Older adults are vaccinated and ready to take to the skies

Buckhead residents Lori (right) and Reg Griffin visited Jekyll Island for the first time since the mid-1990s.
Caption
Buckhead residents Lori (right) and Reg Griffin visited Jekyll Island for the first time since the mid-1990s.

Credit: Courtesy of Reg Griffin

Credit: Courtesy of Reg Griffin

How the pandemic has shaped their 2021 summer travel plans

When the coronavirus pandemic led to a shutdown in March 2020, plans to take a cruise or visit another continent were put on hold.

Now, with vaccinations on the rise among older adults, vacations are back on the table.

More than 1,800,000 Georgians 55 and older have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the state Department of Public Health reported. Over 760,000 adults ages 55-64 have had at least one dose, and 100% of adults ages 75-84 — over 380,000 — have had at least one dose.

Being vaccinated has led many in metro Atlanta to make travel a priority.

Hikers watch the sunrise on Oahu. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Caption
Hikers watch the sunrise on Oahu. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Mary Pat Matheson, The Anna & Hays Mershon president and CEO at Atlanta Botanical Garden, is one person who is ready to travel since getting the vaccine.

A donor community called Circles members annually takes a national and international trip. Most guests are between their late 50s to late 70s but trips have included guests in their 30s and late 80s. In 2020, the group traveled to South America before worldwide pandemic shutdowns. No international trip is planned for 2021. Instead, the group will focus on U.S. trips. One is a flight to Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens in Brandywine Valley in June. There, they’ll enjoy dinner and a tour of the botanical garden.

“I canceled at least 10 trips professionally and personally. We just shut it all off, right? A year and a half with no travels,” Matheson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Among them was a visit to Portland, Oregon for a conference and other professional trips to England and Vietnam. Personally, she and her husband, Bri, 68, were set to go on a two-week trip to Maine, but it was also canceled.

In April, Matheson splurged on a first-class flight to New Orleans. It was her first trip since the coronavirus pandemic. “It was so much fun. The city has really reopened,” she said. “New Orleans was really careful about masks.”

Matheson said she “never felt nervous,” during her trip. “Of course, we’re all vaccinated. Vaccination equals freedom.”

“I’m ready to reenter my life as it used to be,” she said.

She’s not alone, either.

David Anderson, 63, of Lawrenceville said that now that he and his wife, Amy, 59, are fully vaccinated they don’t hesitate to travel.

“The crazy thing is we traveled back in March. Actually went to Hawaii. My only daughter got married. She planned it for over a year,” he said. “It was a different kind of travel. We probably wouldn’t have made that trip if it wasn’t for our daughter getting married.”

It was the only flight he made in the past year and a half, and the retired Delta Air Lines aircraft maintenance technician said he and Amy are ready to keep traveling.

“We’re both eager to go. The travel restrictions really are not holding us up,” he said. “We probably will travel sometime this summer.”

But not everyone is waiting for summer’s official start to get away.

Reg Griffin, 58, said he and his wife, Lori Griffin 51, recently returned from a road trip celebrating her birthday and their anniversary in Jekyll Island.

“First time back there since the mid-’90s and we were both very impressed,” said Reg, who is the Chief Communications Officer of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.

“It had a 30A feel to it, staying at the Westin Jekyll Island,” he added, likening the Buckhead couple’s accommodations to the Florida highway. “Discovered Driftwood Beach. Amazing.”

Reg and Lori Griffin of Buckhead recently visited Jekyll Island and stayed at The Westin Jekyll Island.
Caption
Reg and Lori Griffin of Buckhead recently visited Jekyll Island and stayed at The Westin Jekyll Island.

Credit: Courtesy of Reg Griffin

Credit: Courtesy of Reg Griffin

It was the first and only trip the couple has taken since being fully vaccinated. They rented a cabin outside Blue Ridge for a short family vacation in January. Usually, the Griffins take a vacation every other year, typically spending that time visiting family in Missouri or Arkansas. They also usually visit Florida’s Mexico Beach.

“We were determined to not let the pandemic stop us from doing something so we went to Mexico Beach in August 2020 and stayed in a condo,” he said. “This is a pretty isolated area that was ground zero for Hurricane Michael in 2018, so they are still rebuilding… but it is beautiful and somewhat isolated. At that point, most restaurants were doing mainly take out, but there were a few with open dining rooms and limited use of masks.”

Reg said they were very comfortable traveling and stopped at a few rest stops along the way and also had some meals. Additionally, they discovered that masks “get less popular the farther out from metro areas you go,” Griffin said. During their trip to Jekyll Island, people used masks indoors and engaged in social distancing at their hotel.

“We noticed that most hotel restaurants were serving on-site guests only, but that worked fine for us since the Westin Jekyll Island has a great restaurant,” Griffin said. He stated the beach allows for social distancing to happen more easily, making it “great for a pandemic.”

While some Georgians have kept their travel local or based in the U.S., some are eager to return to global vacations.

The guardian Lions dedicated by the Naxians to the Sanctuary of ancient Greek God Apollo on 7th century BC, are lighted with the first morning light, in the ancient island of Delos, Greece , on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Greece says its tourism services will open on May 15 when a ban on travel between different regions of the country will also be lifted. ( AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Caption
The guardian Lions dedicated by the Naxians to the Sanctuary of ancient Greek God Apollo on 7th century BC, are lighted with the first morning light, in the ancient island of Delos, Greece , on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Greece says its tourism services will open on May 15 when a ban on travel between different regions of the country will also be lifted. ( AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Lisa Chambers, 60, said she and her husband, Benson Chambers, 63, are going on what she says is a long-awaited Holy Land cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines. The Canton residents will visit Greece, Cypress, Turkey and Israel at the end of the summer.

“Since we were married in 2010 there has been the Great Recession and a pandemic,” the retired technical writer said.

Still, not everyone has been able to book global trips.

Martha Gaughen, an owner and vice president of sales at the travel firm Brownell, said one of her clients called in hopes of booking a trip around the world this year. However, Gaughen said she was “devastated” when he was advised to put it off until 2022.

“We actually had a lot of clients who did nothing at all without the vaccine,” she said. “Once the vaccines became available, the older they got, the more they were willing to call (and book a trip).”

Gaughen said one-fourth to half of her client list has called to book trips for 2021. According to her, July is the worst month to book. Guest ranches and places in the Western U.S. are completely booked, and Gaughen said villas, small and self-contained spaces, resorts and national parks where guests can go glamping are in demand.

“I have never in my life had so many people call and ask for a beach house, on a beach in Florida,” she said, adding that they’re unavailable for the summer.

Airbnb reported in Georgia alone, there was an 80% increase in summer trip searches on their website by U.S. guests ages 60 and older in March, compared to February. The online lodging marketplace advises hopeful travelers to book early.

Above all else, older adults wanting to travel this summer should pack their patience.

“Travel is making a swift comeback, and a lot of people haven’t hit the road in well over a year. So be patient with the person at security who, perhaps, forgot to empty their water bottle,” said Melanie Lieberman, senior travel editor at travel website The Points Guy.

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