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’.

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.

“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.”

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.”

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