Sometimes it seems like planning that perfect getaway is impossible without breaking the bank. But that just isn't the case. Where there's a will to escape, there's a way. Here are 13 money-saving tips for seniors to plan unforgettable vacations without having to mortgage the homestead.
1. Plan ahead
It's not just good advice for your sanity; it's good advice for your wallet as well. The closer to the date of travel you wait to book your flight/cruise/train ticket, the higher the price you will inevitably pay.
In fact, there is an optimal 'ahead-of-time' date to purchase your tickets when you are statistically most likely to enjoy the most generous savings. This date changes every year. For example, according to a Cheapair.com study, the best time to buy airline tickets in 2018 was 70 days before departure. In 2017, it was 54 days beforehand. Keep your eye on that number, check up on it, and plan ahead to save big.
Victory loves preparation.
2. Visit a National Park
Did you know seniors get a 75% discount on visiting national parks? Well, they do!
Actually, it's even better than that. Any American citizen (or permanent resident) 62 years of age or older qualifies for a discounted 'America the Beautiful' pass. That pass covers entry and day use fees at over 2,000 national parks and outdoor recreation areas.
With proof of age and citizenship, you can purchase a year-long senior pass for $20 (regular price $80), or for $80 you can opt for a lifetime pass. You can buy your pass in person at a federal recreation site, online, or via the mail. But do note: you'll save yourself a $10 administrative fee if you do it in person.
Also note: while a senior pass will grant you a 50% discount on certain extraneous park fees (camping, boat launching), it won't cover everything. Still, if you want to discover more of America's natural beauty, it's hard to beat this kind of value.
Planning a visit to a National Park? Read 5 Beautiful National Parks That Are Never Busy.
3. Stay in a hostel
I know what you're thinking. The word 'hostel' evokes images of people in their late teens and early twenties partying until all hours of the morning, making poor life choices, and wailing away on the acoustic guitar. There's plenty of that, to be sure. But it's also possible to find perfectly charming hostels that are geared more toward young families and experienced travelers. The trick is knowing how to find them.
Your best shot at finding a hostel that's clean, quiet, and friendly to everyone is to stick with those that are part of Hosteling International, a nonprofit that puts all its revenues back into the properties it manages. It's their mission to promote intercultural understanding through travel, and to provide affordable lodgings for wayfarers.
Not all hostels are run by Hosteling International. Some are independently owned and operated, and these are more likely to be your stereotypical Animal House style establishments. Steer clear of independent hostels, and always read the reviews of any hostel before you agree to stay there. It's not worth saving some money to be uncomfortable the whole time.
If you want to learn more about this subject, check out the expert tips in The Grown-Up's Guide to Hostels.
4. Airline discounts
Depending on where you're going, the most expensive part of your trip may well be the airfare. While many airlines no longer offer senior discounts, there are a few that still do -- or at least claim to. Namely: Southwest Airlines, United, British Airways, Air France, and American Airlines.
Be forewarned: most of these only offer savings on certain domestic flights, and even then you may not be able to convince them to honor their obligations; we hear reports of airlines claiming the policies on their websites aren't "up-to-date."
Still, it never hurts to call and ask if there's anything they can do. You might be pleasantly surprised.
5. Get 'plugged in'
We mentioned above that many airlines simply don't bother offering senior discounts anymore. While this is true, there are actually more ways than ever to save money on airfare -- if you know where to look. Unfortunately (at least if you're like me and don't care too much for technology), the best way to do this is online or using apps on your phone. But the edge this gives you is worth the trouble.
Trying to figure out prices for individual airlines is virtually impossible. For one thing, there are so many to choose from. For another, their prices are constantly in flux. Instead, you should consider using search engines like Skyscanner. All you have to do is type in where you are, where you want to go, and when, and it will return the most affordable options to you.
Other options like Expedia, CheapOair and Momondo are great as well. You should download these apps with notifications. That way, you'll get a little pop-up when a new bargain appears. That way, you'll never miss a bargain.
6. Take a vacation on your vacation
Most of us have taken long-distance flights that involve a stop-over. If you've flown to Italy from the United States, for example, odds are you've spent a couple of hours (if not a whole night!) waiting to switch flights in Frankfurt, Germany. But most people don't realize you can actually use a stop-over as a mini-vacation within your vacation.
Say you have a one night stop in a city that's worth exploring in its own right -- Paris, for instance. Some airlines will actually let you extend your stay for a couple of days at no (or minimal) extra cost. So why not cross two destinations off your bucket list for the price of one?
Check out this handy guide to planning your next stop-over getaway. If you're a detail-oriented planning type, you'll be able to map it out for yourself; if you take a more hands-off approach, a travel agent can help too!
7. Take the train
If you're in no hurry and want to see some scenery on the way, you could always skip out on the airlines and opt for a train trip.
Unlike airlines, most rail companies do still offer seniors' discounts. In North America, Amtrak offers a 10% seniors' discount for those 65 years of age and up -- but be prepared to provide proof that you're old enough to qualify. (Nothing wrong with getting carded, am I right?) If you're planning to escape to Canada, you'll be happy to know there's also a 10% discount on cross-border routes, and this one is for anyone 60 and up.
If you're going across the pond, you may still be in luck. Non-resident seniors still qualify for discounted rail tickets in many European countries, though some may require you to purchase a pass. It's worth inquiring, since the train is such a romantic and convenient way to see Europe.
8. Use Airbnb
I know, I know. Navigating this sort of thing is what children (and grandchildren) are for. But Airbnb is actually a very user-friendly website, and it's a great way to save money on accommodations, as long as you're willing to forego staying at a hotel.
All you have to do is type in where you'd like to go, and Airbnb will connect you with vetted people living in the area who have rooms (or entire homes) available for short-term rental. You can put yourself up in an apartment, a condo, a townhouse, a mansion, a log cabin -- anything and everything, often at incredible discounts.
And don't worry: Airbnb performs risk assessments and background checks on prospective hosts. Other users will also leave reviews of the accommodations, which will help you determine whether or not any given place is your cup of tea.
Senior travelers Debbie and Michael Campbell actually wrote a book called Your Keys, Our Home about living nomadically off Airbnb.
9. Come sail away
Maybe the train's not your style. Maybe you're looking to explore a more tropical climate in all-inclusive fashion. In that case, there are ways for seniors to save on cruises as well. The key is choosing the right line for your interests and maximum savings. The two lines that probably offer the best value for seniors are Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Both offer special discounts for travelers aged 55 and up.
Carnival cruises are known for being high-energy and fun as well as providing excellent value for money. The demographics are fairly young, but there are are also plenty of families and other seniors. If night life interests you, you'll find plenty of it on Carnival ships; if it doesn't, be sure to book a stateroom away from the bars and dance clubs. Carnival also operates the Holland America Line, which is more geared toward experienced travelers.
Royal Caribbean operates a very diverse fleet of ships, running the gamut from the largest in the world to smaller craft catering to more select tastes. The larger ships have every amenity you can imagine: theme parks, ice skating, Broadway-style shows. Their sheer size is impressive in itself, but if mobility is an issue you may have more fun on a less ostentatious liner.
To learn more about what different cruise lines offer, check out The Best Cruise Option For Every Traveler.
10. No peaking
One way to save that doesn't depend upon the cooperation of anyone else is to choose the time of year you travel very carefully. Figure out when peak tourist season is, and then avoid it like a cliché covered in plague. After all, you're not a young parent: you don't have to plan your getaway around school holidays, summer camps, or baseball try-outs. You can go whenever you want!
You might just find that some destinations offer considerable discounts in the off season. At the very least, it won't be super busy.
11. Don't rent a car
In some places, that's virtually impossible. But most of the time, renting a car is actually an added extra. It may provide convenience, but at what cost? If you're resourceful (and patient), you can likely save a good deal of money simply by staying at a hotel that's centrally located. You may not be able to find a room within walking distance of everything you want to see, but you can always take transit. What better way to get the full flavor of the country you're visiting than to travel as the locals do?
12. The AARP
One person trying to talk a sales rep into a discount is an uphill battle; 40 million people doing the same is a rout!
While some have suggested that the AARP is actually a lobbying firm operating under the guise of a nonprofit, signing up has undeniable benefits -- especially where travel is concerned.
For $16 a year (or $43 for three years, or $63 for five years), AARP members can clock substantial discounts on everything from train trips (Amtrak) to international tours (Collette).
Members can save on stays at hotel chains (Comfort Inn, Best Western, Sheraton, Days Inn, Hilton), on flights (American Airlines, Southwest, British Airways), car rentals (Hertz, Budget Rent-A-Car, Avis), and much more.
The AARP isn't as exclusive as it used to be. Although it was founded as the American Association of Retired Persons, it no longer answers to that moniker. These days, anyone 50+ is eligible for membership, although some of the benefits listed above may not be available to younger members, so make sure to read the fine print!
13. Consider a timeshare
...And then don't buy it. (At least not unless you really want to.)
If you can sit through a timeshare presentation with a polite smile on your face, if you have the strength of will to say 'no' and insist on fair dealing, you'll usually get something free at the end of the pitch. That's typically how they get people to listen. It could be anything from free tickets to a theme park to a free night at the condo they're trying to sell you. Whatever the benefit, there are free perks for those willing to entertain the idea of buying a timeshare for a half hour or so.
To learn more about getting free stuff, read How To Profit From A Timeshare Pitch.
We hope these tips help you make your dollars go just a little bit farther. All those little bits add up.