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By Dan Kadlec
June 1, 2016

For some, it’s drinking mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby or chasing tornadoes in Kansas. For others, it’s gorilla watching in Uganda or Brunello tasting in Tuscany. Just about everyone has a bucket-list trip in mind for their retirement. But planning is often a stumbling block.

A third of boomers expect to take a bucket-list trip this year, according to a recent AARP report. Yet nearly half of those who expected to take a big trip in 2016 did not begin planning it before this year, the data show. That includes 43% of those planning to travel internationally.

In another study, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Age Wave found that only 10% of those in or near retirement who expect to take a big trip in the next 12 months have done a lot of planning. That figure is just 4% for those who expect to take such a trip in the next five years,

The Boom in Leisure

Leisure travel is set to boom as boomers scale back their workloads and retire in coming years. Retirees will spend nearly $180 billion in 2016 on leisure travel. Over the next 20 years that number will total $4.6 trillion. AARP found that 99% of boomers expect to travel for leisure this year, and they typically have four or five trips in mind.

This coming travel surge is part of a trend away from material things and towards experiences. Increasingly, boomers want their travel to provide a “peak” experience—often part of a bucket-list trip with friends and family. Such trips are most common during the first two years of retirement, when 78% of retirees say they finally have enough free time and 92% say they finally have the freedom to do what they want, according to Merrill Lynch.

Yet few are doing much research or even budgeting. Other than Trip Advisor, a site that 75% of boomers visit, and specific branded sites such as that of a resort or hotel, online resources don’t get a lot of use from retirees, AARP data show. The vast majority do not use mobile apps, Open Table, Groupon, social media, or blogs to help them plan. Two-thirds of retirees have not created a travel budget, according to the Merrill Lynch report, while AARP found that a similar percentage say changing airfares won’t get in the way.

Plan for Peak Experiences

Maybe living seat of the pants is all part of having greater freedom and flexibility, and not being tied to any one decision. Yet that is highly impractical for any travel that includes airlines, lodging and cruises, and, for overseas travel, obtaining visas. And when multiple parties accompany you, travel hassles can increase exponentially. Of course, multiple parties are usually a feature of bucket-list trips, since spending time with friends and family is the top reason to travel, AARP found.

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Just as crucially, lack of planning means boomers may be missing out on huge savings through travel credit-card awards programs, frequent-flyer awards, and money-smart apps. So make sure you choose the right trip for your budget. Then consider these three ways to make the most of your bucket-list trip:

  • Plan for the most peak experiences. Perhaps you’re break away from another beach vacation and go hang-gliding or white-water rafting. Before the trip, talk about the details of any special outing with your travel mates to stir up excitement. And make sure everyone has the equipment and training they need for the adventure.
  • Plan for a mishap. Once-in-a-lifetime trips often take you far away to remote locations. Guess what? There won’t be a hospital around the corner, and even if there is it probably won’t take your health insurance. Consider buying medical evacuation coverage, which provides emergency transport to a top facility.
  • Plan for a change of plans. A last-minute life change can force you to delay or cancel your carefully planned (and expensive) bucket-list trip. Understand which parts of the trip are refundable and under what circumstances. Cover the rest with trip cancellation insurance. That way you’ll get the chance to plan it all over again—and do it even better next time.

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