The experience may be different, but the destination can be the same.
Tours have become so sophisticated these days, so varied and so adventure-made-to-order that there are few travel experiences that older travelers can't get in on.
The same traveler who hung up the backpack and rail pass years ago, along with the college-student ID card - figuring the next time they saw Paris it would be through the window of a comfy chain hotel - is finding tours suited to the yen for adventure as well as the reality of age.
Take Rick Steves, one of the more successful travel gurus these days. Steves began offering low-cost tours using older buses and out-of-the-way bed-and-breakfast accommodations in the 1970s. A step up from his own backpacking/hostel trips of the old days, but not cushy by any means.
But like many tour operators, Steves keeps changing with the times. His early travelers were OK with bathrooms down the hall. Today, his basic tours are pretty much the same, but accommodations all come with in-suite bathrooms.
And remember hostels - those lodgings we might once have called too basic for anyone over the age of 20? Today, many tour companies are using new, less rudimentary hostels to house cost-conscious seniors.
The last hostel we stayed in - a chain in Berlin - featured a wing specifically for families and older travelers. The lobby was full of senior travelers there on an organized tour.
Our room was not elaborate. It looked like it might have been decorated by Ikea. But it was squeaky-clean and quiet with a television and a private bathroom with a hair dryer. And it was a bargain.
Technology also has played an important role in helping tour operators keep more seniors happily on the road. For instance, some firms that offer cycling tours have begun to use electric bikes. If a rider gets a bit tired or faces a challenging hill, the battery kicks in and provides the needed extra boost.
And we all appreciate the advances made with luggage - lighter-weight materials, sturdier wheels, and shoulder straps for carry-ons that are designed not to leave your muscles screaming at day's end.
Medical advances have been a boon, too. Not long ago, even a minor disability might have kept a would-be traveler at home. Today, it's not uncommon to see folks in wheelchairs or toting portable oxygen tanks among travelers wandering through Rome's ruins or U.S. Civil War battlegrounds.
Tour companies seem to have made it a habit these days of describing fairly accurately the "exertion level" of their trips. Their brochures tell you if you will be expected to handle your own luggage or be on your feet for a number of hours or a certain distance. If the answer to those questions is "that's not for me," they'll tell you if they would be amenable to finding ways to accommodate you and allow you to participate.
Single older women are enjoying what once were considered very adventurous, even borderline dangerous, destinations.
Several such singles were part of a recent tour we took to western China, including Tibet and other less-populated regions of the country where ethnic and religious minorities live tensely under Chinese rule.
Yes, senior travelers may not be as zippy or as willing to accept a few discomforts as we used to be. But we still love to get out there with the rest of the adventurers.
And tour companies, to our benefit, know that many of us are willing to spend part of what may be a limited income to do it. They know that if they don't meet our special "senior" needs they will lose an important part of their business.
Things to Consider for a Tour
There is a mountain of travel choices these days. Here are some things you might consider as you make plans:
What kind of travel experience do you want? Don't let limitations put you off. They may be mere bumps in the road, not roadblocks.
What kind of traveler are you? Do you want to fill every waking moment with sightseeing or some activity? Or do you want to just relax and let the experience soak in? Perhaps a combination of the two?
Do you like to travel alone, or is a companion a must? On most tours it's much less expensive for single travelers to share accommodations with someone of the same sex.
Think of recent trips you've taken. Did they satisfy? If so, why? If not, how come? What might you have done differently? If you're still unclear as to what kind of tour would suit you, the United States Tour Operators Association can help. There's a quick test on its website. http://www.ustoa.com/2009/personalityquiz.cfm
You may want to work with a travel agent with expertise in the kind of journey and experience you want to have. A good one can lessen the hassle of travel planning.
Disabled people who may need inspiration to get them traveling will want to check out the website of Nancy and Nate Berger. They tell how and where they have traveled (Nancy uses a wheelchair) and offers tips on how others can do it, too. www.disabledtravelersguide.com
Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel). Offers lifelong learning opportunities, many using college campus facilities. 800-454-5768; www.roadscholar.org
Over the Hill Gang. Specializes in ski trips for seniors but also offers summer programs. 719-389-0222; www.othgi.com
Go Ahead Tours. 800-590-1170; www.goaheadtours.com.
Overseas Adventure Travel. International trips for all ages. 800-493-6824; www.oattravel.com
Rick Steves. Budget tours to Europe for all ages. 425-771-8303; www.ricksteves.com
Tauck World Discovery. Variety of tours for all ages. 800-788-7885; www.tauck.com
Via Rail. Train excursions across Canada. 888-842-7245; www.viarail.ca
Amtrak. Train travel across the United States. 800-872-7245; www.amtrak.com
Rocky Mountaineer. Trains in the Canadian Rockies. 877-460-3200; www.rockymountaineer.com
Generations Touring Company. Plans multi-generation trips. 888-415-9100; www.generationstouringcompany.com