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9 Ideas for Affordable Retirement Travel

Category: Travel

April 16, 2017 – Travel is one of the joys that most people look forward to in retirement. Unfortunately for many retirees, who find themselves struggling to pay their daily expenses, being able to afford a robust travel schedule is a serious problem.

Here are some practical tips to help even the most budget conscious baby boomer enjoy a lot of great travel experiences in retirement.
1. Travel at the last minute. Your favorite airline, cruise line, or travel site probably has email alerts on bargains. Sometimes it’s almost cheaper to travel than it is to stay home!
2. Put a “Watch” on your bucket list trips. Go to Google or sites like Travelocity and type in the flight or tour you are interested in. There is usually a way to track and get alerts about pricing changes – book when you think you have your best deal.

3. Find a place to stay with Airbnb or sites like HomeAway.com. Today there is no need to pay big hotel prices when thousands and thousands of people are willing to rent you a room for a fraction of the price. Check user ratings and stay with reputable outfits though, as there are scammers out there willing to steal your money.
4. Try a home exchange. Some of the more established players in the home exchange market include HomeLink, HomeExchange, and Intervac. There are all types of home exchanges with advantages and pitfalls. This article from USA Today has some great tips on how to do it right.

5. Volunteer or get a job as guide or helper. A few years back we interviewed Barbara Traynor for this article, “How to Live for Free as a Second Career Volunteer“. Although budget-challenged, Barbara has had amazing travel experiences while doing rewarding volunteer work at the same time. She has some great ideas on how you can do the same.
6. Buy a used RV. Our series on Retiring in an RV by Betty Fitterman was one of our most read ever! There are so many places you can go while bringing your home along with you.
7. Travel in the off season. Being retired has advantages, and one of them is flexibility. While working stiffs have to work around holidays and vacation schedules, you have the time to travel when rates are lowest.
8. Look for free entertainment options. Look for concerts at churches, download walking or biking tours, attend library talks, hit museums or other places on free or senior days. If you look around you can find all kinds of entertainment options that are either free or very low cost.
9. Do your research. Blogs, travel columns, and guide books have all kinds of ideas for where and when to go. The more time you spend researching the better your trip will be, and the more you can save.

Comments? We would love to hear your best ideas for making travel work on a small budget. Better yet, what are some of the best trips you have taken in your retirement? Please share in the Comments section below!

For further reading:
The Ultimate Downsize – Pack Your Suitcase and Hit the Road
Boomers’ Biggest Regrets: Not Traveling Enough
More Great Boomer Retirement Trips from Jan
5 Golden Rules for Solving Baby Boomer Travel Problems We Didn’t Have Back in the Day
Best Road Trips for Baby Boomers
Adventurous Retirements (a series of articles)




Posted by Admin on April 15th, 2017

36 Comments »

  1. It is nice if you have kitchen at your vacation location. If so, consider bringing a small suit case full of food such as canned tuna, sardines, canned chicken, canned deviled ham, peanutbutter, jelly, cup o soups, crackers, bread, instant coffee, tea bags, creamer, sugar, jar of mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, dried cereal, dried milk or almond milk, salt, pepper, precooked bacon, energy bars, spray cheese, pop tarts, oatmeal, dehydrated fruit, tang. You get the idea. You can save a lot of money by preparing breakfast and lunch and then maybe splurge on dinners. You could bring some spaghetti and sauce and rice then add leftover dinner meat to the spaghetti sauce or rice. When you are done with your vacation, most of these items should have been eaten and no need to carry them back home. If you have some stuff left over and don’t feel like bringing them home, I am sure you can find someone to take them off your hands. Sometimes stores in vacation areas are high priced or you can’t get what you want without driving around all over the place. We used to have a timeshare and would always bring food with us. We would visit a local store too to suppliment fresh veggies, eggs, bread.

    by Louise — April 16, 2017

  2. I go to sites like Groupon and put in the city i plan on visiting to score local deals. Also Who Fish website lists local event for everyplace in the country, many of which are free.

    by Laura — April 16, 2017

  3. Try being on an e-mailing lists for your favorite resorts. They may send out special incentives. We’re actually going to an upscale resort this mid week for $58.00 a nite and since we mentioned them on Facebook we get additional amenities.

    by Staci — April 16, 2017

  4. My sister and BIL travel a lot using Airbnb. They are careful to check the reviews and pick places right where they want to be. They stayed at one while visiting me in Tucson, with 1 bedroom, respectable kitchen, bath and living room with TV and DVD player. Very charming and good price. They try to keep all Airbnb stays under $50 a night. They have a small bag to carry essential kitchen items in. They’re extremely experienced travelers, having traveled all over the world. They walk, hike, use public transportation and Uber, rather than rent a car. Right now they are in Spain at an Airbnb in a fun little town. They’re renting out their house through a realtor and are on the road. Sounds good to me.

    by Elaine — April 26, 2017

  5. We like to travel to cities and spend a week, ten days or two weeks. We look for apart hotels. In Buenos Aires we like to stay at an apart hotel called Trianon Residence in the Recoleta section. The two bedroom apartments are huge, someone at the desk who speaks English 24/7 full kitchen two baths, taxis at the front door, restaurants an easy walk and grocery store a block and a half away. A full breakfast provided every morning. We can walk to Recoleta Cemetery and the public park where there are sales of great stuff on Saturdays and Sundays. The price of Trianon Residence is affordable and so much better than a hotel room. In Panama City, Panama we stay at the Torre de Alba Hotel and suites, here all units are one bedroom units with king or two twins, full kitchen with a separate washer and dryer right in every unit. Again people at the desk 24/7, a full breakfast provided every morning and convenient to just about everything. We find ourselves able to stay longer in center city locations and feel more of the city and country we are visiting. We find this style of living in apart hotels much better if we are going to be in a place more than a day or two.

    by David Lane — April 26, 2017

  6. Our trip to Cuba was one of the best ever. The guide was so helpful and it was so interesting to see the contrasts and conflicts. See http://www.lucyburdette.com/2014/cuba-taking-things-for-granted-lucyburdette/

    by Admin — April 27, 2017

  7. To David, What is an ‘apart hotel’ ?

    by Billy — April 27, 2017

  8. I think that services such as AirBnB have become less of a bargain than they used to be. I was researching a trip to Colorado and found that on the surface, AirBnB prices looked good. But…once they tacked on their fees, these properties were more expensive than other sources. I found at least one property that charged over a $100 for cleaning and forty in other fees. This basically added nearly $40 to a three night stay. I suppose this doesn’t matter as much if you stay a couple of weeks. Many of the local hotels had cabins that had the same square footage without the added charges. It pays to shop around.

    by Lynn — April 27, 2017

  9. Not sure if this is the right place for this rant, but I wanted to flag one of the difficulties of traveling as a senior. I was watching the news this morning about another United misstep, and it reminded me of my own unpleasant experience this year with United. Whether age discrimination or just a general unfriendliness to seniors, this is an example of the difficulties we face when flying. Earlier this year, I had booked a flight to Seattle for an Alaskan cruise. When I checked in, I was told that my United flight had been cancelled and I was rebooked (to add insult to injury, I was told to contact United customer servicce for a refund for my first class seat and was booked into a middle seat at the back of the plane for a 5 hour flight). I was given 45 minutes to get to a connecting flight in Chicago, which United told me was all that they were required to give passengers. That 45 minutes is calculated from landing on the runway to the next flight’s departure time. If you deduct the time from landing to get to the gate, on the one hand, and the 15 minutes after boarding is closed for the next flight, this gave only about 15 minutes to actually get from one gate to the other. I am in my 60s with an ankle that is held together with pins, and unable to run. There were two other senior passengers in the sae situation. We asked if we could have a cart waiting upon arrival to take us to the next gate. The United agent told us to ask the agent at the gate to call ahead for us. We asked the agent at the gate, who told us to ask the stewardess who would be able to call ahead. We asked the stewardess, who told us that we would have to ask the gate agent upon arrival to get a cart for us. We asked the gate agent, who told us that we would have to flag down a cart if we saw one as we ran to the next gate across the terminal. Fortunately, the next flight was delayed enough for us to get to the connecting flight, with no help from United (and my ankle was swollen and aching for the next few days). It was a miserable, stressful experience. This is an example of the difficulties of airline travel for elder passengers. Planning ahead, light carry-ons, traveling the day before the cruise, etc. didn’t avoid this miserable experience. Yeah, you can try to view it as an adventure. Bah humbug Airline Industry!

    by Kate — July 7, 2017

  10. Ugh, Kate! Sounds awful! I hate those endless loops, whether on the computer or people generated!!!

    by ella — July 8, 2017

  11. Kate, there is a solution to that issue: don’t fly on United. They have demonstrated over and over again that they do not give a rip about their customers. There are other airlines.

    by Linda — July 8, 2017

  12. Kate, I don’t think it’s anti senor, just anti everyone! and it’s not just the airlines and delays and cancelled flights but the hassel on the ground as well. When planning trips now I avoid any that require flying. That does make a cruise in Alaska out of the question but cruises aren’t my thing so no big deal.

    by jean — July 8, 2017

  13. Airlines in general are not what they used to be. I used to travel a lot and do miss it a bit but the horror stories I see on TV these days makes me cringe. So many things to hate! I understand the need for the TSA agents but they could be a bit more courteous. The extra charges for luggage weighing over a certain amount. American people are larger than ever and they are making the seats smaller! Everyone is crowded together like sardines. That alone makes people angry. If there is food offered, it is disgusting. Sometimes the passengers are to blame too. I got on a flight from Hartford, CT to Puerto Rico and half the people took the wrong seats. The flight attendants were barking orders for everyone to get into the right seats. UGH! I have heard reports that the seat tables are full of germs and the blankets they offer are also germy. God forbid if you have to use the bathroom! Oh, and gas prices are cheaper now but airline tickets are not cheaper. Flying is a necessary evil!

    by louise — July 9, 2017

  14. Kate and Jean, I couldn’t agree more. Flying is a miserable experience, and United is a miserable airline. Because of my current job and location, I end up flying united most of the time and have for the past 19 years and so have lots of experience with them. I won’t regale you with my tales of woe, but I can tell you my wife and I have had MANY similar experiences. And Linda, while you are right there are other airlines, and we have tried many of them and most are certainly better than united, it is a really just a matter of minor degrees. You might get an inch here or there more legroom, but they all pack people in like cattle cars, and it doesn’t matter who you fly when it comes to TSA and hassles on the ground. One thing we are looking forward to when we retire is exactly what Jean is saying: no more trips by air. We will do all our travel by car. We have been blessed that our work has taken us all over the world, so we won’t feel like we’re missing out.

    by Partagas — July 9, 2017

  15. Partagas, Wow, as much as I hate flying I despise driving even more! Mostly on the highways. There seems to be no rules of the roads anymore. Everyone is going 90 mph and are bumper to bumper. If there is an inch of space someone will fly into it. Tractor Trailer trucks barreling down on you. To me driving is more horrifying that the worst rollercoaster rides you can imagine. My hub had to go to a large city to have surgery. I hired a limo company to drive us out there and back. Even the limo driver admitted the traffic was horrific and he was a professional driver. I don’t mind two lane roads where the traffic flows nicely but can no longer do highways!

    by louise — July 10, 2017

  16. Wow – my sympathies about all that travel with United! I have done enough traveling for work that I I am also looking forward to traveling by car — but as Louise points out, that also has its own set of risks. I remember my Dad’s doctor warning him not to try to drive at night due to the whole night vision issue, to stay off highways due to deteriorating reflexes, and not to take long car trips unless he stopped every hour in order to avoid circulatory problems. Retirement travel is not as easy as the magazines make it appear…

    by Kate — July 10, 2017

  17. Kate, you are so right! I forgot to mention I have glaucoma and my night driving vision is terrible! I did buy these night vision glasses to put over my prescription glasses and they do help tremendously. Darkness and rain are not my friend when driving! I try never to drive at night. Funny, I have mentioned hiring a limo service to take us to the hospital to different people and a lot of people thought it was a good idea. That would be a good job for someone who doesn’t mind driving in the crazy traffic. Hospital transportation!

    by louise — July 10, 2017

  18. About flying on United…I travel for work enough to have achieved permanent gold status on United. Please recognize that Continental airlines and United merged several years ago, so there are both legacy Continental and United flight attendants and ground staff. The legacy Continental folks are far superior in their attitudes and helpfulness then the United folks on domestic routes. I know how proud legacy Continental folks are of what side of the merger they come from and how difficult their post-merger situation is. Daisies still occasionally grow in the cracks of the concrete…

    by Greg — July 11, 2017

  19. Comment on United. My husband and I flew United from Norfolk,Va to Fairbanks, Alaska on May 24. There were no incidents while traveling. All flights were on time. In addition staff was particularly helpful in providing wheelchair for my husband to the gate due to a back problem. I feel that it is helpful to provide this comment when there has been so much negativity about this airline.

    by Kathy Dornbach — July 12, 2017

  20. Administrator: A suggestion for Topretirement.com: how about a topretirement.com cruise for members of the site, with sessions on retirement topics that have interested so many people here? I suggest RCL Anthem of the Seas on 2/23 since it’s priced well and I just booked it solo LOL. Many organizations run themed cruises, like the Oldies Rockcruises – why not retirement? And as a bonus, Administrator’s cabin would probably be free?!!

    by Kate — June 3, 2019

  21. Thanks for the suggestion Kate. It is a good idea and one we will take into consideration. Once upon a time we thought about organizing tours through parts of the country, like the Carolinas, Florida, or Arizona, but it seemed like the logistics were more than we thought we could/want to handle. Meanwhile, organizing your own tours is a good idea. And that leads me to think that we could organize virtual tours – we suggest where to visit and give a little prep, then you go and do it on your own or maybe make a holiday with friends. We will percolate on that.

    Love your ideas, keep them coming. Meanwhile, enjoy that RCL cruise – to the Caribbean?

    by Admin — June 4, 2019

  22. Administrator – Yes, this one is to Bahamas out of Bayonne (so people can avoid going into NYC). It’s easily driveable from a large number of states or is convenient to the Newark airport. The time of year makes it cheap, since there will be days with cold weather — but the ship is huge enough to have a lot going on inside on the cold days.

    Personally, I’m looking forward to taking an excursion bus to Universal or Disney on the “port” day
    that the ship stops at Port Canaveral, to take either the Harry Potter or the new Star Wars rides. I prefer to think of this as “young at heart” instead of “childish” LOL. The other ports are Nassau and RCL’s private island/beach.

    There are always a lot of retirees on ships in the off-seasons when prices are lowest. The cruise lines even have meeting rooms for groups, etc. and sea days are perfect for discussions on blog topics. They also can set up special lunches, cocktail hours, private parties etc. for groups.

    by Kate — June 4, 2019

  23. You might check out the Road Scholar site. https://www.roadscholar.org/

    by Marcia — June 4, 2019

  24. It seems I missed this article on the first pass. When we first retired (16 years ago), we traveled a lot with a nice popup camper and a Lexus RX300 (great tow vehicle). Many customizations on the camper for ease of set up. We even took a 5-week trip around the country. But we learned that RV sites are almost as expensive as good low cost motels and we really don’t like noise and atomosphere of most RV parks — though with effort and luck, you can find some that are better — and cost more.

    After a couple of of years and analyzing the cost/benefit, we decided the ease of using low cost motels (when done right) outweighs the “advantages” of RVs. But we learned from the camper experience to make motel travel very easy. We bought inexpensive plastic chests-of-drawers (big box stores, Walmart, etc.), Put one on each side of the back seats, and only packed one small carry-on to take in at each stop (toiletries etc.). After check-in we simply get the next day’s clothes from the drawers and put soiled clothes in a laundry bag the next morning — easy for a week between laundry stops

    We have traveled all over the country with our dogs this way for more than 10 years — 40,000+ road miles. We have a marvelous country with incredible places and people! We’ve found dog friendly motels like Red Roof, La Quinta, Travelodge, and many others with minimal extras to be more than suitable for 1-5 nights. For longer stays, we travel the same way and book with VRBO/HomeAway. Our biggest concessions are for the dogs — crates, food, special items, etc. Plenty of room since we don’t pack suitcases.

    We previously had opportunity to travel some in Europe, CA, MX and did some cruising and want to do more when our dogs have passed, but the US and CA is a plenty big and marvelous playground for now.

    by RichPB — June 4, 2019

  25. RichPB – Great & CONCUR! U were former military? Does it now seem that the OLD ways of yore are now the NEW NEWII?

    by Rich — June 4, 2019

  26. RichPB, You should write a little guide book on how you set up your car with this stuff! It sounds very interesting. Do you lay the seats down or leave them up. How do you travel with the dogs? Are they crated? Do you bring crockpots, George Foreman grills, airfryer? Or do you eat all meals out?

    If I were you I would document what you pack, how you pack it, the places you eat at, sights you visit so people could recreate your trip. Kind of like a guided tour. You could call it Rich’s Travel Adventure to _________. Each guide could be detailed for the destination you have visited! With lots of pictures!

    by Louise — June 5, 2019

  27. Louise, I want to second your motion on the travel service. Super idea and its what we need.

    by Ricardo Place — June 5, 2019

  28. As Ricardo said, your travel guides could be really great for those of us that are less adventurous and not well versed on what to see, where to stay when we go places.

    I was also thinking these travel guides could be put on a website and you could sell them as a download. Could be a nice hobby for you and you could make a little money on your adventures!

    by Louise — June 5, 2019

  29. RichPB, Great minds think alike. We also just bring a small overnight bag into hotels and leave the rest of our stuff in the car, switching clean clothing into the overnight. We use several pieces of soft luggage to keep our clean clothing in. We also try to stay at hotels that include breakfast and also try to stay a chains for which we have loyalty cards ( most I’ve had since my working days when I did travel a bit). My splurge is, if we are going to be in a hotel for 2 or more night we get a proper suite with a separate bedroom from sitting area and usually 2 TVs; that is to preserve our marriage and prevent a major crime.

    by Jean — June 6, 2019

  30. Jean,
    Sooo funny – “major crime….” Still laughing out loud!!! It is nice to have personal space now and then and must be difficult when you are on the road. Tell us more about your adventures – places you’ve been.

    by Cindy — June 7, 2019

  31. When traveling and staying at motels/hotels, it’s best for items left in the car to be in the trunk. If something has to be left in the front of the car, try to cover it. And, make sure the items left in the trunk don’t contain personal information you would not want others to see. Laptops, personal papers, etc. Someone could break into the trunk or steal the car.

    by Clyde — June 7, 2019

  32. Louise, thanks for the nice thoughts and, yes, I have often thought of writing up our travels and methods, but my wife and I tend to be part of the group who, on retiring, truly wonder how we ever found time to work. I may someday do some writing as you suggest, but another “hobby” is not really what I need. Let me count the ways: retirement spreadsheet analysis hobby, taking care of and improving my home hobby, woodworking hobby, home theater hobby, participating on internet forums hobby — and maybe more… For me a “hobby” includes researching, understanding, building and sharing my experience with others. Hmm, travel consulting hobby… Oh my! (It’s all a part of making retirement “affordable” — containing costs by managing all these things and more yourself.)

    Jean, our similarities continue. We also will at times do the “splurge” with a multiple night stay with a “suite” — and thus we do our part to prevent “major crime”. As Cindy indicated, long road trips necessitate constant close companionship with a partner. Little things like 2 tvs have helped to allow a 50th anniversary this year.

    And Rich, yes. Army brat and 4 years USAF myself. Then add 22 years with IBM which definitely helped augment our travel options! So staying home is goodness and separate tvs help keep it good. (Speaking of home “goodness”, after 13 schools before graduating high school and 10 different living places in the first 25 years of marriage, I definitely appreciate the home goodness we have had for the past 26 years in one place.) And with that, Louise, I’ll add that all those moves and travel have definitely helped me learn how to pack. Hmm, “packing consultant”?

    by RichPB — June 7, 2019

  33. Louise, To answer the rest of your questions, our Affenpinscher, Dante, travels on a custom, window level platform anchored by seatbelt/shoulder strap and with a harness/tether. As a true tourist who doesn’t sleep when traveling, he MUST have a view of his surroundings. We also take two portable crates — one soft and one 2x2x3′ — both fold up (we had two dogs).

    Due to my wife’s food allergies, dining out is not safe so we need to carry food for her — with the chests and no large suitcases there is room in the trunk for a cooler and grocery bag(s). If there is a grill available, I cook for myself (forgot to mention another “hobby” — I’m very good with a grill. Otherwise, I eat out myself or order pizza delivered while my wife fixes her own.

    For accommodations, we seldom pre-reserve a place except for longer stays (like VRBO) or national parks that require months (or years) advance reservations. Each afternoon on the road we check ahead (internet) for dog-friendly motels with microwave/refrigerator where we expect to end up. So we are free on a daily basis to go where we will and take extra time if we want.

    No other special items other than the small, portable speaker set I carry for music off my smartphone. (Music one-up’s tv.)

    We have an annual allocation for travel that we typically don’t use up, so for the long road trips every few years (currently overdue) we have a decent budget.

    by RichPB — June 8, 2019

  34. Thank you so much. You have mentioned some important gems in your response. We enjoy our 2 TVs here at home and would be most welcome on an adventure over a 2 night or more stay. I would say “packing consultant” would fit well. I am getting ideas for our 50th anniversary in 2 years so keep up the good work.

    by Ricardo Place — June 8, 2019

  35. Cindy, Our road trips are pretty much in the east; coastal areas, mountains and any city that sounds interesting. We are walkers and golfers so that’s what our adventures are – golf (rarely resort courses usually local courses where the pro shop pairs us up with 2 other players ; always fun to meet new people ) or hike trails or explore a town or city on foot. One thing I like to do is stop at local grocery stores – have done that in Bermuda, several Eu countries, and many stops in the US. I started doing that just to see them but find it also a place where I can pick up somethings to take to the hotel room in case I cant find a restaurant that has any options for vegans other than a side salad (not always possible). Probably sounds boring but we always find some interesting things that amuse.

    by Jean — June 8, 2019

  36. Jean, that all sounds like fun to me. And I wish I had the confidence to take the meandering trips like the ones my parents took to Florida that involved no pre-booking. There was mild panic as we traveled through rural Georgia at 10:30 PM looking for Vacancy signs, but it still beat sitting at an airport sweating out flight delays or cancellations.

    by Daryl — June 9, 2019

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