LUFKIN, Texas-The dream to "retire and travel" occupies the thoughts of many a working person. That was true for Dennis and Joan Rankin, a Texas couple that has traveled extensively since retiring in 1998. And while they represent a common dream, the Rankins also represent a growing trend among retirees: Keep traveling well into age 80 and beyond.
The Rankins now live in PineCrest Retirement Community, which provides them a travel-friendly, lock-and-leave lifestyle. The ability to travel free from worrying about a house and yard was one reason they chose to move to a retirement community.
People aged 65 and over comprise 18% of the leisure travel market, according to the U.S. Travel Association, and that percentage is expected to increase over the next decade as the retiring Boomer generation hits the road or takes to the sky. The association also reports that visiting relatives remains the number one leisure travel activity domestically, something the Rankins and many others can relate to.
While raising three boys, the Rankins' travel was limited mainly to visiting grandparents and taking the kids to national parks like Glacier in Montana and theme parks like Disneyland in California. The two did manage to travel to Australia in 1989, using frequent flier miles.
"Money was not prevalent during those years, what with sending kids to college. There was no money left for travel," said Mr. Rankin. Australia became their first foreign destination after retirement, when they were able to enjoy it at their own pace.
It's no secret that the retirement years offer some of the best opportunities to pack up and go for extended periods of time. Free from work- and school-based schedules, retirees can pick the time of year they want to travel and have the flexibility to travel in off seasons, when rates are lower.
"We love the flexibility aspect. We can choose the best time to visit a locale, based on the weather and what's happening," said Mrs. Rankin. They recently visited The Netherlands during the country's famed tulip season. Their longest trip to Africa lasted more than three weeks.
The flexibility to take advantage of lower rates is also one way the Rankins have been able to extend their ability to afford travel.
"If you can travel at the last minute, you can often get big discounts," said Mr. Rankin. The Rankins also learned that travel agencies give discounts to travelers who provide repeat business, and paying for the trip six to nine months in advance can also earn hefty discounts. But the Rankins insist that the biggest savings can come from advance planning.
"Decide on the trip you want to take, and shop, shop, shop," said Mrs. Rankin. They surf the internet for the best deals, which mirrors another growing trend in how seniors investigate travel opportunities.
The couple also strongly advises the purchase of travel insurance for each trip as a sure fire way to save money. They cite the example of a friend who experienced a medical emergency while on a trip and had to spend $30,000 to return home.
If you're facing retirement with a dream to travel but don't know where to start, the Rankins suggest joining a travel club. Groups of 10 or more can get discounts on airfare, hotel accommodations and more. Joining a club is how they began to learn how to plan and arrange their travels. The couple also suggests traveling with guided tour groups, especially if you intend to visit countries where you don't know the language and are not familiar with the customs.
If you want to live the "golden years of travel" to their fullest, the Rankins are proof positive that you need not limit yourself by age. The travel industry now offers many accommodations that allow people to travel well into their elder years. Web based travel agencies like The Ageless Traveler, for instance, cater to groups associated with senior centers and assisted and independent living communities.
Over their 18 years of retirement travel, the Rankins have visited all the earth's continents except Antarctica, and that remains "in our dreams." They're currently planning a domestic sojourn to visit some of the national parks they missed during their childrearing years - Yosemite and Zion among them - plus a trip to Napa Valley.
So take a lesson from the Rankins, and resolve to make your "retire and travel" dream come true. Plan ahead. Shop for the best prices. Be flexible. With tips like these, you too can join the globetrotters. Become a good trekker and let your mantra be, "To retirement - and beyond!"