Featuring destinations around the world and experiences that are hard to replicate as an independent traveler, senior-friendly tour companies shine for both first-time and seasoned travelers. And the best senior travel tour companies offer a wide range of formats to fit the varied needs, preferences, and interests of older travelers.
Some seniors want adventure and plenty of activity; others may have physical limitations or special needs. Aware of this, most tour companies provide descriptions—and sometimes labels—of the physical demands of each tour.
Many seniors wish to travel solo, and certain tour companies now offer discounts so that the single traveler needn’t pay full price for a double room. Organized tours provide a chance to make friends with other travelers, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to the kinds of travelers each company tries to attract.
The Best Senior Travel Tour Companies
The well-established tour companies I discuss below stand out for a variety of reasons. They all have robust plans and protocols in place for traveler health and safety. They have made specific commitments to benefit the communities they visit and to help offset the environmental impact of their tours. Most offer flight reservations and optional travel insurance through in-house or associated companies. All have written policies for such things as cancellations, changes, and other unforeseen circumstances. And each of these companies has standout offerings to interest all kinds of older travelers.
1. Tauck Tours
Tauck Tours offers deluxe, highly inclusive tours to more than 100 destinations on all seven continents. With 98 years in the tour business, Tauck prides itself on quality (25 years on Travel + Leisure’s “world’s best” list) and on the experience of its Tour Directors, who come from 40 countries and average 10 years of experience. The hotels it selects are excellent and well-located.
Tauck aims to appeal to people of all ages by offering land journeys, European river cruises, small ship ocean cruises, and multi-generational “Tauck Bridges” family travel. Each tour has ratings for activity level and pace (1-4), but, like most companies, Tauck warns that travelers with mobility issues must bring their own assistance.
STRESS-FREE TRAVEL: 14 Best Group Travel Companies for Guided Tours
Seniors who prefer to have their majority of their experience planned for them will appreciate the full itineraries and the many included meals in fine hotels and restaurants. With individual excursions included rather than optional, Tauck travelers are encouraged to try experiences (a raft trip? A helicopter ride?) they might not otherwise have considered.
Tauck promises to “manage the unexpected—big and small,” with its Global Response Team, a comprehensive support system that takes care of all details, including such exigencies as accidents and quarantines. The company has a frequent traveler savings program and offers some savings for solo travelers on selected journeys.
Quick Facts about Guided Tours with Tauck Tours
- Average group size: 35-44 for land trips; 24 for small group journeys; river boat and small ship group sizes depend on size of ship but shore excursions are in smaller groups
- Price range: Upscale/Premium with many inclusions
- What’s included: All accommodations (generally upscale), tips, most meals, luggage handling, airport transfers as specified in the itinerary, entertainment, local excursions and visits, any taxes or surcharges. Note that there are no “optional excursions” at extra cost
- What’s not included: Tips for Tour Director (and bus driver, where applicable), some meals (usually lunch).
- Primary audience: “People of all ages,” but it caters mostly to seniors
- Destinations: More than 70 countries on seven continents (with land journeys on six); river cruises in Europe
- How to Book: Directly through Tauck; via Travelstride, a tour specialist OTA (online travel agent) that offers hundreds of Tauck trips; or through a travel agent such as AAA.
2. Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT)
Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), part of the Grand Circle Corporation since 1978, focuses on active travelers over 50 who are looking for hands-on experiences in destinations around the world. The company prides itself in taking travelers off the beaten track with immersive “Day in the Life” experiences such as shopping at local markets, visiting children at school, and taking part in home-hosted meals. OAT opts for accommodations that offer authentic local experiences—think smaller family-run hotels, paradores, and hotels close to city centers.
BEFORE YOU BOOK: Everything You Need to Know About OAT
Both land and small-ship tours are available. Most trips last two weeks or more, with optional pre- and post-trip extensions, appealing to retirees and working people who have saved vacation time as well as travel funds. Physical requirements of each tour are described in detail, with an activity level rating system of one (easy) to five (strenuous). Each itinerary outlines the included meals and local tours; optional tours require an additional fee, but the itineraries also recommend many free or inexpensive options for travelers’ free time.
OAT has made itself a leader in solo travel: more than a quarter of its clients are solo travelers, and of those, 85% are women. Roughly 92% of its single spaces are free of any singles surcharge, others are heavily discounted, and the company also offers a roommate matching program. In 2019, OAT began offering some women-only departures.
While not a cut-rate tour company, OAT prides itself on providing travel at low per diems—giving clients more for their travel dollar. The Travel Channel recognized it as a top provider for budget-conscious travelers, and the Grand Circle Foundation received a Global Vision award for leadership in tourism and philanthropy.
Quick Facts about Guided Tours with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT)
- Average group size: Small-group land tours range between eight and 16 (average 13); 25 on small-ship adventures
- Price range: Moderate
- What’s included: All accommodations (comfortable), most meals, daily cultural activities, some tips, airport transfers
- What’s not included: Some optional tours, meals, and tips
- Primary audience: “Curious lifelong learners” age 50+
- Destinations: 76 countries on six continents; no tours in North America
- How to Book: Directly through OAT or through a travel agent such as AAA.
3. Road Scholar
Road Scholar emphasizes lifelong learning and educational travel for seniors. Founded in 1975 as the nonprofit Elderhostel, the organization changed its name in 2010 and now provides study tours throughout the U.S., Canada, and in more than a hundred other countries. All tours include guidance and lectures by Road Scholar faculty who are experts on topics relevant to the destination. Lodgings are “always comfortable, sometimes even iconic.”
Road Scholar programs include theme-based travel (such as arts, philosophy and religion, and nature studies), outdoor adventures, service learning trips, adventures afloat, intergenerational tours, and independent city discoveries. The “Choose Your Pace” feature allows travelers to choose among multiple options of tour length, challenge, and pace. Extended-stay programs range from eight days in Florence to 45 days in southern Spain.
Activity levels for tours range from “easy-going” to “outdoor: challenging,” with the physical demands of each tour described in its itinerary. An “easy” tour might cover a week of Chautauqua lectures in New York, while a “challenging” tour might include hiking and kayaking in Alaska.
Nearly 25% of Road Scholars are traveling solo; the company offers some discounts on single rooms, provides supportive advice to women traveling solo, and emphasizes “learning in the company of a small group of individual friends, rather than traveling with a collection of couples.” Road Scholar travelers tend to be curious and open to new ideas and cultures. The organization recently added the Adventures Online series that offers in-depth lectures for those who wish to supplement an in-person journey or simply learn from home.
Quick Facts about Guided Tours with Road Scholar:
- Average group size: 13-24 on “small group” tours; 12 or fewer on “micro group” tours; other group sizes vary by tour type and destination.
- Price range: Moderately expensive but inclusive
- What’s included: All accommodations, most meals, tips, excursions, expert lectures (in addition to tour director), airport transfers for those who book flights through Road Scholar.
- What’s not included: Porterage, airport transfers for those arranging their own flights
- Primary audience: Lifelong learners over the age of 50
- Destinations: 50 U.S. states, 100 countries on all continents; emphasis on North America
- How to Book: Directly through Road Scholar; via Travelstride, a tour specialist OTA (online travel agent) that offers more than 1,500 Road Scholar trips; or through a travel agent such as AAA.
4. Smithsonian Journeys
Smithsonian Journeys also focuses on educational travel in its land journeys, active outdoor journeys, small ship cruises, and cultural stays. At least one expert accompanies each tour or stay, providing lectures and local tours appropriate to the destination. Tours include culturally immersive experiences like visits to homes, meals with locals, and demonstrations of local crafts and cuisines. High-quality accommodations are included in the price and reflect the character of the local culture.
Smithsonian also offers special interest tours, including study at Oxford, cave art exploration, and observation of the total solar eclipse (2024). Cultural Stays allow travelers to “unpack once” and spend from one to three weeks exploring and learning in and around a single destination.
ADVENTURES FOR WOMEN: 9 Travel Companies That Specialize in Women’s-Only Tours
A branch of the 175-year-old Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Journeys has existed for more than 50 years. Its wide range of travel options appeals to many age groups, but the average age of travelers is 55+. The typical age range on active tours is 45 to 70, and 55 to 80 on special interest tours. Smithsonian’s five activity level ratings are somewhat more demanding than Road Scholar’s, ranging from Easy (easy walking and shorter travel days) to Challenging (climbing Kilimanjaro).
Quick Facts about Guided Tours with Smithsonian Journeys:
- Average group size: 12-24 for most land journeys; cruises from 36 (river boat) to 264 (small ship cruise)
- Price range: Moderately expensive but inclusive
- What’s included: Excellent accommodations, most meals, most tips, excursions, experts and lectures, airport transfers. Some itineraries offer airfare-inclusive pricing
- What’s not included: Some meals and tips
- Primary audience: Travelers 45-80+ who want “to better understand the world”
- Destinations: 130 itineraries on 7 continents with an emphasis on Europe
- How to Book: Directly through Smithsonian Journeys or through a travel agent such as AAA.
5. Trafalgar Tours
Trafalgar Tours has logged 100 years in the travel business and offers a wide variety of destinations and travel styles: guided tours, river cruising, next-gen and family tours, luxury and customized private tours, and safari and adventure travel.
Trafalgar’s “Be My Guest” experiences allow travelers to visit and dine with local families in homes, farms, and restaurants. “Mini-stays” of three to five days appeal to the busy traveler or to those who want an “add-on” to a longer tour or stay. “At Leisure” trips have a relaxed pace, longer stays at each accommodation, and later starts in the mornings.
A travel director accompanies each tour group and coordinates with local tour guides at each destination. Many of the travel directors have five years’ experience or more. Because Trafalgar’s customer base is international, tour participants are likely to be English-speaking citizens of a variety of countries—a plus for North Americans who would enjoy traveling with people from all over the globe.
Trafalgar has a “Very Important Traveler” program that offers a 5% savings on selected trips. For solo travelers, the cost of a single supplement depends on the trip. Optional experiences on each tour cost extra but also offer the flexibility to create your own custom tour: travelers may opt out of the activity and choose to do something else—or just relax.
Trafalgar is the anchor brand of The Travel Corporation (TTC), which comprises 42 travel brands, including tour operations that specialize in different destinations, age groups, price range, and travel styles. For example, the CostSaver brand is very inexpensive, while Insight Vacations is a premium tour company, and Luxury Gold is TTC’s high-end tour company.
Recently Trafalgar added to its staff a Well Being Director to ensure that all tour suppliers and venues are following health and safety protocols. It is also a founding partner of the Tread Right Foundation, which contributes to sustainable tourism and developing communities.
Quick Facts about Guided Tours with Trafalgar Tours:
- Average group size: 22-29 on small group tours; 40-50 on classic tours.
- Price range: Moderately inexpensive but “optional experiences” are not included and can be expensive
- What’s included: All accommodations, meals as stated in itinerary, most tips
- What’s not included: Optional excursions, some meals and tips
- Primary audience: Travelers from around the world; 60% of clients are ages 50-71
- Destinations: 303 trips in 72 countries, 6 continents
- How to Book: Directly through Trafalgar; via Travelstride, Tourhub, or TourRadar all which are tour specialist OTAs (online travel agents) that offer hundreds of Intrepid trips; or through a travel agent such as AAA.
Globus, established more than 90 years ago, heads another family of travel brands, which includes Avalon Waterways (river tours) and Cosmos (budget tours). The company offers travel styles for a variety of fitness levels and interests, with an emphasis on freedom and flexibility. It ranks among the best escorted tour companies for the 55+ age group because it recognizes that the one-size-fits-all mentality does not work for everyone, especially seniors.
Free time on every tour allows for “adventure a la carte.” A wide array of optional excursions and activities is offered on each itinerary: some are extra-cost activities provided by the company, while others are simply helpful suggestions for independent exploration.
BEFORE YOU BOOK: Here’s What to Know About Globus Tours
Globus provides tour directors and local guides from the region, “skip the lines” access to sites, first-class hotels near the sights, opportunities to meet local families and some included “experiential dining” meals.
Globus offers many formats for its tours. Globus Undiscovered tours take travelers off the beaten path where there are fewer crowds; this option is attractive to seasoned travelers who have already seen famous sights like the Tower of Pisa and the Mona Lisa. Escapes by Globus offers up to a 40% discount on tours taken between November and March. “Choice” touring and Independence by Globus provide itineraries that allow travelers to choose excursions and have more “I-time” while the company provides lodging and the help of a tour director.
Quick Facts about Guided Tours with Globus:
- Average group size: 24 (small-group discovery); 36 (average size of a coach tour)
- Price range: Inexpensive, but optional excursions are extra
- What’s included: All accommodations, some meals, airport transfers on published tour departure and return dates, admission to sites included in tour
- What’s not included: Optional experiences (may be $50-$100 each); tips, some meals
- Primary audience: Adults who want a wide variety of travel options
- Destinations: Over 50 countries on 6 continents including South America, Asia, and Africa
- How to Book: Directly through Globus; via Travelstride, Tourhub, or TourRadar all which are tour specialist OTAs (online travel agents); or through a travel agent such as AAA.
7. Intrepid Travel
Intrepid Travel, founded in 1988 in Australia and now employee-owned, offers 1,100 escorted tours worldwide, with an average of 10 travelers per tour. The company focuses on small group active trips off the beaten track. Tours often use public transportation and stay at locally owned accommodations.
Intrepid has an age-inclusive philosophy (“18 to 70”) and aims to provide tours for all interests and comfort levels. Tour styles include “Basix” for the younger crowd and “Comfort” for older travelers. The company also offers retreats and tours for women, solo travelers, and the 18-29 age group. Note that while Intrepid tours are active, the company is clear that its tours are “not a constant endurance test,” and a general level of health and fitness is adequate for its trips.
MORE OF THE WORLD: Intrepid Announces 80+ New Experiences
Examples of Intrepid tours include a winter journey to Iceland to view the aurora borealis, a hiking-cycling trip in Sri Lanka, snorkeling in Bali, kayaking in Alaska, and enjoying the Naadam Festival in Mongolia or Day of the Dead in Mexico. A “Comfort” trip to Jordan might include some moderate hiking to sites, floating in the Dead Sea, a stay in a desert camp, and snorkeling in the Red Sea. Intrepid also offers small ship adventure cruising to such places as the Galapagos Island, the Greek and Turkish Islands, Antarctica, and French Polynesia.
Intrepid conducts safety assessments of all included and optional activities; experienced local leaders provide instruction and advice to travelers who are new to an activity or area. The company also has an excellent record of corporate responsibility: it focuses on sustainable travel and has been carbon neutral since 2010.
Quick Facts about Guided Tours with Intrepid:
- Average group size: 10
- Price range: Moderately inexpensive but extra cost for Premium upgrade
- What’s included: On general tours, guests get accommodations, breakfasts, and local experiences. On premium tours, expect additions like breakfast and some other meals, tips, airport and luggage transfer.
- What’s not included: See above.
- Primary audience: Active adult travelers of all ages
- Destinations: More than 100 countries on seven continents, including polar regions and more South Pacific destinations than most other tour companies
- How to Book: Directly through Intrepid; via Travelstride, Tourhub, or TourRadar all which are tour specialist OTAs (online travel agents) that offer hundreds of Intrepid trips; or through a travel agent such as AAA.
8. Viking River Cruises
Viking River Cruises specializes in European river touring; it also offers small ship ocean cruises and expedition voyages. The company recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, and in 2022 it was the most awarded river line worldwide, with both Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast rating it number one. Viking owns and operates its own ships; it also owns some dock locations.
“We don’t try to be all things to all people,” Viking says. On its river boats there are no casinos, no children under 18, “no nickel and diming, and no umbrella drinks.” However, travelers can expect outside rooms, onboard enrichment lectures, destination performances, onshore excursions in every port, introductions to local life and people, and an experienced staff. (90% of the river staff returns each year.) Optional pre- and post-tour land extensions are offered.
HIKE, BIKE, SEE: 6 Active Travel Trends for 2023
With its philosophy that travel “should be a doorway to cultural insight and personal enrichment,” Viking could be regarded as a waterborne Road Scholar or Smithsonian. The company owns a learning channel (Viking TV) and provides recommended readings and other materials to travelers before departure.
Quick Facts about Guided Tours with Viking:
- Passenger limit on river boats: 190 (up to 930 on ocean ships)
- Price range: Moderately expensive but inclusive
- What’s included: Onboard accommodations, meals, shore excursions, entertainment, tips. Transfers with air purchase through Viking. Some tours offer free international airfare.
- What’s not included: Transfers and porterage for those not using Viking for air reservations, some tips.
- Primary audience: Adults
- Destinations: Primarily Europe for river tours, also cruises on the Nile, Mississippi, and Mekong Rivers; expedition cruises to Antarctica and the Great Lakes; ocean cruises to various destinations.
- How to Book: Directly through Viking; via CruiseCritic; or through a travel agent such as AAA.
More Great Tour Company Options for Seniors
Some people in the 50+ age group will not see themselves in any of the tour styles I’ve mentioned above—or they may want wider options for tours for seniors. Those who loved travel experiences in their student days and prefer an inexpensive tour may want to look at EF Go Ahead Tours. Those who are physically fit and want active travel like cycling tours and walking tours with a mixed age group have many good options, including Backroads and Country Walkers, which can be a good fit for senior cycling and walking enthusiasts. College graduates should check to see if their alumni association sponsors any tours: AHI, Odysseys Unlimited, and other companies work with these associations to provide excellent tours at good prices. Seniors planning family or skip-gen travel will find good tours in some of the companies above, but Adventures by Disney is another excellent option.