As I have said repeatedly on this blog TRAVEL INTERNATIONALLY WHEN YOU ARE YOUNG. DO NOT SAVE YOUR MONEY FOR A FUTURE THAT MAY NEVER ARRIVE.
When young, you can become worldly (“Experienced in human affairs; sophisticated or worldly-wise.”), developing knowledge of global issues and other cultures, discover new ways of doing and thinking, and obtain lasting benefits throughout your career.
As you get older, you will encounter significant age discrimination issues in traveling.
Tour age restrictions
I surveyed group tours and found many have age restrictions, usually because of the activities and endurance required, although some seemed oriented towards wanting to create a youthful cohort for interactions. Some organized groups limit attendees to those under age 30, age 40 or age 60. It is understandable that tours need to ensure participants can take part – some, for example, say you need to be able to climb trails up 3,000 feet in day, or be able to walk at least 3 miles each day and carry your luggage up 4 flights of stairs. Fair enough. But others make limits based on optional activities. For example, several tours I saw had snorkeling or diving days – and prohibited attendees over age 40. Which was odd since their itinerary listed optional alternative activities that such people could pursue on those days if they wished.
90-day visa restrictions
Most countries limit visitor stays to 90 days per 183 days, after that you must exit the country and cannot return for 90 days. This is at odds with the new environmental travel meme – you should travel less and stay longer. Unfortunately, in most countries, those who are older have no option to get an extended stay visa.
Extended stay visas are generally issued for study abroad, marriage (and also family/ancestry in some cases), or work. Many countries have age limits on work visas. New Zealand requires work visa applicants to be under age 55, Australia under age 50. Many nations participate in a “Work Holiday Visa” program enabling a yearlong stay, typically renewable for one additional year. These enable visitors to develop and appreciation for the culture and language of the country. All of these, however, require that participants be under age 30 or 35.
After reviewing the rules, I discovered it is impossible for my wife and I to stay in Europe longer than 90 days. It cannot be done – except through an investment visa or long-term residency visas (Spain, Portugal). Investment visas require an investment in a country of typically US$500,000 (plus or minus, varies by country) while the Spain “non-lucrative vias” and the Portugal D7 visa are intended for those intending to relocate to the country, long term.
There are some countries where older persons are welcomed for longer stays and obtaining a so-called “retirement visa” is straightforward as long as you can prove you have adequate outside income and meet other requirements (such as health insurance). These tend to be small countries or island nations where your money helps local economies, plus several nations in central and south America.
Personal impact: I have been studying Norwegian the past year with a hope of making an extended stay in Norway. I discovered last night that this cannot be done. While they have an exemption process, their web site said it is rarely granted for tourism, and only for those with close family living in Norway. I do not qualify. I will probably continue to study Norwegian because I like the language but will study a second language once I identify alternative longer-term options.
Many young travelers keep travel costs low by staying at “hostels”. The stereotypical worldly and youthful global backpacker stays here. For a long time, they were called “youth hostels” although that label has been going away. Typical accommodations include shared rooms and bathrooms, and a communal kitchen and eating area.
Unfortunately, some hostels have age limits – both lower and upper bounds. This is probably not common, but it does exist.
Hostels are popular for their social interaction. When we travel, especially if solo, we have limited access to social contact. Hostels are famous for their group or shared rooms and kitchens and eating. At the end of the day, visitors – who all have travel in common – can share what they have discovered and suggest places to visit or activities to pursue.
Some hostels may have livelier, or shall we say, rowdy clientele and noisier surroundings – issues that some older people may not tolerate well. As noted in this article, “Half of the fun of staying in a hostel is the energetic hostel vibe ….“.
From online descriptions, some older travelers do stay at hostels but say they traveled that way in their 20s and 30s (and older typically meant 40s or 50s now) and were experienced with hostels. Some travelers in their 60s said they’ve stayed at hostels without problems (again, most had prior experience at hostels when younger). Anecdotally, most of those staying in hostels are in their 20s, and usually low 20s.
Many hostels have moved upscale from their past – and there is a new class of “luxury hostels” that have sprung up – they cost more and typically provide a private room.
Regardless, this low cost, highly social accommodation may not work for older travelers.
Travel related health insurance skyrockets as you get older and is typically 3x or more than what you would pay at age 40.
Personal health issues can impact some older travelers. Medical conditions such as arthritis may affect knees and other joints and limit travel activities. This is why you should travel when you are young.
Car rental restrictions
In many countries there are age related restrictions on older drivers. These are generally not laws but practices of car rental companies. Commonly, they add a high (tens of euros) daily surcharge to older drivers typically around age 70 to 79, depending on the company and country.
Related: Half of those surveyed in the UK think older drivers should be banned from driving:
‘Older drivers don’t have fast enough reaction times,’ was a common response.
Other large cohorts (especially young drivers) think older drivers should undergo mandatory retesting starting as young as 55 or 60. Statistically, older drivers are much safer and younger drivers are the most at risk, but whatever. The story notes that Finland, which has mandatory medical exams for drivers over age 70 has higher elderly pedestrian deaths. They compare that with Sweden, as a control group – Sweden does not have such restrictions and does not see the same increase in elderly pedestrian deaths. In other words, excess restrictions on elderly are not supported by evidence and appear to cause actual harm.