Outside the Box: After a year of staying home retirees are hitting the road this summer — here’s how


Ellen Currie wants to go to Paris but she’s waiting until next year.

This summer, she is staying closer to home. She plans to fly to Portland, Ore., to meet a group taking a motor coach tour with Road Scholar, which organizes not-for-profit educational travel focused on those age 50 and older.

“I’m going to give Europe a little breathing room, and not think about it until next year,” says Currie, 78, a retired school teacher who lives near Fort Collins, Colo.

Yet, Paris is still on her list. “I would love to go to Paris, going to fancy restaurants, to the Louvre. I’ve never been to Paris.”

Read: 8 travel tips for vaccinated seniors in 2021

In the meantime, she’s booked the six-day, five-night Oregon coast trip for approximately $2,000, plus air. She loves the ruggedness of Oregon, the unspoiled coastline, and is looking forward to seeing Multnomah Falls. Paris can wait.

Currie is among those retirees who are fully vaccinated, and want to get away this summer but will travel domestically.

According to Tripadvisor’s 2021 Summer Travel Index more than two-thirds of Americans are planning to travel from June through the end of August. Of those, 74% expect to take a domestic trip while just 13%  plan to travel internationally. And it’s not surprising with the State Department announcing last month that 80% of countries would likely be placed on a “Do Not Travel” level 4 list. In addition, few international borders are open, even to fully vaccinated travelers from the U.S.

“We have limited programs internationally because borders are not open to us internationally,” says Maeve Hartney, senior vice president of programs with Road Scholar. “People are booking a lot of North America for summer and beyond.”  Those who were unable or unwilling to travel during 2020 are among them. “We could fill more programs. There’re still restrictions on the size of the group.” Americans cannot yet travel to some destinations, such as to Canada and much of Europe. The European Union aims to open with restrictions in time for summer but no definitive guidelines have been announced.

“We hope to hear by the end of May,” Hartney says.

Meanwhile, those booking summer travel are either deciding to stay closer to home like Ellen Currie.

“If you want to go somewhere and be guaranteed you can go, go explore the U.S.,” Hartney says. The most popular summer destinations, she says, are the U.S. National Parks such as Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Canyonlands as well as the coast of Maine from Portland to Bar Harbor, the Dakotas, Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, and the lower Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest for kayaking and other outdoor programs.

Many who booked trips before the pandemic didn’t cancel their plans but accepted credit for a future trip in 2021. Now that that time has arrived, “summer doesn’t look good” for many international destinations, says Sophia Kulich, owner of Sophia’s Travel, based in Palm Harbor, Fla. “We just schedule and we wait. It’s unpredictable.” Some destinations such as Iceland may be possible this summer.

“We keep rescheduling until the countries open up,” Kulich says.  “This situation is changing every day. Is this country open? We check with suppliers. We check the latest COVID requirements” for vaccinations, testing and quarantining.

Robin Inger is among those retirees who are waiting, and hoping that this year they will be able to take that international trip, in her case, to Iceland. She and friend and former colleague Jenny Mantel planned to explore Iceland’s Arctic Way by car and driver last August. With the pandemic raging, their trip was cancelled. They hope this summer will be different.

“We think by summer it’ll be OK to travel,” says Inger, 77, a retired assistant to a reading consultant, who lives in Harwinton, Conn. “We had put down a deposit that was nonrefundable so we pushed it to this year.”

“I got a credit from Iceland Air. I am very hopeful. I’m going to be devastated if we can’t go again this year. Our overseas trips are numbered. We want to get in as many as we possibly can,” Inger says.

She also plans to take a trip closer to home after Labor Day  — to Maine — with her husband, who no longer travels overseas.

One silver lining for the Iceland trip is that the airfare has dropped from $700 roundtrip to $400 so Inger is able to upgrade to business class. She has to use the credit within a year, so that is another incentive to take the nine-day trip in August. Their deposit was 25% of the $7,500 per-person trip. She bought trip cancellation insurance just in case.

 Others like Currie are planning domestic trips they are just about 100% sure they can take this summer.

“A lot of travel this summer will be domestic,” says Brigitte Armand, president of Eurobound, a boutique tour operator that specializes in European travel. “It will be closer to home. We’re trying to be as flexible as we can so people are comfortable making reservations.”

In contrast, Lizbeth and Tony Earwood, who are in their early 70s, are meeting seven family members — grown children and grandchildren —  in Seaside, Fla., in June. The couple will drive from their home in San Antonio, and meet the others who are flying from San Antonio and driving from Baton Rouge, La. They have rented a house Earwood that they found on VRBO, a vacation rental website. “We got one relatively cheap because it had one bad review,” she says.

The price tag is $8,600 for the group of nine in a four-bedroom house, and the adults will split the cost. “We’re all still employed or on a fixed income,” she says. She and her husband retired in 2019. “The chances of us not going are slim to none.”

Harriet Edleson is author of the forthcoming book, “12 Ways to Retire on Less: Planning an Affordable Future” (Rowman & Littlefield, May 2021). A former staff writer/editor/producer for AARP, she writes for The Washington Post Real Estate section.

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