When someone works or is a student, taking time off to travel or relax at home is considered a necessity. The case for needing a vacation once you’re retired isn’t as clear.
People romanticize retirement as the long-anticipated vacation that never ends. Happily for those who have quit the world of work, research and expert opinion suggest that vacations may be just as essential for retirees as for working folks.
Here are five reasons why:
1. To avoid feelings of loneliness One of the biggest pitfalls of retirement is the potential for social isolation, which tends to be greatest for those who are single or living alone, or for married retirees whose spouses are still working.
Work brings people into contact with a host of others (co-workers, clients, fellow train or bus commuters). Without the structure that a job provides, it’s easy to sleep late and remain in pajamas all day. Days and weeks may pass with only limited contact with others.
Vacations (which, for retirees, generally entail some form of travel) foster opportunities to interact with companions and others, while planning trips and while traveling.
2. To take a break from routine The boomer generation is living longer and retiring earlier with some spending as much as a quarter of their lives retired, according to anthropologist and gerontologist Joel S. Savishinsky .
“Retirement was like a ‘vacation’ to those who anticipated its freedom; it was a ‘sentence’ to those who could not escape its confinement,” he writes.
The novelty of travel provides a respite from routine — whether it’s a visit to friends or relatives out-of-town, a stay at a beach or wellness resort, a camping or fishing trip or a trip abroad.
To break the humdrum, retirees also visit other cities or states to scope out places to relocate, take multigenerational family trips or move seasonally (so-called snowbirds).
3. To feel stimulated and challenged Vacations make us feel alive and enhance our sense of accomplishment. We’re likely to see and do different things, learn new languages and customs, taste new foods and/or meet interesting people along the way.
It’s joyful to share the experience with travel companions, document it in photographs and bring back stories when we return.
Vacations usually provide varied physical challenges, too, whether they are walking tours, biking or hiking trips or even more adventuresome jaunts.
4. To enhance one’s sense of self In a recent essay in The Wall Street Journal, , the writer laments the loss of identity she experienced in retirement because people tend to define us by what we do.
Retirement’s Biggest Challenge: Finding a New Identity
Vacations confer a new identity — that of being a traveler.
5. To fulfill lifelong dreams Travel ranks high on many people’s bucket lists: They are eager to visit places they’ve only read or heard about, while they still can before illness or disability set in.
Inveterate travelers who had limited vacation time while working may choose to continue traveling as much as possible, but, perhaps, travel differently than in the past.
They may opt to take a train or ship instead of flying, or go slower and stay months instead of days or weeks.
Vacations During Retirement Can be Costly
A recent study commissioned by the Global Aging Coalition and the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies concludes that retirees who travel are happier and healthier than non-travelers, because traveling enhances their sense of accomplishment and strengthens their family connections — essential elements of successful retirement.
However, the biggest regret expressed by the respondents was not having saved enough money for travel.
Although retirees have the gifts of more freedom and time, they tend to live on reduced incomes (an average one-half to two-thirds less than when they were working), which can crimp anyone’s vacation plans.
Irene S. Levine is a psychologist, lifestyle and travel journalist, and member of the Society of American Travel Writers