There was a time when conquering mountains, crossing countries on a bike or on foot and trekking through jungles was the sole domain of professional adventurers, something most people only read or dreamt about or watched on TV.
But making those dreams a reality is now easier than ever – and it’s never too late to start. Look at British politician and father of current Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Stanley Johnson, who was loved by I'm A Celeb fans last year.
Since the airing of I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Kiwi.com has noted hundreds of bookings by over 70 year olds for flights to cities near the world's most exotic jungles, including The Amazon, Borneo and India, with ageing travellers keen to follow in the 77-year-old's footsteps and begin a bushtucker trial of their own.
Saga, the over-50s specialists, commissioned research to mark their 65th anniversary, which found a third of us now feel ‘more empowered and adventurous than we did 10 years ago’.
Bucket-lists are expanding, and people are increasingly embracing physical challenges, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
“Travellers over 50 are often visiting places that have been on their wish-list for a long time. I climbed Kilimanjaro with a woman who was doing it for her 50th birthday; she had first read about it in a Michael Crichton essay when she was 21, and wanted to do it herself ever since,” says Jae Hopkins, marketing director for adventure travel specialists Exodus, who’ve noticed an increase in booking from people aged 50-plus.
“People of all ages often tell us a trip has changed their life – travel is life-changing, often in tiny ways, occasionally in big ones. Learning about a new culture, meeting new people, taking time out from our normal lives, all have the potential to make us see things in a different way. For some, that’ll be climbing a mountain, for others it could be photographing a cheetah in the wild.”
Conquering a challenge
Explore, also adventure travel experts, say the average age of their customers in 2016 was 54, and they’re seeing more and more travellers in their 50s and 60s.
“These customers may be at a new stage of their lives and want to challenge themselves and experience new destinations and cultures,” says Ashley Toft, Explore’s managing director.
Of course, simply venturing beyond your comfort zone, and trying something totally new could be classed as a challenge. But more and more of us are pushing our physical limits too, making the most of our health and fitness while we can. “Interestingly, we’re seeing an even larger increase in the number of over-50s going on our walking and cycling trips,” Hopkins points out.
“As people stay fit, and want to remain fit, for longer and longer, an adventure that combines culture and activity is especially attractive. Cycling around Cuba, for instance, means you’re going fast enough to cover lots of the island, but slow enough to soak up the views and stop if you see something interesting.”
Something for everyone
Climbing Kilimanjaro won’t be for everybody. But conquering a challenge is a very personal thing – it all depends on your starting point, after all – and everyone has the potential to experience the buzz and boost of doing something you’d never have dreamt possible. You might be surprised, too, at the level of choice available, and that you don’t have to be a mega-fit marathon runner to tackle a challenge trip. Often, specialist companies will indicate the difficulty or ‘challenge’ rating of a trip, and provide guidelines to help you assess whether it’s suitable for you.
Saga Holidays recently launched a ‘Go for it’ segment, which offers their customers something more adventurous, and Saga Holidays MD Maria Whiteman explains:
“There are three ‘pace ratings’ for our ‘Go for it’ tours. The first is a relaxed pace, likely to involve travel in a 4x4 vehicle. The second is more demanding, with longer trips over uneven terrain. Finally, the most strenuous pace could involve a lot of walking in terrain such as jungles and mountains.”
Off the beaten track
There’s also tremendous joy in exploring new cultures and discovering another country beyond the parameters of a cosy resort. “There are some things you just don’t know about unless a local takes you there,” says Hopkins, adding that the 50-plus age-group is “definitely a demographic that likes to get an understanding of the culture of the country they’re visiting”.
“This age-group cares about the impact they have on the communities we visit,” she adds, “they want to know their tourist dollar will go back to the people they are meeting and interacting with, so use of locally owned accommodation, restaurants etc really matters.”
All taken care of
If you’re new to adventure travel, it might seem a little daunting, and organising a trip to more remote places – especially if it involves a physical challenge, lots of logistics and possibly going a little off-grid – is quite a task. Therein lies the appeal of booking with a specialist company, who can take care of all the planning and admin and look after you.
“I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with some of our customers on tours and, after speaking with them, it was extremely apparent that many are real adventure seekers, but want to do it on an escorted tour as it gives them the confidence to try something genuinely new or different,” says Whiteman.
“One of the main benefits of booking with Explore,” adds Toft, “is everything is booked for you – you just turn up!”
Plus, joining a group is a big part of the experience. “For me, that post-mortem of the events of the day – hearing what other people saw, and heard and felt – is a key benefit of this style of travel,” says Hopkins. “Sharing memories with like-minded people is pretty special.”