I was discussing the amazing growth of the over 60 women travel cohort with my friend and colleague, Ann Marie McCarthy, founder of the Over 60 Women Travel and Meetup group on Facebook.
She said, “We are living very different lives than our mothers. They, for the most part, did not travel without their husbands, if at all. There aren’t many role models for us as travelers. Previous generations had a whole set of rules that we’ve kind of smashed through. Now we need to give ourselves permission to live our lives as fully as possible … I think that we are a new generation of Thelma and Louises.”
The difference with Thelma and Louise, we agreed, is that we’re pretty sure that none of us would take that final dive; we’d just probably have a meetup nearby. We’re fierce travel fans but still compos mentis.
Our cohort is women over 60 who are alone or not; widowed, divorced, and married or not; gay, straight, or undecided. But whoever we are, our lives have changed, both as a result of what we’ve all gone through over the past year and also because many of us have different expectations for the future.
As travel maven Ann Marie says, “There seems to be a sea change in the over-60 cohort. Women who have been daydreaming for the past year now want to jump in to go on solo explorations, or with groups, or travel with old or new friends.”
And things have certainly changed for over-60 women travelers, especially with the coronavirus ramping up the desire to travel. Ann Marie believes that “Covid-19 might have given many of us the feeling that maybe we were running out of time.” She posits that the need for women to meet each other and to build a network was certainly there pre-pandemic, but the past year has given women a sense of urgency to get out and GO.
To fill the need for women who want to connect with other travelers, Ann Marie started the Over 60 Women East Coast Travel Conference and Meetup in Asbury Park, N.J. in 2019, with speakers, information tables, and lots of mingling. “We were almost like high school kids: we had a car, we had an allowance, we had a roof over our heads, while many younger women still had families at home or were working full time.”
After that successful meetup weekend, interested women continued to coalesce on Facebook. “The group kept growing,” Ann Marie reported. “We started Zoom meetings during the pandemic, with speakers and presentations. Because people were not able to attend conferences, the difficulties of Covid-19 made these online meetups a destination.” There are now more than 5,000 members in the Over 60 Women Travel and Meetup Group on Facebook (and she has recently started a site on Instagram), and the numbers are growing quickly. While most of the group’s activity is in the United States, people online are from South Africa, Europe, Asia, and other countries and continents. Ann Marie’s original gathering is forging new territories for the Over 60 travel cohort.
This shouldn’t be surprising. This group of women has become one of the fastest-growing demographics in worldwide travel and is rapidly becoming an economic force. Ann Marie sees that there is now a need for space — both digitally and physically — to support each other and to continue to host meetups and conferences.
The women in the group run the gamut in travel experience, from those who have never traveled and aren’t sure of the first steps to plan a trip, to those who have been taking off to destinations all over the world solo, with friends, or in small or large groups. (Many of the women in the group are Road Scholar veterans and offer advice on the most enjoyable trips and places to learn about.) In-person meetups are now taking place all over the United States, from New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida to Oregon, California, and scores of other states. In fact, hotel rooms for the meetup in Savannah, Georgia, planned for this fall, sold out within a few days.
Posts online include opinions on the best insurance to have, best ways to book a trip, best routes, countries that require vaccines, and more. One recent comment on the group was, “I recently lost my long-time travel partner. Can you ladies give me tips/advice/encouragement so I can get on the road again?”
What women want is information about travel, not only about how much a trip costs but about its value. And this new thrust is not only about the process of traveling but is also about reaching out for travel partners and even places to stay with other members around the country and the world. Several members have gone nomad and have stayed with people as they drive cross country. What these and many other women want is connections, information, and inspiration.
This desire to share experiences has grown so swiftly that Ann Marie sees a national conference in the future. She wants to acknowledge that this is an important community … and a group that may have different travel styles and needs than their younger sisters. Many folks online and on Zoom have discussed the need for in-depth travel, slower and accessible travel, and making connections in a community.
I have friends who eschew social media for a variety of reasons. Some believe that it eliminates human contact, and others think that it carpets a desensitized public with constant mass media reportage. But few can deny that digital technology and social media have and will affect the travel behavior of our cohort, and it can certainly support and maintain connection to each other and to the world. Our journeys are just beginning, and we are eager to hit the road and share our joys in exploring the world.