Baby Boomers Are Making Their Mark on Adventure Travel

20 Oct Baby Boomers Are Making Their Mark on Adventure Travel

Photo by James Kaiser, courtesy of O.A.R.S.

Baby boomers are embracing adventures like never before. ©James Kaiser, courtesy of O.A.R.S.

Like many who possess adventurous spirits that simply must be accommodated, Norma Jean Bauerschmidt recently left home, hitting the open road to tour and taste the United States. Along the way, she took a hot-air balloon ride, went whale-watching and enjoyed a dazzling view while standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

At the time of her grand adventure, Norma Jean Bauerschmidt was 91 years old.

Just a year before, at age 90, Norma received a cancer diagnosis. Rather than stay in a hospital and undergo months of painful treatments, she opted for adventure.

Norma Jean is a shining example of how older people are beginning to claim their share of exciting—and even physically challenging—travel experiences. While much has been written about millennials and how they are changing the ways in which we recreate outdoors, the elderly, especially aging baby boomers, are redefining who such adventurers are.

No more shuffleboard

Baby boomers tend to stay active; they exercise more and think of themselves as forever young. ©Michael Coghlan, flickr

Baby boomers tend to stay active; they exercise more and think of themselves as eternally young. ©Michael Coghlan, flickr

In 2016, the first group of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) will turn 70. The youngest of them will be in their 50s. And they seem to be returning to the idea that characterized their formative years in the 1960s: that there’s more to life than material possessions. Boomers are perfectly poised to make a huge industry out of purchasing experiences.

Added to that propensity is the fact that baby boomers are in better physical shape than the generation that preceded them. During the post-World War II era of the 1950s and 1960s, science brought antibiotics and cracked the genetic code, ushering in new medical technologies. Boomers reaped the benefits of anti-cigarette campaigns and advances in nutrition. They smoke less, have better access to nutritious foods and are better educated than any previous generation in history. They are the generation of the fitness craze that took up jogging, were inspired by Jack LaLanne and sculpted their bodies with Jane Fonda exercise videos. Baby boomers exercise more and think of themselves as forever young. As a result, we’re seeing something we’ve never seen before: people in their 60s, 70s and 80s functioning at an exceptionally high level who want to continue to work and stay active.

Del Webb, a retirement community developer, recently surveyed 1,020 single, female, U.S. adults ages 50 to 68. In the poll, which was conducted online by Nielsen, 76 percent said that they felt younger than their current age. More specifically, younger boomers—in their 50s—stated that they felt 10 years younger, those in their early 60s said they felt 13 years younger and Del Webb residents with a median age of 65 reported that they felt 15 years younger than their actual age.

Ziplines are preferred over shuffleboards. ©Loco Ropes, flickr

Zip lines are preferred over shuffleboards. ©Loco Ropes, flickr

It’s not surprising, then, that baby boomers are the first generation of 50-plus-aged individuals to seek out vacation destinations known for action adventures, thrills and extreme activities. True to their generation’s values, baby boomers tend to rebel against anything overly structured—including vacations. They prefer to have some freedom to explore on their own. Sedentary, big bus tours that drop off and pick up travelers on tightly choreographed trips to predictable destinations are not for them.

So unlike members of their parents’ generation, many boomers won’t be satisfied with watching the dancing at a Hawaiian luau, winning $100 in a cruise ship casino or pushing disks on a shuffleboard. Instead, they seek to white-water raft down Oregon’s wild Rogue River, swim with whale sharks off the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula or zip-line in the jungle canopies of Costa Rica.

Give them polar bears

Natural Habitat Adventures helped 100-year-old Elsa Bailey realize her dream of seeing polar bears in the wild in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. ©Natural Habitat Adventures

One-hundred-year-old Elsa Bailey realized her dream of seeing polar bears in the wild in Churchill, Canada. ©Natural Habitat Adventures

In 2013, Adventure Collection member Natural Habitat Adventures had a remarkable, older traveler. One-hundred-year-old Elsa Bailey had a goal as yet unfulfilled: she wanted to see polar bears in the wild. A Natural Habitat travel specialist happened to hear about Elsa’s wish in a TV interview shot at Colorado’s Arapaho Basin ski resort where Elsa had just celebrated her centennial birthday—while she was on skis.

That year, Nat Hab did help Elsa get to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, to see the polar bears. Three years later, just a few days before her 103rd birthday, she passed away.

A few years from now, perhaps, Elsa’s remarkable adventure may be the norm. Given how aging baby boomers are starting to redefine what the typical adventurer looks like, sub-Arctic excursions like Elsa’s and hot air-balloon journeys like Norma Jean’s will be common expressions of adventurous spirits—whatever their age.

If you’re a baby boomer, let me know about your active adventures in the comments section below. How are you showing the world what the new “adventurer” looks like?

Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,


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Candice Gaukel Andrews
A multiple award-winning and five-time book author and writer specializing in environmental issues and nature-exploration topics, Candice Gaukel Andrews has traveled around the world—from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica and from Greenland’s coasts to Patagonia’s steppes—searching for and telling the stories that express the essence of a place. To read her articles and see samples of her nature photography, visit her website at and like her Nature Traveler Facebook page at
Candice Gaukel Andrews

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