A generation ago, Americans’ idea of retirement travel might have involved a Caribbean cruise, a casino vacation or a European shopping trip. It would not have typically included trekking in the Himalayas, clearing invasive weeds on a volcanic island, canoeing through crocodile-infested waters in Nepal or, at the extreme end, selling the house to fund years of travel.
But little is typical among today’s retirees, who increasingly are leaping into more adventurous activities than their parents ever dreamed of.
Partly this is because they can — many older Americans are fitter and more active than their parents were and more creative about how they spend their time and money. And as baby boomers start to reach retirement age, many are eager to reconnect with the adventure and service ethos of their youth.
Capitol Hill resident Kate Patterson, 56, joined people half her age on a grueling, three-week off-trail hike last year through Montana’s Beartooth Mountains. The trip involved carrying a 45-pound pack, leaping between boulders and slithering down slick scree, and she suffered a deep gouge in her leg along the way.
“I figured if I’m going to do this kind of wilderness adventure, then I’ve got to do it now or I’m not going to do it,” said Patterson, who retired last year as managing editor for visual storytelling at USA Today. “I really want to be able to sit on my porch and rock without saying, ‘I wish I’d done that.’ ”
So, she is front-loading the adventure. Last year, she volunteered to help the Limahuli Garden and Preserve on the Hawaiian island of Kauai weed invasive plants and replace them with endangered ones, and this year she plans to help rehabilitate a salmon habitat in Oregon.
“It’s like a vacation with a cause — you get a real insider’s perspective,” she said. “You get to go where other people don’t get to go.”