Valentine's special: ... or to discover that age is no barrier to an adventure

Older travellers also prefer a date with destiny.

When Alexander Gunn turned 60, his wife, Susan, was determined to make his birthday a memorable one. An avid watcher of westerns, he'd always longed to be a cowboy, to lasso the broncos and crack the whip just like John Wayne.

So when she saw a brochure advertising a 12-day break on a ranch in Arizona, her mind was made up. The retired couple from Margate joined 13 others for a holiday in the saddle, visiting film sets, swaggering through the swing doors of saloon bars, and generally acting like the Lone Ranger. "It was fantastic. We'd already been on quite a few adventure holidays, so we were used to doing something different," said Mrs Gunn.

The Gunns are typical of the get-up-and-go holiday style of the over- 50s. Travel companies have been quick to cotton on to the fact that nothing is off-limits for the adventurous, mature tourist. Trekking in the Himalayas, husky sledging in the Arctic, hot-air ballooning over the game parks of Tanzania, canoe trips in Borneo, spotting condors in Chile - the demand is insatiable.

You have to have the money to do this kind of thing, of course. But that's exactly what the grey market - as it is unkindly referred to by the industry - has. Affluent older travellers are prepared to push the boat out to get what they want.

According to a Saga survey, over-50s account for 80 per cent of the UK's private wealth, and 60 per cent of personal savings. They spend pounds 215bn a year and are major consumers of leisure and financial services. Two- thirds of today's over-50s feel at least 10 years younger than their actual age and are seeking more action-based activities.

Naturally, when you get beyond the half-century mark, the appeal of the candle-lit dinner tends to pall. Which is not to say that romance is dead. The romantic getaway is still a winner; it's just that couples won't be looking quite so longingly into each other's eyes and will need something else interesting to occupy them.

"Not only do older people have wider horizons and want to see far-flung places," said Derek Moore, director of Explore Worldwide, "they are also fitter and want to go on more demanding holidays. This means you frequently get young and old mixing together and learning from each other. It all adds to the interest, which is what people want. The only difference is that while older people are prepared to rough it with rucksacks during the days, in the evenings they want their creature comforts. It is adventure, but within safe limits."

The city break to mainland Europe - romantic or otherwise - is probably the most popular choice for older couples who just want to have a few days to themselves. Cheap flights from budget airlines, booked on the internet, have put hundreds of fascinating destinations within easy reach on any day of the week. With more and more airlines using regional UK airports, this phenomenon is now experiencing exponential growth.

Once there, having shelled out little on fares, they have more to spend on food, drink and entertainment. For my 50th birthday, my partner and I paid a total of pounds 19.98 to fly to Bilbao for a long weekend, stayed in a swish hotel overlooking the river Nervion, and proceeded to spend three days feasting our eyes on the Guggenheim museum and our bellies on Rioja and exquisite Basque cuisine.

The vast amount of expendable wealth owned by "third agers" has also given rise to what is known as celebratory travel. This could be birthday treats - such as the Gunns opted for - of second or third time around weddings, honeymoons, and anniversaries, for which couples are prepared to splash out. Often a family will link up with a group of friends to form a large party to celebrate a special occasion together.

One other factor, however, may be contributing to the growth in the senior travel market. Many are becoming convinced that, as they can't take their wealth with them, they're better-off spending it. "Once they've paid for college education and helped their children get on the housing ladder, they think they've done their bit," said David Metz, the author of Older richer fitter. "Older people used to believe in leaving a bequest for their children. Not any more."

GIVE ME THE FACTS

Saga (0800 096 0089; www.saga.co.uk)

Explore Worldwide (0870 333 4001; www.exploreworldwide. com)

Kuoni (0870 990 9905; www.kuoni.co.uk)

Older richer fitter by David Metz and Michael Underwood, Age Concern Books (pounds 16.99)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Opilio Recruitment: Product Owner

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'