The mad-cap adventures of 73-year-old Nancy Ashmawy, star of the International Emmy Award winning series 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy, may not quite be the norm for her age group, but I’m guessing there is an army of wannabes a decade or two younger champing at the bit to experience some similar adrenaline-fuelled rides.
Following the huge success of the Sky 1 TV series, which saw Nancy and her broadcaster son Baz take on numerous challenges - from skydiving to alligator wrangling and white water rafting to gambling in Vegas - the format has been sold to over 100 territories worldwide.
Aside from the creative angle taken on the mum-and-son relationship, its popularity surely lies mostly in how Nancy blasts away the jaded old concept that the world becomes smaller as we age – that we are no longer up for it.
She has blazed a trail for her generation; her ticker hasn’t missed a beat in some of her heart-stopping encounters, paving the way for older people who might like to savour just a little of that excitement in their lives when they travel.
Which is why the travel agency world, like a sleeping Goliath on a sun drenched golden beach, is missing the point, when it continues to offer ‘over-50’ holidays, addressing that audience as if they all wanted the same formulaic package, now that they have five decades behind them.
If you do an online search for ‘over-50s’ holidays you get the drift – sun breaks, golfing holidays, cultural tours and the ubiquitous cruise. And while each of those themed breaks all have their own assets and very satisfied clientele, from a marketing point of view they feed into the belief that as we age, as one 50-something put it, “boring and beige” is the way forward.
However research carried out late last year by a British based insurance and travel specialist, Staysure, revealed that top of a list of 50 things that the over 50s want to experience in their lifetime, is to travel to “an exotic destination”.
While ‘exotic’ is widely open to interpretation, some of the other ‘must-do’ goals listed by the over-50s, left little to the imagination – or all up to the imagination, depending on your perspective – such as a desire to “bare all on a nudist beach”, going glamping, and skinny dipping. While of course they could achieve two out of those three – if really determined - in the privacy of their back garden without venturing beyond the front gate, that wouldn’t be much fun now, would it?
And those over-50s are clearly up for fun. Amongst their other other bucket list items were: travelling in a hot air balloon, visiting five continents, sky diving, taking a selfie with a celebrity, and scuba diving. Nancy Ashmawy would be proud of them!
Bucket lists are popular among today’s retirees – as we live longer, stay fitter, shed life-long routines, there is plenty of pep in our step. That’s another reason why the ‘over-50s’ tag is pass?; by the time we hit retirement – whether it be early or at 65 – many of us are ready to spread our wings, rather than have them clipped.
My sister, Marie Price, a mother of five in her 60s, has done four Camino de Santiago walks since she retired from primary school teaching almost four years ago – planning and organising each one herself. She spent 33 days on her first trip from St Jean Pied de Port, carrying her own back-pack, over the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. Bitten by the bug, she did three more after that, two of them being the inland and coastal routes from Lisbon to Porto, accompanied on those occasions by her 36-year-old daughter Olwen.
“I met lots of older people along the way – among them one man of 83 who had walked from Italy for six weeks and another woman in her 80s from Austraila with her daughter,” she says. “Although some people look on it as a pilgrimage, most of those I met were doing it to get fit. And you make friends from all over the world.”
For would-be Camino walkers there are loads of websites offering their services. But Marie opted to go it alone: “You can book it all online including hotels and have your luggage ferried there for you, but I travelled light and stayed in the refugios, which are like hostels. When you stay there it is more communal – you integrate far more than if you stay in a hotel and there is a buzz in not having it all planned out, just like the original pilgrim walkers.”
You don’t have to have a fat salary or pension in your pocket either to experience the world as an oldie. Many of our generation were the original backpackers. My husband and I backpacked in Egypt for a month 40 years ago – yikes! Prior to that at the age of 18, my friend Anne and I hitchhiked for six weeks around Europe, staying in hostels, wherever we were left off.
We oldies are also much more world-wise and have the internet at our fingertips. Many are now blending some luxury with their adventures – hence the rise in demand of ‘poshtels’, posh hostels that offer ensuite bedrooms and other little frills, at a budget price – because this generation still want to watch what they spend.
So why are some travel agents still trotting out the ‘bog standard’ holidays, asks Cathy Burke, the Irish general manager for Travel Counsellors, which specialises in tailor-made holidays. Cathy, aged 52, and who has been 35 years in the business in Ireland says she has seen an upward trend in older people being more adventurous and open-minded. And many like herself, are visiting more far-flung destinations.
Jonathan Bridge, PR and Marketing Executive with Trailfinders,, the long-haul travel agents in Ireland, says there is certainly evidence that many older clients are doing round-the-world trips.
Parents whose children have emigrated to far-flung destinations like Australia, are not staying at home pining for their sons and daughters, but hopping on planes and stopping off in other ‘exotic’ destinations along the way – making the trip worthwhile, and perhaps ticking off their bucket list in the process.
When my son was working in Laos, in Southeast Asia, my husband and I headed off two years ago to visit him for two weeks – a location that we knew very little about. We booked our flights with Trailfinders and took in a few days in Bangkok, en route, choosing our accommodation online. And when all three of us travelled from his base in Vientiane, the capital, to the more scenic Luang
Prabang in the north, we encountered lots of wrinkly back-packers, staying in hostels and travelling at their own pace.
Each to their own of course – and there is a time and place also for the sandy beach, the golf resort, the luxury cruise, the all-in resort and the bus tours. When I was celebrating my 60th birthday in October my dream gift was to gather my two children, son-in-law and grandchildren who have all been living abroad, around me in one place all together, to simply chill out in the sun – a moment in time to be treasured. I chose a self-catering complex near the beach where I had previously stayed with my husband, in Matagorda, Lanzarote. A ‘poshtel’ of sorts!
My friend Anne, who hitchhiked with me in our late teens, who was 60 shortly after, opted for a two-week trip to China with her husband. After that she spent a long weekend in Berlin with her two children - a gift from them- because they know how much she loves to travel.
The so-called ‘baby boomer’ generation (born between 1946 and 1964) are not a stereotypical tribe, so it’s time for those among the travel trade pushing tired ‘over 50s’ labels, to take an ageist double-step back, and a wider lens to what might be desired. There is an audience for all destinations, all types of holidays; whether you want to flop by the pool or do a Nancy Ashmawy challenge, and it has nothing to do with whether you are 50, or 80, or even 20, for that matter.