Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Hiking & Culinary Italy Adventure

Tuscany Hiking and Culinary Adventure

Today the word “Adventure” is synonymous with the term “Experiential” and the Adventure Travel Industry has expanded to include everything from golf, fly fishing, safari, yoga and other “soft”/”active” trips to culinary, wine, small ship expeditions, cultural heritage, language immersion, villa rentals, photography and volunteer tours. Even brands like Disney (“Adventures by Disney”) and Royal Caribbean are choosing the word “Adventure” while clearly targeting a boomer market group. But this isn’t new. It’s always been boomers who connected to the world through experience and it is only fitting that today the 50-70 year old “Prime Time Traveler” is driving unheard of growth in all categories of experiential travel.

Let’s face it, if you are a boomer under the age of 50 it’s likely you’re still working, raising a family, dealing with or planning for college, and in debt. I don’t know anyone in my age bracket (late stage boomers) who isn’t incredibly busy.  We’re more likely to be spending our precious “vacation” time visiting family spread across the country; escaping on a quick girl-friends get-away with our friends, mother or sister; splurging on a pampered spa weekend alone or with a partner; or, rarely, taking an all inclusive no-brainer Caribbean or Mexico vacation. It isn’t that we don’t love or dream of travel but our time and finances is extremely limited.

Looking at the other end of the market, around the age of 70 (sometimes sooner) our health starts to deteriorate and we often become more fearful of what might happen in an unfamiliar environment.  Cruises and resorts still fit the bill, however, in general this population likely is vacationing closer to home and spending more time with family.

Why the explosion?
Time to Start Living: Kids are out of the house, early retirement, part-time work options, second careers, are being considered.  Life is their oyster and Prime Timers are ready to start living for themselves and enjoying the fruits of their labor. There is a sense of urgency to live and travel NOW as they see friends and parents dealing with chronic illness.

Two years ago I worked  with Eons.com to develop a travel area of this destination site the 50+.   Assessing Eons members “LifeDreams” it’s clear that Travel occupied the top place and the 50+ are ready to start living their dreams.  Experiential Travel offers the opportunity to combine Travel with other LifeDreams (volunteer, spend time with friends and family, learn to cook etc). Creating a site that allows users to easily search by desired experiences, rather than just destination, was a natural implementation to fit this need.

Investing in Experiences: this age bracket is in the simplifying stage. They generally have enough or too much “stuff” (although investing in a 2nd or 3rd property is still enticing).  Today they’re taking regional cooking classes at the culinary institute and learning Italian.  They enjoy visiting the farmers markets as much to meet the farmers and small producers as to purchase fresh vegetables.  Rather than just writing a check, they are volunteering in their local community both for non-profits and offering their time and skills to entrepreneurs. They are taking control of their heath by learning about and purchasing natural and organic foods and have developed an increased interest in the culture of food worldwide.  They are more active; joining walking groups & targeted health clubs, training for fundraising rides and walks. Along the way they’re meeting new, like minded, friends, reconnecting with themselves and their partner.  Prime Timer’s are optimistic, interested, intersting and engaged.

Trips of a lifetime: Traveling to China, Africa, Argentina or even Italy takes on new meaning as we mature. We may return again, but it is more likely this will be our only or last visit. Prime Time Travelers are willing to invest time and money in seeing and experiencing as much as they can while they are there and they crave the best and most authentic experiences. They are likely to sign up for additional extensions or excursions, upgrade to rooms with views and fly business or first class and spend extra nights before or after the tour enjoying the departure city.  Time is short.  The “Cheapest” package is of no more interest than finding the cheapest cardiac surgeon to most and frankly a discount is of less interest than a value add (axe the fruit basket and add a guided city tour or locally made souvenir).  You can also bet that a “Trip-of-a-lifetime” might be researched online, but will be booked over the phone after speaking with a knowledgeable staff member or, better yet, a past guest.

Treading Softly: Global Connection & Concern:
Geotourism is a term recently defined by National Geographic as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well being of its residents”. You might remember Eco Tourism was a buzz in the 90’s. The new term aligns EcoTourism, Green Tourism, Travelers Philanthropy, and Sustainable Travel. Basically,  how we go, where we go, why we go, what we do while we are there, and what we do when we return, all matter.  From offsetting a trips carbon footprint to choosing tour operators who stay at local lodges, hire local guides, recycle and purchase local foods to creating or investing in non-profits in the areas they travel these features all are becoming a priority for well traveled PrimeTimers who were alive and active in the 60’s. They are also willing to pay a bit more to companies who have made these commitments.

What’s Experiences are Hot and Why

Volunteer Vacations are no longer made up of teenagers sleeping on the floor of a local school at night and working during the day. Today 50+ year olds swarm to projects around the world including teaching English in Xian China, conserving frescos in Italy, counting sea turtle eggs in the Great Barrier Reef.   What is different? Prime Time Travelers require a higher level of comfort (simple hotels or homestays are often appropriate) & consideration for health and medical needs.  They also often want a shorter program (1-2 weeks) and frequently add language immersion program prior to the volunteer project and cultural/natural tour the area after the project.

Intergenerational Travel
As they clean out the homes of their elderly parents they swear not to put their own children through this.  They tire of buying presents for kids and grandkids who have everything or don’t hesitate to buy it for themselves. With busy lives the solution to get together has now become the family reunions…it just looks quite a bit different than it did 40 years ago.  Today family vacations are intergenerational and often take place not at Grandma’s house but at a Dude Ranch in Colorado, a villa in Tuscany, a ship in Alaska, or under the Serengeti Stars on Safari.

Prime Timer’s are interested in taking their passions on the road.  Why not learn to cook IN Italy, Photograph Polar Bears IN the Artic, Speak Spanish IN Guatemala, or Paint IN Santa Fe.

Active & Adventure: walking, cycling, golfing, yoga vacations are filled with active 50+ folks. Daily options addressing a variety of fitness levels,  guiltless enjoyment of local food and wine, bragging rights of completing the Inca trail or cycling through Ireland still top cocktail stories.

Culture & Nature:
connecting with traditional cultures and the natural environment, especially those most vulnerable to extinction, continue to drive unheard of travel to destinations like Bhutan, Myanmar, Antarctica & Kilimanjaro. Vietnam, Japan and Germany are attractive to this age group for historical reasons.”


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Travel Time: September

Reviewer Background: This was my first visit to Vietnam.


I spent a week in Northern Vietnam (Hanoi, Sa Pa and Halong Bay) traveling with a guide from HandSpan and checking out the area for a potential tour. The beginning of my trip was an overnight train to to the SaPa region. The train journeys itself was an experience. Fortunately I was moved to the new Tulico Carriage and avoided sharing a small train cabin with 3 men. I guess I’m getting a bit spoiled and prefer some level of privacy or at least to share with people I know or other women grin. Most higher end western tourist book the Victoria Express (Orient) carriages. However, you need to stay at the Victoria Hotels (the package is for the hotel and the train (and very expensive).

SaPa is a wonderful area though I realize the term “eco-tourism” is used a bit too lightly. There are many issues to consider around homestays and touring local villages to “visit” some of the fifty-four distinct ethnolinguistic minorities recognized in Vietnam. The walks, through local paths used to connect villages and rice fields, are great as long as you jump out of the way of motor-scooters which make their way through even the muddiest of trails and have become the mountain bikes of the hill country.

My homestay experience was good though I am not confident that this is an experience my guests (generally boomers) would enjoy. The family was wonderful (the mayor of the village and his wife hosted me for dinner). The accommodations very basic. What I find lacking is the education around what to expect and what is appropriate behavior while staying at these homes. How to use the bathrooms, eating protocol, greetings etc. The EcoLodge I stayed at for one night was lovely yet had it’s own issues to deal with: how are they really interacting and supporting the local community and the environment? Is building a spa and offering European food (the bread was great!) appropriate?

The people in the area really are lovely….and the further away from the villages you get the more authentic the experience.

The Red Dzao is one of the ethnic groups that live in the north of Vietnam. Their name denotes the use red to decorate their clothing. There are two unique features of this tribe. The first is that you can know how rich a woman is by the size of her hat. The second is that to be beautiful it is thought that women should have as little body hair as possible…thus they often shave their hair and eyebrows.

Black Hmong and Red Dzao live in neighboring villages in this region. An interesting feature of Black Hmong women is to bind the calves with material and leather string to hold it in place. This is thought to prevent this area from growing large and muscular. Small calves (and feet) are a sign of beauty for women. Black Hmong like to wear their hair over the crown of their heads. Often wigs made of horse’s tail are used to add more body to the bun and then wrap it to form a tall “pin box” type hat.

It was told to me that women generally marry around the age of 16, at that time men often “steal” these young women and bring them to their homes. If the woman refuses to eat for three days she is let go to return to her home. Should she take food, she is “accepting” of the man and will likely marry.

This minority group is also said to pick up languages very quickly. Many of the women selling textiles in town have picked up English and possibly French from the tourists and may end up becoming local guides.

I met this woman during a walk to the village of Ta Phin,Ta Phin, a lush valley nine miles out of Sapa near Sapa and spent the morning with she and her friends, visiting one woman’s home and watching the rice harvest.

Best Time to Travel:

During the Rice Harvest…I hit it just right!


HandSpanTopaz Eco Lodge


Lodging Details:

In Spa I stayed at Chau Long Hotel (new wing) in Sapa before heading out for my homestay experience in the Tay village. I then on to the Topaz Eco Loge (aprox one hour drive from Sapa).

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