For the 50+ Traveler

You know that feeling of ambivalence that can set in as your birthday approaches? On one hand, you’re happy to be celebrating another year. But on the other is a feeling of angst about turning a year older.

I can relate. While I felt unmitigated joy in my birthdays as a child, I often had mixed emotions as my adult birthdays approached. Maybe because my birthday falls in February -- surely the dreariest month of the year -- the big day often came with a dose of melancholy.

About a decade ago, I decided to try a new tactic. I asked myself how I could bring back that feeling of childish delight in my birthday. For me, a lifelong lover of travel, the answer was obvious. What could be better than a birthday trip?

So, as a milestone birthday approached, I asked my sister to join me on a cruise to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. She happily agreed. It worked like a charm. For months beforehand, I was planning and anticipating my big day rather than dreading it.

And when my actual birthday arrived, I was gazing at Cabo’s famous rock arch and eating fabulous food in a cruise-ship dining room. There were no more mixed emotions. It was pure joy.

Since then, I have made birthday travel an annual ritual. Sometimes it’s just a short road trip, and other times it’s a flight to a favorite city.

I’ve found so many things to love about birthday travel that I highly recommend it as a way to battle the getting-older blues. Here’s why.

Writer Cindy Barks and her sister at Red Rock State Park in Sedona
Cindy Barks

It’s All About Celebrating

For a respite from real life, nothing can beat travel. Work responsibilities fade into the background as you focus on the pleasures of the trip.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve taken birthday trips to San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Napa Valley, Santa Monica, Vancouver, Sedona, and Phoenix. Regardless of the distance, each trip has lifted my spirits.

From the moment I board the plane for a new city, I find it easy to go into celebration mode. With an inflight Irish coffee in hand, I literally fly away from my troubles.

Writer Cindy Barks leaning out her Napa balcony with a glass of wine
Cindy Barks

You Get To Do Things You Enjoy

Another perk of birthday travel is that it’s an excuse to indulge yourself. I recommend aligning your birthday-trip destination with your personal interests.

Several of my birthday excursions have focused on hiking, while others have been more about exploring beautiful city centers and attending cultural events. On one memorable weekend girls’ trip to Phoenix, my friends and I combined all of our interests and took in a scenic desert hike, an Oscar-nominated movie, a visit to a bookstore, and a trendy pizza/wine dinner.

Another year, when none of my friends or family members could make the trip, I traveled to San Francisco solo to attend an American Conservatory Theater stage production of one of my favorite books, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Afterward, I took an exhilarating nighttime ride on the city’s famed cable cars and had a hot toddy at the historic Buena Vista near Fisherman’s Wharf.

Once I decide on a destination, I search online for activities that are going on that week. Along with the San Francisco play, I have discovered a wonderful winter farmers market in Santa Monica and a fun piano bar entertainer at a hotel in Del Mar, California.

A birthday treat plate at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle
Cindy Barks

There’s Cake

I love a good chocolate cake, and at a restaurant or hotel, it seems that all you have to do is mention it’s your birthday to be showered with chocolate love.

Over the years, I’ve had decadent desserts and bottles of wine left in my hotel rooms and been treated to restaurants’ specialty sweet treats. Usually, it is the result of a prompt from my travel companions, but sometimes I get caught up in the birthday spirit and blurt it out myself.

On a 2016 birthday trip to Seattle, I casually mentioned the reason for my trip to a server at a restaurant at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. Before long, he had returned with a plateful of the hotel’s sweet specialties -- all decorated with a swirl of chocolate script wishing me a happy birthday.

On my solo San Francisco trip, I ended up having dinner next to a woman who was celebrating her birthday that day as well, and we enjoyed complimentary desserts together.

So, I say don’t be shy. You never know what your celebration might yield.

You Get Best Wishes From Strangers

It also doesn’t hurt that unlikely strangers sometimes notice, and offer birthday wishes -- like the stern customs official I encountered upon arrival in Vancouver.

After first questioning me about whether I was traveling alone, he looked at my passport and asked what had brought me all the way from Arizona. At that point, I decided to play what I have come to think of as “the birthday card.”

“It’s my birthday, and I’m on a weekend trip to celebrate it,” I told him.

Another quick peek at my passport, and the agent smiled, winked, wished me a happy birthday, and waved me on.

Writer Cindy Barks with her son and daughter in law in front of the Santa Monica Pier
Cindy Barks

You Get To Spend Time With The People You Love

While I enjoy my solo trips, I truly love traveling with my friends, sisters, and son and daughter-in-law. The beauty of planning a birthday trip is that your favorite people often agree to join you.

Over the years, my friends and I have traded off traveling on our respective birthdays. I’ve joined them to celebrate their birthdays in the fall, spring, and summer, and they have returned the favor to me in February.

I have also taken multiple birthday trips with my sister. In addition to our cruise to Mexico, we have explored Alcatraz together and taken a fun road trip to Red Rock State Park in Sedona.

It always takes me back to those days when we were kids together and couldn’t wait for our birthdays to arrive.

Continuing The Cycle

I also cherish the chance to celebrate my birthdays with my son and his wife. In recent years, they have joined me for long-weekend stays in Santa Monica and Vancouver, and I’ve visited them at their homes in Seattle and Austin.

I love that they’re always willing to indulge my long walks on the beach, and, in turn, I’m up for trying their foodie haunts for exotic seafood creations.

So, it is with gleeful anticipation that I’m looking ahead to joining them for my next birthday trip in Vancouver in February. I see some chilly seaside walks and sushi dinners in my immediate future!

Even if it’s just a day trip to a neighboring town or a long weekend getaway, getting away on your birthday offers the perfect combination of a celebration and a break from your day-to-day routine. I intend to continue my tradition indefinitely. Next year: Banff in the winter?