My friend Betsy called me from in front of her stove, where she has been cooking for her four children for too many years to count.
“What’s wrong with this picture?” she asked.
“I have one child headed to Colorado, another child headed to Israel, another one on her way to Mexico and the fourth is planning a trip to Norway.”
Her children are just about out of college and almost on their own, and Betsy thought she would be the one doing the traveling at this time in her life.
“I know just what you mean,” I said. “Mine is heading to Mexico for spring break. I never took a spring break trip in college and neither did anyone I knew. And those were the days when Daytona Beach was considered the frontier.”
I have friends who have gone to visit their well-traveled children. One went to South Africa to see her daughter. Another went to Central America, another to France and another went to Australia.
(My daughter has said she is thinking about moving to Australia with friends after college graduation. It seems that absolutely everyone is going to Australia, the way young people used to set out for New York City.)
(I can’t help but think that I planted this seed by so often reading her Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst’s children’s book in which the title character threatens to move to Australia if he keeps getting shortchanged by his birth order.)
But not all of the boomers are writing checks to cover their children’s internship in Central America, nor are they all sleeping on a child’s couch in some exotic pied-a-terre.
According to the AARP and travel industry reports, leisure travel among boomers has exploded into a $150 billion industry, and we are changing the nature of the experience.
When we travel, we like to take the kids and the grandkids, if we have them. We will take them to Disney World, sure, but we will also take them to Las Vegas or skiing. (Or, if we are like my friend Connie, we take them gambling and skiing in Tahoe.)
We don’t like bus trips that only allow us to see the world as we drive through it, with a 15-minute stop at a souvenir trap. We don’t mind groups, just not big groups. We still like cruises, but to places like Alaska or Egypt, or perhaps on a sailboat in the Caribbean.
And we like adventure. Trips that provide a physical challenge, like hiking, sailing, or hot-air ballooning, or an intellectual challenge, such as traveling through Greece with a college professor who is an expert in Greek history or studying cooking for two weeks in a villa in Provence.
Our college-age children may still want to lie on a beach with a fruity drink, but we don’t. We crave experiences, according to travel industry analysts.
We have the money – well, some of us do – to travel, but we suffer from what is called “time poverty.” Many of us are working longer than we expected or have other demanding commitments. But we are acutely aware of the clock and, though we are more vigorous at 60 and 70 than our parents might have been, we want to see some parts of the world before we are too decrepit to handle the walking.
My husband and I have done a modest bit of traveling and we fit the new model. Our trip to Costa Rica was not to an all-inclusive resort where umbrella drinks were served by the pool. It was an ecological adventure in the most remote part of the country, and it took both guts and stamina.
It was during a trip to Italy for the wedding of a friend’s daughter that we met fellow boomers whose lives are now dominated by travel – they spend just a few weeks a year at home. We might never have seen Rome had we not been determined to attend this child’s wedding, but we did.
There are other factors that affect our wanderlust.
Just about all of us have friends who did not live long enough to retire and see the world.
That knowledge, and the memory of their unfulfilled travel daydreams, leaves us with a promise to keep – that we won’t put off traveling to, as that travel book title suggests, at least one of 1000 Places to See Before You Die.