When Marie Koski of Springfield, Massachusetts, was in Tuscany, cleaning pottery and bronze items that were more than 2,000 years old, she knew she was on the right trip for the right price.
Koski, 61, a special-education teacher who retired in September, and her husband, John, 62, who is still working, spent seven days at what once was an Etruscan fort, helping an archaeologist excavate the site in the seaside city of Populonia.
They arranged their trip through Earthwatch Institute, an international environmental organization that allows travelers to assist scientific researchers. Participants pay to be part of an expedition, but the contribution is tax-deductible. “That helped our taxes quite a bit,” Marie Koski said.
They spent $1,600 each, and airfare, to participate and stayed in a three-bedroom apartment in a gated community, sharing a bathroom with another couple.
“I was never into archaeology or history, but it just left me with my breath taken away,” she said. “I like getting my hands dirty, and I don’t mind hard work.”
Americans 50 and older spend more than $120 billion a year on leisure travel, according to the “Travel Research: 2015 Boomer Travel Trends” report from AARP. And many, like the Koskis, are finding creative ways to travel economically.
“Everybody has a budget,” said Bowden Sarrett, travel adviser at Brownell in Mobile, Alabama, a member of the Virtuoso network of travel agencies. “Everybody’s got their limits.”
There are many ways for older Americans to travel for less. These include home exchanges, home rentals, renting or buying mobile homes or recreational vehicles and volunteering, even if that includes a fee like the Earthwatch expedition.
Some retired people find jobs aboard cruise ships. MSC Cruises, for example, hires retired and semiretired people as guest lecturers, port lecturers, language teachers and art and crafts instructors, according to Gary Glading, head of entertainment and guest experience for MSC Cruises.
Mary Lichty, 59, worked as a sales representative in direct mail marketing for 34 years. She always wanted to travel, including her dream during college to spend three months in Europe. Yet her dreams became, “‘I’ll do it later,’ out of practicality and necessity,” said Lichty, who lives in Benicia, California, just south of Napa Valley.
While working, she began taking wine courses at Napa Valley College, and in 2012 she began working part time at Raymond Vineyards in St. Helena, California, as a tasting room associate. Through that job, she met Jeffrey Maltzman, the founder of Blend Craft Wines’ winery at sea programs. She now works as a wine educator on the MSC Divina, which sails in the Caribbean.
“I’m cruising and they’re paying me for it,” Lichty said. Her husband, Peter, 60, who recently retired, travels with her. “It’s not a lot of money,” she said, but the cabin and food are included. The ship has the option to assign them to the crew’s quarters, but that has not happened during their several cruises.
For those who find the idea of paying to volunteer too expensive or unappealing, another way to travel is to volunteer through the federal government.
You can work at sites run by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service or even the Army Corps of Engineers.
Grand Portage National Monument, for example, is offering an opportunity next summer to be a living history volunteer, interpreting North American fur trade history and Ojibwe culture in three eight-hour shifts a week. When not dressed in period costumes to depict the year 1797, participants will have time to hike, canoe and kayak in and near Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota.
Another way to get better value is to travel to a destination when the weather is not ideal. For example, if you travel to London or Paris in early December, when the weather is cooler, you could get a lower airfare.
Saving specifically for travel, like from paychecks while still working, is a good strategy to help afford a great trip.
The Koskis saved money in a separate vacation club account through a credit union while she was teaching. “We didn’t wait until we retired to travel because you never know what the future holds,” she said. Her husband’s younger brother, with whom they traveled, died at age 60, she said. They still travel with his widow.
While Marie Koski was still working, the couple used a financial adviser. “Before I retired, we did some research to see if it was feasible financially” to take the kind of trips they preferred, she said.
Make saving for travel a priority, said Wendy Money, 61, who has been an elementary schoolteacher in Sacramento for 41 years and a single mother. When considering an extra latte and a trip, she said, “It’s an easy choice.” She plans to retire in three years and continue traveling, often with her 38-year-old daughter, Trina Warren. “My list is really long,” she said.
After the Earthwatch trip, the Koskis spent four days in Florence, Italy, staying at a small hotel from which they walked everywhere. “We don’t have to be in five-star hotels to enjoy ourselves,” Marie Koski said.
Here are ideas from experts on how older Americans can get the most value from their travel dollars:
• Prioritize the places you want to visit and your approximate annual budget. “Decide where you want to spend your money,” said Anne Scully, president of McCabe World Travel in McLean, Virginia. “What’s the hardest trip? Do it first.”
• Figure the approximate cost of the entire trip before you go. “Look at the final price,” Scully said, including “what you pay when you leave the hotel or the ship.” Cruises and all-inclusive trips can make it easier to calculate the final cost before you travel.
• Look for loyalty programs for air and hotels, two-for-one offers and last-minute bargains, which are often easier for retirees to take advantage of than people employed full time.
-? Consider home exchanges. John Adams of Anacortes, Washington, a retired publisher, 64, and his wife, Martha, 63, began using home exchanges in 2013. “No money exchanges hands,” Adams said. “They’re going to take care of my house like I’m going to take care of yours.” Among home exchange sites are www.myplaceforyours.com, www.homeexchange.com and www.homeforexchange.com.
-? “Protect yourself and your travel investment,” Scully said. Will your health insurance cover you while traveling? Medicare generally doesn’t pay for health care or supplies received outside the United States. But Medigap and Medicare Advantage plans often help pay for emergency care overseas. Even with those, it is advisable to buy travel insurance with emergency health coverage and trip interruption protection.
-? Watch out for hotel booking frauds that can leave you without a room you’ve paid for. The Federal Trade Commission, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Council of Better Business Bureaus are warning consumers about some third-party booking sites through the FTC website, www.ftc.gov, that don’t deliver what they promise.
-? Consider renting an apartment for longer stays. A site like www.onefinestay.com helps travelers find a place with a kitchen and a washer and dryer.
-? Use a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees for purchases made while traveling internationally.
-? Extend family visits for celebrations and milestones to see more.