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SENIORS TOURS Groups take the fear out of travel



Published: Sun, November 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Tours are reassuring and protective, leaving nothing to chance.

By RHODA AMON

NEWSDAY

In the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in American history, many seniors rushed to the phone to cancel trips.

But some have come back to rebook trips for the coming winter or spring, senior travel specialists say -- a commentary on the resilience of "the greatest generation."

There's no doubt that the world has changed, and there is no guarantee of security anywhere, if, in fact, there ever was.

For seniors, especially those who are widowed and alone, the "what if's" loom large. What if I'm stranded in some foreign place with no way to get home? What if I'm caught in a terrorist attack and have to make it down long flights of stairs or run from bullets or flying debris? What if I'm ill or injured ? What if I'm separated from my belongings or medication?

Safety in numbers: While all these fears are real, they're not insurmountable. Seniors who still want a respite away from home may find safety in numbers. A group tour that caters to the older population may be the answer.

Personally, I never felt safer than I did in Thailand with Grand Circle Travel, the nation's largest marketer of packaged senior tours. While we rode elephants, walked across suspension bridges and sampled foods we had never even seen before, we knew we were in the hands of experienced local guides who would only take us to places with the Grand Circle seal of approval. There's comfort in knowing that the company sends 10,000 of us each year to Thailand with very few, if any, mishaps.

Later, on an independent trip with a friend, I missed the precise advance instructions and the leave-nothing-to-chance protectiveness of the tour agency.

"Seniors are more comfortable traveling with their own peer group. With a group of young people, they might worry about being slower than the others," says Pat Pasquini, director of the Prime Time Travel Club for people over 50. The Bellport-based club schedules tours ranging from day trips to cruises and faraway places such as Australia and Alaska, all carefully planned with an older population in mind.

That doesn't mean that things will always go according to plan.

A group of 40 who were due home from Las Vegas Sept. 14 were delayed when all planes were grounded after the terrorist attacks. "Their escort spent 24 hours on the phone booking new flights for 40 people," Pasquini said. He also negotiated half-price accommodations for the extra two nights in the hotel. They got home safely Sept. 16.

Similar group: A similar group of older travelers was delayed two days in Brussels, Belgium, on a European tour with Saga Holidays, a Boston-based company serving the 50-plus market. The seniors stayed the extra two days in comfortable accommodations in the pleasant company of their fellow travelers while their guide rebooked them on the first available flights. Since many seniors are retired and don't have the stress of getting home to a job or young children, it was no great hardship.

What concerns many seniors is the cost of a last-minute cancellation. Katherine Bonner, Saga's director of marketing, suggests travelers take the company's Travel Protection Plan, which enables them to cancel for any reason up until the day of departure. Good travel cancellation insurance -- and certainly health insurance -- is recommended for seniors, especially in these uncertain times.

Saga, on the other hand, is finding many seniors still game for long journeys, especially with winter bargains showing up everywhere.

For sun-seekers, Bonner suggests Huatulco on Mexico's west coast. It's less touristy and more genuinely Mexican, she says. Costa Rica is another good buy right now.

And for a safe getaway on the other side of the world, consider Australia, just entering summer as we slide into winter.




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