Indians and the grey gap year: From solo travel to road trips, senior citizens are travelling more – The Hindu

Clockwise from top left: Manju Multani in the Maldives, Usha Hooda and Amrita Nakai, Hari Baskaran and friends in Spiti, Vidya Surendran on holiday, Geeta Garud in Mizoram, and Usha Hooda on a trek
In the middle of her solo trip to Mizoram last month, Geeta Garud, 69, had an epiphany. “I was on a narrow ledge, making my way behind a waterfall, trying out something I wouldn’t have in my younger years. And I realised how going solo was such a liberating experience!”
Before going on her week-long holiday, she was hesitant about travelling alone. Garud had asked friends and family but found no takers. Yet there she was, alone, relishing a challenging trek. “Why was I being dependent on others? Being alone gives you a sense of freedom.”
She ended up having many firsts. She danced impromptu at the Anthurium Festival in Reiek, waded into a river, and went horse riding. “I had opportunities to try horse riding when I was younger, but couldn’t work up the courage. This time I thought, if not now, I may never get another chance,” says Garud, who was an athlete in her youth and played cricket. She was at her farm in Kopargaon during the lockdown, and had felt stifled by the lack of social connections. It motivated her to travel as soon as things eased. “Travel is also about connecting with people; I felt that sense of joy and freedom when I finally did it.” She is planning to travel to Europe next.
Age is just a number
Welcome to the grey gap year, as The Guardian termed it in a recent article about British baby boomers going adventurous after retirement. The trend has been growing for years, of course. Older adults in India have always travelled — they visited children overseas, went on pilgrimages, and occasionally holidayed in bucket-list destinations. A pre-pandemic Frost & Sullivan analysis pegged the number of senior citizens who expected to travel from the country in 2020 at 7.3 million. Then came COVID-19, cancelling itineraries, tickets and timetables.
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Senior citizens were one of the most vulnerable groups during the peak of the pandemic. Isolation meant boredom, loss of confidence, and increased anxiety, even for active elders. But now, with vaccinations, booster shots, and the world opening up again, urban upper-middle class retirees are booking tickets more than ever. According to 2021 data from the Ministry of Tourism, they accounted for 10.7% of holiday related outbound travel from the country. And they are no longer opting only for ‘safe options’. At Silver Talkies, the social impact organisation that works with seniors across India (of which I am a co-founder), there has been a surge in demand for travel. “Our members want to go on offbeat food trails and treks, and mark off both domestic and international sectors,” says Nidhi Chawla, CEO and co-founder. “Our upcoming Chettinad trip has the oldest traveller aged 77 and the youngest in her 60s.”
Even filmmaker Sooraj Barjatya, who usually treads safe, romantic grounds, has caught on to the trend. His upcoming release, Uunchai, stars veteran actors Amitabh Bachchan, Boman Irani and Anupam Kher as three senior citizens challenging themselves on a trek to the Everest Base Camp.
READ | ‘Why should age become a deterrent?’: Boman Irani on ‘Uunchai’ and senior citizens travelling
Brushing off the anxiety
In August 2021, a few months after the disastrous second wave of COVID-19, Hari Baskaran, 73, and his wife Deepa, 66, set out on a 770 km road trip in their Maruti Swift. “Nobody expected the Swift to make it successfully!” laughs Hari. They travelled with a group of 10 senior citizens from Delhi to Kaza in Spiti, feeding off each other’s energy and enthusiasm. “For over a year and a half, we had been cooped up at home and tested positive for COVID. The anxiety stayed with us for a long time, so the road trip was a chance to break free of the shackles imposed on us by the pandemic, both mental and physical,” he says.
The Baskarans’ drive came with the threat of danger because of the weather, road conditions and possible landslides. But they were resolute. “The element of danger made the trip that much more exciting,” says Hari, adding that they ensured the vehicle’s battery was in good shape before they set out, and carried battery-operated tyre inflators and a puncture repair kit. Despite comorbidities, Hari is an avid cyclist and felt the trip came at the right time. “As we age, our mental faculties decline, and fear of diseases becomes ever-present and a source of worry. Experiences of this nature go a long way in keeping your mental faculties active.”
It is a sentiment that Vidya Surendran agrees with. The 64-year-old believes fear is an ingredient that needs to be shelved. The Delhi resident hired a van in June this year to do a week-long road trip in Ladakh with her husband, retired Wing Commander Surendran, 72. “Attempting a trip, with the peak of COVID just behind us, was an act of courage for us,” she says.
Surendran had a compelling reason to make up for lost time and travel. She worked as a teacher, retiring in April 2021, and had travel plans lined up. “When I was teaching, I was constrained to travel only during the summer holidays. So when I retired, I kept thinking now is the time to go and see places, and I’m sitting at home! What am I missing out on?” Their Ladakh trip gave the couple courage to venture further to Spain and Portugal.
There’s no place for fear
More than anything, the pandemic has made everyone aware of time. “People don’t want to miss out,” laughs P Geetha, 62, from Bengaluru, who discovered her deep love for the mountains in her 50s. “Most people at the Valley of Flowers trek were above 60. Everyone seems to be in the mood for adventure now, and I see some FOMO too!”
It is this sense of making up for lost time that is motivating BL Vohra, 79, and 17 friends from Delhi (between 70 and 80 years) to travel to Manipur and Nagaland this month. Vohra, who served in Manipur and Tripura as a senior IPS officer, believes that besides a renewed interest in travel among senior citizens, there is also a fresh interest to see lesser explored parts of India like the Northeast. “People have travelled overseas earlier. Now they want to explore India.”
And road trips seem to be a favourite. In January 2021, college friends Usha Hooda, 66, and Amrita and Robin Nakai, 66 and 69, set off on a driving adventure around India.
Deciding on the spur of the moment, they drove a Scorpio from Kasauli to Chennai, taking in Goa and Hampi en route, hopping over to the Andamans, where Hooda’s son lives, and Pondicherry. When we speak, they’re planning a quick Pathankot drive to visit a friend. The Nakais and Hooda have been doing road trips for years — though during the pandemic, they went armed with RTPCR reports and hand sanitisers, being careful even while rolling down the car window to ask for directions.
Hooda says the road trip wasn’t just about renewing their travel energy; more critical was getting over any fear that creeps in with age. “All three of us are cancer survivors. Amrita has just had her last dose of radiation and chemotherapy. We have also travelled through her treatment.” Have they ever worried? “Death can get you on your bed too. You can’t live in fear. You got to live every day,” Hooda, a talented artist, asserts.
A changing world
It is not just a desire to fill the two-year gap in their travel diaries that’s pushing senior travel. Economics has helped, too. Many urban seniors have more financial stability than the previous generation, with increased incomes, provident funds, pensions, and investing strategies.
Nishikant Das, founder and CEO of travel platform Anvayins, says 40% of his portfolio comes from senior citizens. And, he attributes it to this change. “An increase in income over the past years has meant more financial stability among older adults. In the earlier generation, people used to save for the children. Now, it is increasingly believed by senior citizens that their kids can fend for themselves and, even if they would like to leave something behind, the younger generation isn’t dependant on it. So, they wish to make good use of their money.”
And unlike earlier, the children aren’t asking the parents to slow down at 70. Seema, the Baskarans’ daughter in Bengaluru, jokes that her parents have a more fun-filled and active life than she does. “We would want them to enjoy their lives, go travelling and not sit at home,” she says. While Seattle-based software engineer Sudarshan Rao — who loves mountaineering himself — was the one who encouraged his mother Geetha to go on treks. Rao admits that he does feel some anxiety when she leaves but he never fails to encourage her. “I’m impressed with how hard she has worked on her fitness and she really enjoys travelling to new places, so I am more than happy to support her,” he concludes.
The writer is the co-founder of Silver Talkies, a social enterprise for 55+, and co-author of Rethink Ageing .

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Printable version | Nov 12, 2022 4:08:57 pm |


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