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Not All Who Wander Are Lost

With many travel options available, older adults and retirees are using their free time to satisfy their wanderlust.

by Missy Sheehan

Travel, a luxury few have time for during their working and childrearing years, tops the to-do list of many older adults. After leaving behind the structure of a career, what better way is there to spend your time than visiting all the places you never had time to see while working?

Anne Seibert says she and her husband, Jim, both 69, haven’t had many responsibilities since their kids graduated college from and they retired. Residents of Homewood at Williamsport for the last year, the couple have been traveling extensively over the last decade, going on more than 30 cruises and touring countries like China, Germany, England and France.

With fewer commitments tying them down, older adults and retirees like Anne and Jim who live in and around Washington County are getting out and seeing the world thanks to the array of unique and fun travel opportunities in the area.

Getting Out and About

While most of the area’s vacation destinations are open to globetrotters of any age, older adults travel more frequently than younger folks. Amy Short, director of group and travel programs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, says the majority of travelers she helps are older than 55. Many of them take advantage of the nearby cruise terminal in Baltimore and BWI Airport to travel internationally, she says. AAA Mid-Atlantic works with several cruise lines and tour companies that offer discounted group and senior rates.

Kline Tours Inc., based in Greencastle, Pa., offers trips by motorcoach and by air to destinations like Atlantic City, Key West, Las Vegas, New York and Washington, D.C., to take in sporting events, shows, sightseeing and more. Garry Kline, who owns Kline Tours along with his wife, Lynn, says that weekday trips are particularly popular with older adults, especially retirees, since they have more free time than working folks.

Dave Baer, who owns Maugansville-based Baer Express Tours with his wife, Nancy, says a lot of seniors take one-day bus trips to eat at dinner theaters or to attend shows. “Lancaster is our most popular destination for that,” he says. Baer Express Tours also offers a popular mystery trip, where travelers aren’t told in advance where they’re going. “We try to pick destinations that are unique, that people wouldn’t normally choose for themselves,” Dave says.

For the Love of Learning

Many older adults in the area participate in the Lifelong Learning travel program at Hagerstown Community College to scratch their travel bug. Anne Myers, Lifelong Learning program manager, partners with Richards World Travel in Hagerstown to organize several day trips and one longer trip each year. A bit different than what most travel companies offer though, “these trips are opportunities that combine travel and learning,” Anne says.

For international trips, Anne says travelers attend pre-trip learning sessions where they learn about the language and the culture of the place they’re visiting. “When we went to China we learned how to say some basic phrases,” she says. “And we learned about the history of certain areas we’d be visiting.”

Greencastle, Pa., resident Dorothy Reed, 84, teaches genealogy classes at HCC and has visited more than 30 countries — Italy, New Zealand, Switzerland and Denmark, to name a few — since she began traveling in the 1990s. With plans to go to England and Wales in May with HCC’s Lifelong Learning travel program, Dorothy says she likes to learn on her trips and enjoys the structure of group travel because the details are planned for you. “You aren’t spending half your time trying to find out which foot you’re supposed to be standing on,” she says.

'Plan and Plan Well'

Doris Merson, a retiree who lives outside Smithsburg, has been traveling to places like Costa Rica, Aruba, Nova Scotia and China since the 1970s. At 86 years old, Doris says she still goes on long trips at least once a year with the Lifelong Learning travel program as well as with HCC’s alumni association, which hosts an annual cruise. In January, Doris, Anne and Jim Seibert joined the alumni group to cruise the Caribbean, making stops in Mexico, the Grand Cayman Islands, Jamaica and Haiti.

Over the last few years, Doris has developed arthritis in her legs that has begun to affect her ability to walk long distances. Doris says she’s not letting her arthritis stop her from traveling though. For trips that involve walking short distances, she often uses a cane to support herself. On longer trips with more walking, like her trip to the Panama Canal last year, she bought herself a four-wheeled rolling walker that includes a folding seat. “You just push it along, and you can distribute your weight better,” Doris says. “So my legs don’t bother me as much.”

Because Dorothy doesn’t walk as well as she used to, she plans accordingly and examines where she chooses to go. “Plan and plan well,” she advises to those with mobility issues. “Usually the people in charge of your group can tell you what it’s going to be like, what to do and where not to go.”

Most travel companies will work with older adults to make sure their needs are met. “We just need to know ahead of time,” Dave says. “That way we can talk to them about their issue and make every effort to accommodate.”

With both Anne and Jim Seibert turning 70 in the fall, Anne says they have a big travel year ahead of them. The couple plans to travel as much as they can while they’re still active and able to travel independently. “We’ll keep going until we’re unable to enjoy our experiences — until we’re too exhausted to travel anymore,” she says. Because that’s the whole purpose, she says, “To learn more about the world and enjoy unique experiences.”