After the children leave, empty nesters desire to travel more

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Leora Benjamin, left, and Isobel Lamont feast at a traditional restaurant in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires with Peregrine Adventures.
Leora Benjamin, left, and Isobel Lamont feast at a traditional restaurant in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires with Peregrine Adventures.

When children fly the coop, parents look forward to getting away, too, according to research by Peregrine Adventures and British Airways.

Both companies recently commissioned surveys to examine the plans, goals and aspirations of so-called empty nesters, adults whose children have grown up and left for college, the workplace or simply their own apartment.

Peregrine Adventures, part of the Intrepid Group, offers small-group tours primarily for travelers over the age of 45. Working with OnePoll, in August the company surveyed 2,000 adults ages 50 and older whose children had left home. Travel emerged as the top priority for empty nesters, with 44% saying they wished to visit a new place now that their kids were out.

The British Airways poll, conducted by Censuswide, queried 1,000 U.S. parents whose children are in college and no longer living at home. It also found travel among the top to-do list items, with 40.3% reporting that they hope to “plan a much-needed vacation,” just behind the 41.3% who said they’d like to take up a new hobby. According to both polls, empty nesters also intend to redecorate the house, have more sex and reconnect with family.

Barbara Movelle owns Empty Nest Travel, an agency that specializes in trips for older couples and multigenerational travel for families with high school or college-age children. Movelle got into the travel industry as her own children were preparing to move out, and she saw the need for an agency that catered to newly independent parents and older couples.

“It was something I could certainly relate to, going into that period in my life,” Movelle said. “Our kids had left the nest, and my husband and I started to talk about travel and wanting to do it.”

Traveling sans offspring offers different opportunities for parents who’ve been bringing the kids along on vacations for 18 years or so.

“When you have young teenagers, none of them can agree on what they want to do,” Movelle said. “That’s always challenging.

Peregrine found that empty nesters were excited to spend more time on vacation (54%), while also dropping less money on each trip (40%). They also looked forward to catering to more adult interests during their travels: dining out at more sophisticated restaurants (36%) and learning more about the history and culture of the places they visit (28%).

In fact, traveling without kids is so different that 29% of parents said they’d like to return to previously visited destinations and experience them in new ways.

Movelle echoed some of the survey’s findings.

“The food factor is very important,” she said, stressing local culinary or wine experiences that are usually less suited to families traveling with children.

She said her clients also want to go off the beaten track, “to do a private tour, something that would be more unique to that destination that is not a typical excursion.”

According to Peregrine’s research, empty nesters are inclined to visit tropical beach destinations (20.5%), take romantic trips (19.4%), cross off a bucket-list locale (19.1%) and go on a cruise (17.1%). On its website, the company pinpointed itineraries that cater to these motivations, like a nine-day beach getaway to the Riviera Maya, Belize and Guatemala, or a once-in-a-lifetime expedition cruise to Antarctica.

Movelle said her clients are eager to take bucket-list trips while they still can and have swapped massive ocean liners for smaller ships and river cruises. With Europe still under the cloud of recent terrorist attacks, her customers are looking to South American destinations, such as Peru and Argentina, as well as Asia.

More than anything, though, they’re just excited to go.

“Travel is absolutely a priority,” Movelle said. After spending time with their grandkids, she added, “these folks live for their travel.”

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