By Kimberly Palmer

9 ways to see the world without breaking the bank

Recent declines in the stock market have many baby boomers wondering if their visions of exotic travels in retirement need to be scaled back, perhaps involving more of their living rooms and less of the world. But travel experts and retirees themselves say that not only is traveling on a budget possible, it can lead to even bigger and better adventures.

For Woody Woodring, 73, and his wife, Janie, frugal traveling often involves renting condos instead of hotels. On a recent trip to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in the Great Smoky Mountains, the couple cooked their own meals, which saved them a few hundred dollars on the three-night trip. They also rely on the travel sites,, and, which alert them to discounts. Woodring regularly spends a few hours sorting through the specials and taking notes. "In the days when we were young and working and making a decent wage, we could afford to splurge and take some chances, but we can't do that now," says Woodring, a retired procurement official who lives in Greenville, S.C., and shares his frugal travel tips at

Judie Fernandez, 70, a retired attorney who lives in Menlo Park, Calif., takes advantage of Elderhostel, a nonprofit that organizes educational trips for seniors. (The organization recently changed its name to Exploritas.) She took her grandsons on a Harry Potter-themed trip to London in 2007 and has also traveled to Russia, Mongolia, China, and India with Elderhostel groups. "It's like a university without walls," she says. Unlike many commercial tours, Elderhostel trips cover all costs--including food and activities. The average daily cost for international trips is about $250 (excluding airfare). Seniors can also opt for less expensive programs; hundreds of Elderhostel programs ranging from three to five nights cost less than $600.

Many of Don and Judy Mac Isaac's trips have taken them far away from their home in New York's Catskill Mountains. The couple, authors of Adventures After 50: Doing More Than You Ever Thought You Could, went on tours to Tanzania, Nepal, and Antarctica after Don retired from corporate life. They managed their costs by focusing on tours that incorporated camping and other low-cost accommodations with regular hotel stays. As the couple have gotten older--Don is now 82, Judy 78--they have opted for lower-key getaways, such as visits to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum and the adjoining home of Eleanor Roosevelt in Hyde Park, N.Y.

The Woodrings, Fernandez, and the Mac Isaacs make their trips affordable by planning extensively, taking advantage of group programs, and carefully selecting their destinations. Travel experts also recommend the following strategies:

Make the most of senior discounts. negotiates discounts for members with tour providers, hotels, and car rental companies. An Expedia website designed for members ( lets seniors search for discounts--usually about 10 percent off the regular price--that apply. With DuVine Adventures, which organizes cycling vacations in North America and Europe, members can get $325 off tours through the end of the year.

isn't the only organization offering deals: For those 62 and older, the National Park Service sells $10 lifetime passes to parks, and Amtrak gives a 15 percent discount. Many cities also offer reduced-price or even free rides on public transportation systems; in Philadelphia, everyone 65 and older rides the subway, buses, and trolleys free. Some airlines, including Southwest, sell a limited number of senior fares.

Make sure you're getting the best deal. Peter Greenberg, travel editor for NBC's Today show, recommends finding out whether the senior discount is really the lowest price. If it's 10 percent off the highest rate, travelers might be better off doing their own comparison shopping online. Making a phone call to speak to a tour operator or company also can result in more savings, he says. "The myth is that the Internet is displaying all the inventory, but it's not," says Greenberg. He recommends calling a hotel and asking to speak to the director of sales or manager on duty, who will know if there have been any last-minute cancellations or if the hotel has special deals that aren't listed online.

Ask for additional perks. Joan Rattner Heilman, author of Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures that You Absolutely Can't Get Unless You're Over 50, 2009-2010, points out that breakfast and parking can cost as much as a $60 nightly hotel rate, so she suggests asking if they can be included. "Don't expect anybody to offer you anything. You need to ask," she says.

Book trips later than usual. Some travelers have been slow to make advance bookings because of the economy, and many parts of the travel business, including hotels and cruises, have lowered their prices, says Tim Fitzgerald, senior director of travel products at AARP Services. "The wise consumer in the travel space is waiting until the last minute," when prices fall the most, he says. Of course, there is a risk that space on tours will run out.

Consider volunteer vacations. "It doesn't mean you'll be working in swamps for 10 days straight," says Greenberg. These trips, which are growing in popularity among seniors, usually incorporate traditional travel activities alongside volunteer work, ranging from collecting data in rain forests to visiting hospices. Seniors often enjoy bringing their grandchildren on volunteer vacations, Greenberg adds. For domestic trips, the government website connects people ages 55 and older to volunteer opportunities around the United States.

Explore alternate means of transportation. Greenberg recommends buses for trips of less than 400 miles. He says buses' bad reputation is outdated. "It's not gross. They have great leather seats, Wi-Fi, an attendant with soft drinks--it's quite nice," he says. Plus, with airplanes so often delayed, opting for the bus can save you time as well as money. A bus trip from New York to Washington runs $20 and up.

Don't forget about cruises. Like other all-inclusive packages, cruises help travelers anticipate costs and allow them to pay for meals and lodging together. They also give passengers the freedom to be more active and take advantage of the many programs and tours offered in ports, or be more relaxed and spend time at the pool or spa. The offers up to $100 credits on many cruises. "With cruises, tours are generally unguided, but what you do on a daily basis is up to you," says Fitzgerald. He also recommends river cruises, which tend to be a bit more expensive but are much smaller, with around 100 to 200 passengers. The websites and list deals for seniors.

Greenberg says many first-time cruisers make the mistake of spending too much money on their cabin. "They've watched The Love Boat too many times and think they can entertain everyone in their room, but you're only in the room to sleep and shower," he says. People spend the majority of their time on the rest of the ship and on excursions, so he recommends spending less on the cabin and more on the experiences.

Check out chain restaurants. Applebee's, Boston Market, Pizza Hut, and Denny's all offer senior discounts, which can add up to significant savings for travelers eating multiple meals out a day. Heilman warns that deals change quickly, so she recommends asking about discounts before making a purchase.

Join a club. Bed-and-breakfast clubs for seniors, such as the Evergreen Club, match travelers with hosts in the cities they're visiting. "You can stay in the homes of other members, and it just costs you $10 to $15 a night, and then you do the same in return," says Heilman. The Evergreen Club, which is for people 50 and up, charges an annual membership fee of about $60 and has more than 4,000 members. Some of them say they've saved over $500 a year by avoiding hotels.

Regardless of the type of travel seniors choose, Judy Mac Isaac urges them to take trips before aging bodies make it more difficult. When her husband turned 50, they made a list of 31 retirement adventures, from parachuting from a plane to attending the Olympic Games. Thirty-plus years later, they've completed 21 of them. She says, "Now that we've reached this age, we've slowed down and have no big trips planned, but we're so glad we have those memories."

Available at

Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures that You Absolutely Can't Get Unless You're Over 50, 2009-2010

Adventures After 50: Doing More Than You Ever Thought You Could


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Vacation Travel - How to Travel on a Budget