Senior Tours - Part 1 in a 5-part Baby Boomer Travel Series

Baby boomers are the 70 million Americans currently in their 50s and 60s, born between 1946 and 1966. They tend to be an adventurous lot in general. They were the first generation of Americans to backpack in large numbers in North America, Europe and in other continents. They stayed in hostels, camped out and got to know the locals beyond what was written up in guidebooks.

They started and invented the trend which become widely known as eco-tourism and cultural travel. They shunned large tour groups and forged paths to the often exotic, off-the-beaten path places they discovered (We affectionately refer to these as Senior Tours.). They became fanatical at lifelong learning and experimentation; they sought out intellectual, spiritual and pleasurable experiences from their far-flung travels.

Baby boomers as a group never really stopped traveling. But now that many are nearing retirement or have already retired, they are the generation that has the most time and money to travel and will spend it on adventure and experience which only senior tours travel can offer.

Consider Clark Norton, a Tucson, Arizona-based adventurer and baby boomer travel expert. Over the past ten years, Clark’s experienced the following exciting, sometimes scary, often challenging, but ultimately exhilarating adventures:

Summited a peak in British Columbia, and then rappelling down the side of a cliff onto a glacier.
Whitewater rafted in Nepal on class IV and V rivers.
Rode a camel in the Sahara and Sinai deserts.
Hiked for a week over the hills and dales of County Kerry in southwest Ireland.
Watched whales dive directly under his Zodiac (a small hard-rubber boat) and surface less than 20 yards away in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
Biked 45 miles from the top of Maui’s Mount Haleakala to the shores of the Pacific, the world’s longest downhill bike ride.
Swum with piranhas in the Amazon.
Learned to Scuba dive in Micronesia.
Mushed a dogsled team in Finland.
And he’s done them all after the age of 50. The reason he was able to do them?

“Every one of them was on a guided tour,” Norton says, “and every one of them was organized by an experienced tour operator and led by an expert guide or guides.”

Senior Tours – All New Experiences
Clark was adventurous in his younger days, but none of his previous journeys were as memorable as the trips he’s experienced since turning 50. Until those outings, Clark had never rappelled, ridden camels, swum with piranhas, or biked down a volcano at dawn hoping that his brakes wouldn’t give out and send him lurching over the edge of the mountain.

Norton has verbalized that the older he gets, the more satisfying it is to know that he can still partake in adventures and not only live to talk about it but look forward to his next opportunity to stretch his personal boundaries.

“But again,” he emphasizes, “I thank my guides’ expertise for that – and whoever keeps the bicycle brakes in repair, the mountaineering gear in good working condition, and the piranhas at bay.”

Baby Boomers: An Adventurous Generation
Clark Norton isn’t alone.

The adventures of another baby boomer, Carol Bruen, have taken her from Easter Island to Uzbekistan, Tanzania to Cambodia and beyond. Like Norton, she’s another good example of just how much some baby boomers have explored the world and continues to do so via senior tours.

On one family excursion to East Africa, Carol, her husband, Jim, and two children took part in a multi-day canoe trip down the Zambezi River in Tanzania. She recounted that even though the hippos were terrifying and they would get stuck on sandbars and have to get out and push, this provided great adventure and storytelling with their kids.

Carol acknowledges that now that their kids grown up and have families of their own, age may be catching up to her and Jim a bit, and they may have to soften their adventures with more comfortable beds and no crocodiles. While they once had a great time surrounded by chimpanzees on a reserve at Lake Tanganyika in East Africa, “Gorilla tracking in Rwanda may have passed us by.” Then she adds, “But we’ll see.”

Adventurous Baby Boomers

In leading adventure outings for over ten years with the Sierra Club, I’ve had the pleasure of recreating with many folks in their 50’s and 60’s and beyond. Many are physically fit world travelers who have experienced adventures of all kinds.

My friend Bill Bens, who has taken part in numerous Sierra Club outings, is a hiker extraordinaire. He has climbed Mt. Wrightson, a 9450-foot peak near Tucson, over 130 times and has walked these trails during full moon occurrences and after winter storms with the aid of crampons. The photos Bill shot on these excursions were stunning, resembling scenes more reminiscent of the Canadian Rockies than southern Arizona. He is just one of the many baby boomers who has fallen under the spell of adventure.

Fred Volland, age 62, is an avid hiker, backpacker, rock climber and risk taker who scaled volcanoes in Ecuador, backpacked the Inca Trail in Peru, and hiked the circumference of Mt. Everest. He has accompanied us on adventurous outings ranging from 8-day backpacking treks at the Grand Canyon, Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. He will never pass up an opportunity to make a hike more interesting, such as scaling a cliff-face or mountain top while the rest of us are relaxing at the campsite or eating breakfast before the main hike of the day!

Risk-Taking not Required.

None of this is to say that you can only enjoy “adventurous travel,” as Clark Norton likes to call it, unless you’re a natural-born risk-taker or adrenaline junkie. In fact, while there are never any guarantees of complete safety, and a bit of danger can add a certain excitement to your trip, adventurous travel needn’t be truly risky in the hands of experienced tour guides. Nor does it necessarily require great strength or endurance. Anyone who’s reasonably fit can enjoy an adventurous outing, as long as it fits their comfort level.

And here’s the really good news: You don’t have to travel to the far corners of the earth to find your share of adventurous experiences. For instance, there are plenty of senior tours to be found right here in the southwest corner of the United States, across Arizona and beyond.

Here, you will find terrific regional hiking senior tours that will provide plenty of fresh air and exercise but won’t leave you too exhausted to enjoy a fine dinner in the evening and discuss the adventures of the day with your companions. And while hiking can be a key component of any trip, it’s really just one element in what are truly missions of discovery.

You may find yourself riding a bike, a horse, or a raft; engaging in some canyoneering or bird watching; picking up nature photography tips; learning some intriguing new things about history and geology; maybe even doing some wine tasting. You can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, rafting tours, canyoneering, photography workshops, and more – all against the backdrop of iconic Arizona Sonoran Desert scenery. Springtime in the desert offers the kind of stunning beauty you’ll find nowhere else.

Grand Canyons of Arizona

The canyon country near the Grand Canyon is out of this world, the awesomeness factors off the charts. If you’ve admired the jaw-dropping beauty of Northern Arizona’s red rock country on postcards, in pictures, and on video, you can experience it firsthand on a remarkable adventure trip. As you hike, bike and canyoneer along the trails or through awe-inspiring Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, you’ll also travel back in time to explore Native American ancestral ruins and petroglyphs.

Of course, the Grand Canyon itself is the marquis attraction of this region. One of the many ways to experience it is to partake in a week-long backpacking trip where you’ll see it like few travelers do. As you trek through the spectacular Grand Canyon of the Colorado, you may discover hidden springs, Native American archeological sites, and get a glimpse of the secrets of this magnificent place. The Grand Canyon is a wonderland of mesas, mountains, and spectacular geology, which is best appreciated up close – and not simply peering over the rim.

So, keep these key takeaways in mind when you get the urge for your senior tours adventure:

• You don’t have to be in your 20s and 30s or in top physical condition to experience adventurous travel. Folks in their 50s, 60s — and beyond — can continue to be active travelers who seek out often challenging, but perfectly manageable, trips.

• Expertly led guided senior tours can lead to all new adventures that you might never think of trying otherwise – and keep you safe in the process.

• By defining what adventure travel means to you, you can create experiences that push your comfort level, yet are fully rewarding.