As the coronavirus began to spread in early 2020, most people’s travel plans were sidelined. Baby boomers saved that cash for future vacations, while younger generations tended to use it on home improvements and takeout food, according to AARP’s 2021 Travel Trends report. Boomers (those in their mid-50s to their mid-70s) estimated they would spend an average of $6,691 on travel in 2021 vs. $5,028 by Gen X and $4,017 by millennials.
Now, with travel restrictions lifting and vaccination rates rising, they can finally use that money. Without a full-time work schedule and fewer family demands, retirees are in a prime position to take advantage of all the world has to offer. Below is a list of 10 ideal locations to visit if you’re retired and ready to roam.
1. Key West, Fla.
Located at the United States’ southernmost tip, Key West has all of the characteristics of the Caribbean islands while still being attached—albeit by a seven-mile bridge—to the mainland. The former home of writer Ernest Hemingway, Key West boasts white sand beaches, aquamarine waters, brightly colored architecture, seafood restaurants, casual bars and a world-renowned botanical garden. Plus, you can enjoy tropical weather year-round, so it’s a great escape from brutal northern winters. The average price of a seven-day stay in Key West costs $2,450 for a solo traveler and $4,400 for a couple, with the average cost of lodging running $178 a night, according to travel website Champion Traveler, which analyzes data from 35,650 destinations around the world.
2. Santa Fe, N.M.
Founded in 1610 as the capital of what was then known as Nuevo Mexico, Santa Fe has the oldest public building in the United States. The city also has a thriving artist and artisan community and is marked by traditional pueblo-style architecture—buildings made from mud, with straw and wooden frames, that are painted in bright colors. You can also visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, take a photography lesson, enjoy an authentic Mexican meal or visit Indigenous sites just north of the city, all for affordable prices. The average cost of travelling in Santa Fe is $127 per person per day, and the average hotel price is $129 a night, according to Budget Your Trip, a website that has analyzed travel costs from tens of thousands of travelers.
3. Fairbanks, Alaska
Known as one of the best places on earth to see the Northern lights—visible in Fairbanks from August through April—the city is also a wonderful starting point to explore the Alaskan wilderness. You can check out the dance events at Pioneer Park, embark on a four-hour train ride to Denali National Park or drive up the Steese Highway to see the Arctic wildflowers bloom in the summer months. Expect to spend $218 per day per person in Fairbanks, for a total of $3,051, including lodging, for a couple for a week.
4. Monterey, Calif.
Monterey offers plenty of open spaces to roam, from 99 miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean to acres of ancient redwood forests in the interior. Bonus: You can enjoy the scenery while sipping local wines. Monterey is a great starting point for a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, but you can also stay put and visit the Monterey Zoo and Monterey Bay Aquarium, as well as the National Steinbeck Center, which is dedicated to the writer John Steinbeck—all while enjoying mild temperatures in the 60s and 70s. You can expect to spend an average of $122 per night on lodging in Monterey, with a weeklong trip costing $2,937 for a solo traveler and $5,275 for a couple, including airfare.
5. Asheville, N.C.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is perhaps best known as the home of the Biltmore Estate, which was built in the late 1800s by George Vanderbilt, who was one of the wealthiest people in the United States at the time. Today, the estate includes a luxury hotel as well as 8,000 acres of gardens and grounds to explore. The city itself is a jewel, boasting myriad examples of Beaux-Arts, Art Deco and neoclassical architecture, as well as dozens of art galleries. Stay in the city and learn about local artists or enjoy a drive around the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile road that connects the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Travel to Asheville costs an average of $1,865 for a solo traveler and $3,350 for a couple for a week.
6. Mackinac Island, Mich.
Step back in time on Mackinac Island, which doesn’t allow motor vehicles of any kind. Get around the island—which is located in the Great Lakes between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas—the old-fashioned way by walking or hailing a horse-drawn carriage. The island offers plenty of delights, including fishing spots, bookstores and world-renowned fudge. At night, enjoy a thriving music and bar scene. The average lodging on Mackinac Island costs $143 a night, and a seven-day trip will run $1,917 for a solo traveler and $3,443 for a couple.
7. Hilo, Hawaii
Hawaii boasts plenty of stunning areas, but Hilo is unique in its proximity to both beautiful beaches and magnificent waterfalls. Located in a protected bay on the volcanic Kohala Coast on the island of Hawaii, Hilo is 45 minutes north of the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and a short drive from Wailuku River State Park, which has an 80-foot waterfall. This city is ideal for nature lovers as well as those who want to spend their days shopping at Hilo’s centuries-old wooden storefronts. On average, you will spend $137 a day on food and other expenses in Hilo, for a total cost of $1,914 for two people for a weeklong trip.
8. Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver is a bustling, ethnically diverse city nestled among rolling hills on a peninsula overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is known as the greenest city in the world because it prioritizes recycling and preserving the natural environment. You can wander through Stanley Park, which has half a million trees, eat a meal in Chinatown and see a show at one of the city’s more than 50 professional theaters and comedy clubs. Hotels in Vancouver cost an average of $149 a night, and a weeklong trip will cost a couple an average of $1,707. And you’re in luck! Travel to Canada recently reopened for fully vaccinated Americans.
9. Dublin, Ireland
The largest city in Ireland, Dublin is also the country’s historical and contemporary center for education, industry, arts and other cultural activities. The city has something for every type of visitor. Check out the Guinness Storehouse, where the famous beer was once fermented, or take a walk to view one of the city’s many “talking statues,” which include likenesses of poet Oscar Wilde and Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone, among others. You can also venture out to see one of Ireland’s famous old castles, including Kilkenny Castle, which is 80 miles south of the city. And be sure to make time to have a drink and dinner at one of the city’s many pubs. Expect to pay an average of $123 a night for a hotel room and $1,811 for a weeklong trip with a partner, not including international airfare. Travel to Ireland is open for vaccinated Americans; non-vaccinated Americans must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
10. Porto, Portugal
Porto, Portugal has become an increasingly popular place for expatriates to retire in the past few decades, and for good reason. The city, which lies on the Douro River just about two miles from the Atlantic Ocean, is surrounded by vineyards and has a mild, moist climate ideal for long walks on cobblestoned streets. Visit the Igreja de São Francisco, a church covered in gold leaf on the interior, see an exhibition at the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves—designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Álvaro Siza Vieira—or visit the seaside esplanade at Foz do Douro. At night, dine al fresco at one of the city’s many bustling cafes and, of course, enjoy a glass of port from a local vineyard. Expect to spend an average of $120 a night on a hotel room and a total of $1,631 for a weeklong stay with a partner, not including international airfare. Travel to Portugal is allowed with proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.
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Brienne Walsh is a writer based in Savannah, Ga. She contributes to Forbes, Rangefinder and MarketWatch, among other publications.