For many, plans for later life include escaping to explore far-off places: heading for distant horizons and open roads. Freed from the restrictions of 9 to 5 work and the responsibilities of a young family, we dream of heading off into the wide blue yonder, and fulfilling long-held dreams of travelling the globe. But is this realistic?

Well, yes – but it’s better if you put a bit of planning in before you pull out the suitcases. Travel can be exciting, energising and eye-opening, but travelling as you get older requires more than putting a spare pair of clothes in a rucksack, grabbing your passport and closing the door behind you.

“You may still be fit and healthy, but you might feel differently about jet lag or sleep deprivation, compared to how you felt aged 30" says Mark Hodson co-founder of independent travel site 101 Holidays. "Travelling might mean crossing multiple time zones, getting up very early, bumping along in a truck – your physical resilience may have changed and you need to be realistic about that.” 

Make the most of your freedom

So how to get the best out of travel in later life? A key point, says Hodson, is to think hard about what you want.

“Build your own bucket list and avoid following the herd,” he says. “Be creative and thoughtful about what you want to do.”

The rise in popularity of apps like Instagram puts increasing pressure on particular locations, which can sometimes spoil the very thing travellers want to see. But the world is big and beautiful, and there are still plenty of hidden gems to discover. Slowing down can be by far the best way to find them, as can thinking differently about travel. It’s no longer necessarily about lounging around in a spa or on a beach, as it might have been when all you wanted to do was switch off from the daily pressures of work.

Instead, your travel might be part of a programme of lifelong learning. From yoga to creative writing, there’s a range of companies offering residential courses. Whether it ties to interests you’re discovering at home or is a completely new adventure, an immersive experience can shift your learning up a gear.

But realism certainly doesn’t mean staying at home. The big upside to being retired is the extra time you have, which gives you the chance to take the longer trips you’ve always dreamt of (let’s face it, there’s not much point in going to Australia for a weekend).

You have the time to slow down, perhaps take an extra day or two to relax after a long journey, so you’re fresh for the next adventure.

Prioritise your travel plans

The global pandemic has, of course, changed travel for the immediate future. Many of us are reassessing our priorities, and can’t wait for the barriers to be lifted in order to travel again. It’s worth taking the long view when it comes to prioritising your travel though; you can cruise around the Med at any age, but if you fancy the salt flats of Bolivia or following the iconic Route 66, it’s probably better to fulfil those dreams aged 65 than 85.

One reality to face, is that travel insurance does get more expensive as you get older; a topic discussed in our podcast episode, Travel in Retirement. So it’s likely to be a larger element in your budget.

“It’s a non-negotiable, but you need to ensure it’s appropriate for your age and health,” says Mark.

How to budget for that trip of a lifetime

Planning the way you travel, can make quite a difference to the costs. “We see people taking advantage of the ability to withdraw a tax-free lump sum from their pension pot to invest in the means to travel – perhaps buying a motor home or a narrowboat,” says Claire Singleton, CEO of Legal & General Home Finance.

Others may choose to release money from their property, whether through downsizing or taking a lifetime mortgage to fund a big trip.

“There are lots of options with equity release, and you need to think this through carefully,” says Singleton. “You might want to protect some of the equity you have, in order to be able to pass it on to children and grandchildren; or choose to pay interest, so the debt doesn’t build up. It’s important to take good advice.”

Money considerations might mean being open to new experiences. Would you be happy with a same-sex room share with someone you didn’t know? Think about a volunteering holiday; you may find you can get accommodation free in return for sharing your time or expertise. Flights can be expensive, but could you take your time and go overland for less?

In recent years the travel industry has created more and more opportunities ideal for solo travellers, so there’s no reason for anyone to stay at home. It may take a bit more planning, but nothing beats the thrill of opening a door into a different world.

For more inspiration, read the stories of two women who picked up their passports with their pensions, and haven’t looked back since. Elizabeth shares her Arctic experience, and June tells of her journeys across the four continents of the world on planes, trains and a Harley-Davidson.