determined what you absolutely have to see, you can start to plan based on your age: aka, you might not want to take a four-day flight when you’re 80, but at 67, you’ll be just fine.

“I work with my clients to prioritize these bucket list trips,” Pappas says. “For example, if Africa, Australia, or New Zealand are on their wish list, I suggest that they take these types of trips sooner rather than later, due to the long-haul flights. Longer flights take more out of people, so I always suggest that they do those earlier in their retired life. Australia is a huge country requiring flights between destinations, so it is an active trip.”

Don’t skip insurance

Both trip and international health insurance are important investments for older travelers to make, but they can be pretty confusing since they don’t always cover every possibility.

“Say you’re hiking in the Swiss Alps or on a walking tour on Santorini in Greece, and you fall and break your hip,” Pappas says. “Traditional policy coverage will provide medical evacuation to the nearest hospital in the destination. But if you would prefer to be flown back to the United States to rehab, then you must have coverage for medical evacuation to the hospital of your choice.”

Make sure to read the fine print and ask your friends for the type of policies they trust. You don’t want to get caught in an expensive debacle abroad that’s already stressful enough with a language barrier—but that could also cost you your travel budget of the year, Pappas says.

Rent a home rather than a hotel room

Once upon a time, you were happy in a hostel or even sleeping on the floor while exploring Europe. In retirement, though, you’ll want a little extra TLC, and you want to keep up your routines, regardless if you’re at home or not.

For senior travel, Mackin says renting a home is a cost-effective and comfortable way to travel. You can also travel slower and stay longer, since many vacation rental companies, like Airbnb, will offer monthly discounts for extended bookings. This way, you can enjoy all there is to love about the beaches of Mexico in a casa without steps, blowing cold air conditioning and stocked with all the kitchen essentials you need to make your signature dishes. This is becoming a popular way for those in the 60 or older crowd to travel, and Airbnb reported this group as their fasted-growing demographic in 2018.

Consider asking friends to join you … or your grandchildren

It’s always more fun to experience a jaw-dropping sunset or to savor a mouthwatering gelato cone with people you love. That’s why traveling in a small group of other seniors is a way to not only save on cost, but to also take some of the logistical planning off of your shoulders, says Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group.

“It may be a motorcoach tour or a river cruise through Europe or the U.S.,” she says. “Well-traveled seniors are interested in more exotic experiences like Antarctic cruises or African safaris. Many active retirement communities set up travel clubs so that people can travel together.”

Friedman also sees a growing trend in skip generation trips, where retirees bring their grandchildren along for the ride. Since you may not have been given the opportunity to jet-set at their age, you now have the chance to witness a new destination or country through their young eyes, spurring a whole new cycle of wanderlust.