The ‘gap’ year is a tradition: a year that young people take after finishing high school to explore the world and gain some experiences before settling in to study and, after that, work and family life.
We’re also seeing an emergence of a gap year at the other end of the spectrum. Seniors, having retired but are still active and inquisitive, are increasingly taking a year of their own to knock various travel and experience goals off the bucket list before settling into their retirement.
The Bureau of Statistics data shows that people aged 65 to 74 are traveling more than ever before, and they’re heading overseas, with an 80 percent increase in overseas travel over the past five years. Some dream destinations include New Zealand and Australia.
What are they doing while overseas? Just about everything, from trips to see the northern lights, cruises through Europe, and visiting exotic locations throughout Asia, Africa, and South America.
Seniors are living longer than ever before, so additional years and mobility means that they have a broader range of travel experiences and opportunities open to them without health concerns narrowing the list.
Research has found that 40% of workers want to take a later-life gap year or extended trip once they hit retirement. Another study saw 77% of seniors are seeking less traditional holidays, such as ones that are more active and adventurous, further away, and include more socialization.
The Internet, technology, and improved global communications have helped manage the logistics of travel. Adults over 65 can act as consultants, earn a secondary income, keep in touch with family and even continue to keep in check with telehealth, all while traveling the world. This helps make the long time frames away from home during a gap year more palatable.
More flexible visa laws in many parts of the world is a benefit too, allowing seniors to fund their gap year experiences with some work wherever they’re staying.
It’s easier and safer than ever for seniors to travel, helping to mitigate against some of the concerns that seniors have previously had with spending long periods of time overseas.
One of the biggest benefits that seniors derive from taking a gap year is the social environment. In terms of places where they’ll stay and work, seniors will find themselves around younger generations–many of which are taking gap years of their own.
This helps to reinforce a sense of community and connection to world events where many seniors feel increasingly isolated from the world around them. Friendships and community are key to one’s health, especially as chances for socialization become less likely as we age.
This cross-generational social environment is challenging for many seniors, but increasingly, being exposed to challenges is exactly what they want. Research shows that two in five seniors are actively out there trying to have holidays that are “unique” or “out of the ordinary.”
The perception that seniors are conservative travelers, sticking to the familiar, is rapidly eroding.
Seniors are also increasingly aware that experiencing new things is good for their mental well-being. Research shows that active learning (rather than just activities) is key to keeping the brain young.
Discovering new cultures and learning about places being visited by visiting museums and galleries are obviously active learning experiences, but when you travel to have new experiences, the learning is in the travel itself.
The need to pick up a couple of quick phrases in a native language is a great example of active learning. Learning a new language inherently requires individuals to speak to one another, and even bond over the challenges of the new language and culture they're learning! In addition to being interactive, language learning has other brain functionality benefits for any age.
Making your way around unfamiliar transport environments is another way active learning is involved in travel. In understanding these benefits, more seniors are actively searching out new experiences that they’ve never had before in taking their gap years.
They’re also far more serious about finding the right destinations for their gap years. Where an under 35-year-old spends around 18 hours researching a trip, a senior of 50+ years of age will spend 27 hours making the decision.
In addition to socialization and advanced learning, traveling allows for mental and physical benefits as well.
Travelers spend their time walking and biking to explore their new surroundings, and even walking tours of museums and gardens add extra steps to a day. Staying active throughout one’s life and into older age can help mitigate these changes and maintain our health.
Additionally, according to the Brain Health Center, Inc., “Travel is an important behavior that promotes brain health and builds brain resilience across the lifespan,” because it challenges the brain with new experiences and different environments.
As seniors live longer, the idea of travel and the gap year at the end of their (full-time) working life is changing. Once it was seen as a last chance to experience something that had been a dream through working life.
Now, however, it’s the start of another chapter in life that might last 30 (or more) years. Kicking that chapter off with vivid memories and a new appreciation for the world and its wonders makes every bit as much sense as exploring the world as a fresh-faced teenager out of school.
The most efficient way for senior centers and communities to increase engagement during COVID-19 is with online group activities and programs. Providing virtual socialization allows seniors to stay healthy without the risk in-person socialization can bring. Check out these 9 fun online group activities for your senior center residents.