Recently a reader rang in to renew her subscription, saying that she and her husband don’t travel to Africa as much as they used to, because they were retired and didn’t think they could cope, both physically and financially.
It struck me that it needn’t be that way. Yes, there are swathes of Africa that are much more suited to hardy, adventurous types, but in most popular safari destinations the travel experience is actually a lot easier than you might think. And it needn’t blow the pension fund either.
To seek some reassurance, we asked Terry Murphy of African Budget Safaris, how they addressed the concerns of seniors wanting to go on safari.
You offer tours aimed specifically at older travellers. Why?
Increasing numbers of people are staying active, older, and actually find it easier to travel now they are free of children, work and other things that have restricted them before. “Retirement is for exploration!” one 70-something guest told me after a Botswana safari recently. For many, they are finding this the ideal time to rediscover their sense of adventure.
For many, safety will be a concern. Does that influence where you might send them?
We tend to focus on Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, each of which have an excellent tourism infrastructure: good quality roads, accessible camps, comfortable accommodation, familiar food. With a strong focus on conservation, their national parks tend to be well run, so wildlife is reasonably easy to spot.
How much time do most people travel for?
The great thing about being retired is that people have fewer constraints and more time to travel. They are less restricted by family, work and school commitments. This means it is much easier to stretch an itinerary out and not feel the need to hurtle from one destination to another!
We have a three-week long trip that starts in Victoria Falls and ends in Cape Town; an overland lodge safari which includes iconic wild places. In 15 days you could visit Victoria Falls, Chobe, Okavango Delta and Etosha and Sossusvlei in Namibia. That’s an impressive collection of southern Africa’s finest attractions in a fortnight, which is very manageable.
How will they cope with the long distances
There is no getting away from the fact that Africa is huge, and the distances travelled, often on dirt roads, can be long and dusty. For trips aimed at seniors, travel is conducted at a slower pace, there are more rest days and a few extra creature comforts. Itineraries can sometimes be crafted to suit your specific needs.
Other than the potential for some long road trips (depending on the itinerary), as long as you can get in and out of the safari vehicle, there shouldn’t be a problem. Short walks around attractions and to and from your room are about the extent of the exertions you’d need to endure.
What about budget?
Travelling on a pensioner’s shoestring without compromising on quality is very achievable. The trick is to know your budget and balance it with your travel wish list. You can cut costs by taking advantage of a group tour for seniors, so you are travelling with like-minded companions. The great thing about these tours is that the majority of costs are contained and set before your departure, leaving you free from worrying about park fees, petrol, exchange rates etc.
Should we be anxious about group travel?
Over-50s are actually much better at group travel than you might think. Being older, most people know themselves so much better and are more comfortable with meeting new people. Our group trips are designed for a maximum of 16 adventurers, and for many, the opportunity of meeting and travelling with other like-minded people is a great attraction.
And for those who want a comfortable bed at the end of the day?
Gone are the days when safaris were perceived as dusty affairs only for people willing to sacrifice their creature comforts. There’s such a wide range of accommodation now available, all offering high levels of comfort. You can book a comfortable lodge safari or a camping safari, or a mixture of the two.
Even on a fully-catered mobile camping safari in remote areas, all you need to do is step off your vehicle. The tents are pitched for you, the camp-cot prepared, an open fire ready and your meals cooked for you.
Is it possible to keep in touch with home
For many, it is reassuring to be able to remain in touch with loved ones. Most safari lodges nowadays have wi-fi and it is possible to connect mobile phones via satellite or mobile phone networks, even in remote areas.
What about health and insurance?
As with anyone travelling to Africa, get some inside advice on the areas in which you will visit to ease your concerns. Make sure you have enough medication for the duration and access to important prescriptions – and don’t be shy to communicate any medical conditions you may have. Travel insurance is, of course, compulsory.
To learn more about African Budget Safaris’ seniors safaris, click here.