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Life before and after reinvention: lessons learned from active 60+ travellers

31 August 2022

Things change - is the most common phrase, yet it is not relevant for senior travellers. If you really want, you find a way to do it - that is the main motto leading them to travel across Europe and experience an immersive world of geography, history, and art. They do genuinely believe that those who find the power to reinvent themselves after 60, wins the true life. Here comes the insights from Teodora Dilkienė, the dean of Tourism faculty at Medardas Čobotas Third Age University in Vilnius and Dr. Hans Kristján Guðmundsson, Former Chairman and member of the U3A Reykjavík Governing Board.

"We don't “sleep on” our experience. We use it. Geography is the joy of my lifetime thus I am happy to share my knowledge with others. There are lots of highly educated members in our community. We have history and literature teachers. Their knowledge helps to make the trip special - for example, the week-long trip to Iceland was like a geography tour, where we got to know nature and the uniqueness of the landscape. A visit to Rome enriched our knowledge of history," says Teodora, who has been organising trips for older age groups for 26 years and has travelled with Lithuanians not only in Europe but also in Asia and the US.

This August, Teodora and her group returned from Iceland. In December, the mailboxes of the members of the University of the Third Age in 44 cities and towns in Lithuania received newsletters inviting them to travel to Iceland and explore its natural beauty. Seniors also actively follow the University's announcements on social media networks. Usually more than half a dozen people are interested in travelling - for example, over 80 Lithuanians were interested in going to Iceland. However, only sixty participants could go on the trip.

The Dean of the Faculty of Tourism notes that for an elderly population, travel is an opportunity to enrich themselves scientifically and cognitively. She organises such trips with the help of a travel agency whose team takes care of the technical details. "We have a great desire to travel, but we are often limited by our physical capabilities. We are cautious and responsible, so we always recommend that anyone interested in going on a trip should also talk to their doctors and consult with their children," says Teodora.

Although the pandemic has brought extra uncertainty, new demands, and challenges during the journey, it has taught new skills. The Dean of the Faculty of Tourism notes that seniors have learnt to save money, and the lifting of quarantine restrictions has created a desire to see more of the world. "Even though a trip may cost a few thousand, it's a great way for children to reward their parents with a meaningful gift," she remarks, "What fun it is to go on these trips, to meet friends in foreign countries. For example, when we arrive in Malta, we are greeted by a local Lithuanian Daiva, and the connection we make gives more confidence to our group".

Lithuanians also meet students from the University of the Third Age in other countries. This is how Teodora and Hans Kristján Guðmundsson, an activist who has for many years been active in U3A Reykjavik, The University of the Third Age, crossed paths 5 years ago. The organisation is an active collaborator with other European and international senior organisations and Third age universities.

“There is an upcoming tendency in Iceland - reinvent yourself when getting older and approaching retirement. Upon retirement you may be forced to leave your employment – in the public sector for example you are forced by law to leave at 70 years. Even though being forced out of employment because of age alone is a breach of human rights, this may, however, when you are still fit and healthy, give incentives to rethink your life and fulfil old dreams, which makes it possible for people to pivot in their senior years,” noticed Dr. Guðmundsson.

An interesting case in Iceland, is the large pool of seniors who become tourist guides who even get bus driving licences and have become a valuable resource for the Icelandic tourism sector, the country being a hot tourist spot for the unique nature, the recent volcanic eruptions adding to the normal natural phenomena. A tour guided by a senior guide is becoming a trend - such guides are welcoming, kind and know unique facts about the tourist attraction places. The senior organisations in Iceland, among them U3A Reykjavik, also arrange tours and travels around the country and interesting trips abroad.

U3A Reykjavik, established ten years ago with a group of 49 founding members, has since grown to a large organisation, presently it counts to 1000 members. During the Pandemic restrictions in the past 2 years, there were little possibilities for live meetups. “This was counteracted by streaming workshops and educational activities on the Zoom-platform that took over the schedules of the members, and the online activities made it possible to reach a wider audience. Before the pandemic activities usually gathered 20 to 50 members. As we moved to the online approach, there were more than 200 connected users connecting to the stream in real time and to the recording open for a week”, says Dr. Guðmundsson.

He also notices the travel rush. During the Pandemic summer, due to the lack of international tourists, the locals took an initiative and enjoyed the domestic Nordic beauty. Before that, a lot of organised tours abroad were arranged by the tourism agencies including trips to the sun in southern Europe and cultural travels to regions and cities, some being specifically aimed at senior travellers. This is now increasing again when travel restrictions have eased. “Travelling gives us the cultural exchange opportunity and sometimes great digital initiatives come out of it. For instance, thanks to the European project HeiM, Heritage in Motion, we have in Reykjavik together with partners in Alicante, Warsaw and Zagreb designed 21 routes in and around these cities, for the Wikiloc app, that highlight the European heritage of these regions. These routes are open for all, and each route is published in English and in the home language” says Dr. Guðmundsson.

These stories prove that being curious and open to change, seeking new experiences, we are constantly growing. Kaunas Science and Technology Park, involved in the "e-Silver Tour" initiative to improve the tourism marketing skills of seniors, is presenting good examples of active people open to technology. The initiative, which brings together the international communities of France, Portugal and Greece, strengthens the digital competences of organisations bringing together older people and silver tourism professionals.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This communication (website) reflects the views only of the author and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
Project: 2020-1-FR01-KA202-079845