50-plus and ready for adventure: Why retirees are setting off on ‘golden gap years’

New research reveals that older generations have a growing interest in serious travel following retirement, a trend referred to as the ‘golden gap year’.
New research reveals that older generations have a growing interest in serious travel following retirement, a trend referred to as the ‘golden gap year’. Copyright Neom
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

New research reveals that older generations have a growing interest in serious travel following retirement, a trend referred to as the ‘golden gap year’.

ADVERTISEMENT

When Lyn and Steve Stokes retired at the age of 48, they did not dream of settling down into the sedate lifestyle of the typical pensioner.

Instead, the couple from Bedford in the UK yearned for something usually associated with young adventurous travellers: they wanted to see the world.

Though not aware of it, the Stokes are part of a growing trend of older travellers choosing to spend their retirement undertaking ambitious and long-term trips.

The phenomenon has been dubbed the ‘golden gap year’- a mature version of the high school graduate’s intermission of exploration and self-discovery - and it looks set to shake up the travel industry.

What is the golden gap year?

New research reveals that older generations have a growing interest in serious travel following retirement, a trend referred to as the ‘golden gap year’.

More than two-fifths of over 55s claim to be ‘adventurous’, according to a recent poll by boutique cruise company Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.

The UK-based and Norwegian-owned cruise line found that almost a quarter of those surveyed say they have got more adventurous with age and three in 10 profess to travel more now they are retired than they ever did.

In the survey of more than 2,000 people, over a third also claim they have never taken the same trip twice and 38 per cent say they are planning to visit multiple countries in 2024.

Small group adventure travel company Intrepid Travel has seen similar trends too.

“Bookings from UK customers aged 60-plus were up 42 per cent last year compared to before the pandemic,” says Hazel McGuire, Intrepid’s general manager for the UK and Ireland.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines also found that respondents were actively choosing to save money to travel when they retire with more than a quarter of Brits already having funds set aside for this purpose.

Figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics show a 37 per cent rise in spending by over 65s on trips abroad in the last four years.

While these customers spend more, good value is important to them too.

“They want to make sure they’re getting bang for their buck when it comes to interesting, unique experiences and comfort when they travel,” says McGuire.

‘Retirement gifted us with the golden years of adventure’

Lyn and Steve Stokes are a prime example of this growing group of travellers. In the 20 years following their retirement, they have completed their bucket list of destinations.

As well as visiting most of Europe, they have ticked off Greenland and Egypt and have spent five Christmases in the Canary Islands.

“I distinctly remember being asked by a colleague what I planned to do when I retired,” Steve, now 68, says.

This older demographic of travellers is also opting for longer and more ambitious types of trips.
This older demographic of travellers is also opting for longer and more ambitious types of trips.Neom

“I had saved most of my working life and I suddenly realised that retirement was going to be the opportunity to do things we had always dreamt of - gifting us with golden years of adventure.”

ADVERTISEMENT

This older demographic of travellers is also opting for longer and more ambitious types of trips.

“Up until [retirement], we had tended to visit the same resort for two weeks every single year,” Steve adds. “We hadn’t really travelled much when we were younger and building a career had seemed the focus.”

Lyn says retirement made the couple more adventurous.

“Some of the highlights for us have been visiting the southern tip of Greenland and standing on deck while we passed through icebergs, seeing the pyramids in Egypt and the Northern Lights in Norwegian Fjords,” the 64-year-old says.

McGuire says Intrepid’s bookings reflect this rising interest in adventure travel from retired people. “We recently had a 77-year-old customer do Everest Base Camp with us,” she says.

ADVERTISEMENT

The company is also seeing a lot of ‘victory lap’ travellers joining their trips.

“These are older travellers who visited destinations on a budget or while backpacking when they were younger, and now want to go back at a slower pace, with more comfort, and enjoy it from a different perspective.”

Travel industry ups its offerings for older travellers

Interest in golden gap years has prompted travel agencies and holiday companies to introduce new offerings dedicated to the older demographic.

G Adventures, an adventure travel company, has launched its Geluxe Collection this year, with “trips that focus on being physically active, with one-of-a-kind accommodation, elevated dining, and a heavy focus on community and culture.”

“These trips have been carefully curated for people who enjoy adventure with a softer landing, yet still appreciate meaningful interactions with local people as part of their travel experience,” says Yves Marceau, vice president of product for G Adventures.

ADVERTISEMENT

Options include venturing into the Atlas Mountains and Sahara in southern Morocco or a walking safari through the Matusadona National Park in Zimbabwe.

Intrepid is also looking to cater to the mature traveller with their Premium range.

“It is incredibly popular with our older customers because it combines our authentic, experience-rich travel style at a higher level of comfort,” says McGuire.

“Travellers have upgraded accommodation, our most experienced guides, a slower pace, and exclusive experiences like cruising down the Ganges at sunset in India with local musicians.”

Small group alternative cruises are also proving popular for golden gap years.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Cruises are the very best way to travel the world - you get on, unpack and then you are on holiday. Every night you go to sleep and in the morning, you wake up somewhere new,” says Lyn.

Share this articleComments

You might also like