Travel for seniors
People over the age of 60 are traveling more than ever before. Being a senior citizen entitles you to some terrific travel bargains.
The big car rental agencies don't seem to want your European business because only National currently gives an AARP discount (10%), but the many rental dealers who specialize in Europe—Auto Europe (TK), Europe-by-Car (TK)—offer seniors rates 5% lower than average.
Most major airlines offer discount programs for senior travelers; be sure to ask whenever you book a flight. In most European cities, people over 60 or 65 get reduced admission at theaters, museums, and other attractions, and they can often get discount fares or cards on public transportation and national rail systems. Just carry your passport as proof of age.
In an entirely unquantifiable benefit of travel in Europe, seniors are most often treated as respected elders and not marginalized, as they so often are in American society. In most of Europe, the older you get, the more vital a role you play as a wise elder, not just within the family but in the community at large. You'll routinely see three and four generations eating out together, and older people are viewed with dignity and respect. It's quite refreshing.
Tour companies specializing in senior and mature travel
Exploritas (www.exploritas.org) - The former Elderhostels has re-branded itself as Exploritas, devoted to "Adventures in lifelong learning." These are educational trips, often coordinated by universities, with more than 55 trips in or including Italy. Your days are packed with seminars, lectures, field trips, and sightseeing, all led by academics or expert tour guides. Programs range from one to four weeks. They also offer cruises, intergenerational trips (i.e.: bring the grand kids), and outdoors adventures.
Grand Circle (www.gct.com) - Top tour company for the senior set, aimed squarely at the over-50 market (though skewing older than that—and no, I'm not implying that over 50s are seniors; I'm just trying to provide a sense of the typical tour participants). Usually the full soup-to-nuts tours, including nearly nearly all meals, sightseeing, etc., and paced reasonably—you see a lot, but not a a whirlwind clip. Prices are guaranteed (no surprise fuel surcharges or anything). Usually a handful (3–4) Italy tours, plus another handful of cruises that include Italy.
OneTravel (www.onetravel.com) - Major online travel agency with frequent coupons and advertised airfares up to 60% off. It also has a specialty in senior travel.
Eldertreks (www.eldertreks.com) - Adventure outfit for mature travelers; tends to favor off-the-beaten-path trips, hence the only Italy trip currently on offer is an "Adriatic Adventure" that also encompasses Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bosnia.
Grandtravel (www.grandtravel.com) - Tours designed to bridge the generations of the family, aimed specifically at grandparents and grandchildren traveling together (the parental generation in between is not allowed—they might get in the way of all that unconditional grandparental love; however, aunts, uncles, and close family friends are welcome as grandparent substitutes). I love how the websites, in the "For Grandparents" section, explains such things as texting and Twitter to prepare the older generation to interact with their grand kids. A couple of summer Italy trips on tap.
Books and resources for the mature traveler
Although most of the specialty books on senior travel currently on the market are U.S.-focused, two do provide good general advice and contacts: The Seasoned Traveler (2005), and Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can't Get Unless You're Over 50 (2007).
Also check out the quarterly magazine Travel 50 & Beyond (travel50andbeyond.com; subscribe), as well as Travel
with a Challenge (www.travelwithachallenge.com), a Web magazine of challenging, adventurous, and intriguing cultural trips and volunteer vacations for mature travelers.