Remember those two-week holidays when you wished you could’ve stayed longer? When you dreamt of spending days on end getting lost in the streets of a new city, returning to a favourite café until you’re counted as one of the locals, or having more time for day trips further afield? It seems retired travellers are now grabbing that chance with both hands. A recent survey from the insurance company Staysure revealed that nearly three in four people going on holiday for longer than 10 weeks are aged over 70.
Why? Because “retirement is no longer seen as a time to slow down and put your feet up,” says Stuart Lewis, chief executive of Rest Less (restless.co.uk), a digital community for over-50s. “The pandemic has turbocharged many people’s sense of wanderlust, whether that’s planning extended trips to see family living abroad, stretching out a postponed holiday with perhaps an extra week at the end, or taking the plunge booking that holiday of a lifetime.”
The majority choose to escape the bone-chilling winter months, but this doesn’t always have to mean long-haul flights – there are sunnier European options, too. The key difference is that picking a single place and staying for months, not days, transforms you from tourist to explorer. Renting a long-term apartment or Airbnb property breaks the holiday hotel bubble and provides the chance to immerse oneself in a new culture. To make friends with locals, possibly learn a new language and uncover the secret side of a destination that only comes from devoting time to it.
It’s also part of a growing movement to travel more slowly, purposefully and – by default – more responsibly. This isn’t the same as being a backpacking “grey gapper”: this is about travelling in a more meaningful way that suits the slower, wiser pace of life better suited to adventurous septuagenarians. This is the Silver Migration.
If a perfect city were to be designed from scratch, Barcelona would probably be it. A vivacious port town studded with world-famous modernist architecture, green art-filled parks and broad white-sand city beaches. Its beauty and verve inspired the likes of Picasso and Gaudí and residents delight in the city’s world-class tapas, the 20 Michelin-starred restaurants to munch through and nine Unesco sites – among them Gaudí’s magnum opus the Sagrada Familia cathedral, which has taken longer to complete than the Egyptian pyramids. And if age has brought on trouble sleeping, why not base yourself in a city that’s open all hours?
Arrange a place to stay through Apartment Barcelona (apartmentbarcelona.com) then connect by booking a tour with Show Around (showaround.com) that matches travellers with locals who can show them the authentic side of the city, or download the FriendZone app (thefriendzone.app) that connects you with people of a similar age located nearby with common interests.
Alternatively, Internations (internations.org/barcelona-expats) is a worldwide forum with a large active community in Barcelona. They charge six euros a month to join their organised social events for all ages.
Spread around the city is a multitude of sites such as the sacred Monserrat Mountain and its pink rock formations, the Rioja and Cava vineyards of Penedes, the Roman amphitheatre in Tarragona, the remarkable Salvador Dalí Museum in Figueres, the town of Sitges with 17 beaches and the fishing village of Cadaques, whose white facades and terracotta-tiled roofs inspired many a painter.
British Airways (ba.com) flies from London to Barcelona from £60 return. Travellers must show proof of full vaccination or proof of recovery.
New York – in the words of Ol’ Blue Eyes (Frank Sinatra) “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.” One of the world’s most iconic cities, it has become a film character in its own right. She’s a brash broad home to 8.5 million, of which over half live alone, so don’t be intimidated at the thought of a long-term visit. Try AirBnb (Airbnb.com) or Urban Living (nycityapartment.com) for furnished apartments and studios.
New Yorkers can be a bit guarded, but beneath their rough exteriors are hearts of gold. To break the ice, try apps such as City Socializer (citysocializer.com), Meet Me (meetme.com) or One Roof (oneroofapp.com), which helps neighbours living in the same building to meet and make friends.
Three months here will fly by, but there’s a multitude of day trips to balance fast-paced city life. From the hippy artistic town of Woodstock (not to be confused with the site of the famous sixties festival) and the historical village of Sleepy Hollow and its working farm and mill from 1750, to the forested 8,000-acre Mohonk Preserve for hiking and horseback riding and beachy walks along the flat peninsula of Little Stony Point near Cold Spring on the Appalachian Trail.
British Airways (ba.com) flies from London to New York from £373 return. All travellers must show proof of full vaccination on entry, and most will also need to show a negative test result taken no more than one day before travel before they board their flight.
Few capitals have as much flair as Lisbon. Yellow trams trundling down cobblestone hillsides, tiled facades in hues of royal blue and emerald green, plus abundant cafés dishing up the famous Pastéis de Belém (custard tarts). Also famed for its sunny weather, Fado music and friendly locals, Lisbon is frequently voted Europe’s best city-break destination – and imagine the charm of staying once the summer crowds have dissipated.
Book an apartment through Idealista (idealista.pt) or Expatriates (expatriates.com) and then integrate by signing up for Portuguese lessons at the laidback Lisbon Language Café (lisbonlanguagecafe.pt) where classes centre around conversation instead of dry grammar. After class, fill your time by volunteering at União Zoófila (uniaozoofila.org) animal shelter, or Refood (re-food.org) that redistributes food to people in need.
On the weekends, explore Unesco-listed Moorish castles (Sintra), cathedrals (Santa Maria da Vitória) and Roman temples (Évora). Stroll around traditional fishing towns such as Cascais and Sesimbra. Marvel at palaces, from the Baroque Mosteiro Pálacio Nacional de Mafra to the sumptuous buttercup-yellow Palácio Nacional de Queluz. Stretch the legs on the broad sandy beach of Costa Da Caparica, along the natural trails of Serra da Arrábida and look out for bottlenose dolphins at the Sado Estuary Natural Reserve.
British Airways (ba.com) flies from London to Lisbon from £78 return. All travellers must complete a passenger locator form before arrival and show one of the following: proof of full vaccination, or a negative PCR test (taken no more than 72 hours before entry), or rapid lateral flow test (taken no more than 24 hours before entry), or proof of recovery.
The Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, croissants at pavement-side cafés – Paris is so famous that many assume they know her even before visiting. Spring and summer travellers usually only come for a long weekend, so buck the trend and stay for months to really get to know this elusive mademoiselle. Few know that the City of Light has a vineyard near Sacré-Coeur, that the underground catacombs house the bones of six million bodies, and that it would take 35 days to see every piece of artwork in the Louvre.
To break the ice, it’s certainly worth learning some French – try the light-hearted Franglish language group (facebook.com/LanguageExchangesParis). An even better way of getting under the city’s glamorous veneer is to arrange a meet-up with a Greeter (greeters.paris), locals who offer free private tours of their favourite neighbourhoods. Alternatively, head to the Social Bar (social-bar.org), at 25 Rue Villiot, where guests are given a name tag and encouraged to talk to strangers, and the ice is broken with games and activities. Then, return to your apartment, booked with Paris Stay (parisstay.com), or Paris Rental (en.parisrental.com).
British Airways (ba.com) flies from London to Paris from £76 return. Travellers must show proof of full vaccination, or a negative PCR test result taken within the past 72 hours, or an antigen test taken within the past 48 hours.
Skip a cold European winter and experience summer down under. We suggest swapping Sydney for Perth, on the west coast. Australia’s sunniest city has an artsy vibe with an energetic coffee culture, a staggering 19 white-sand city beaches and the largest city-centre park in the world. It’s the ideal hub for trips to see the quokkas of Rottnest Island, the vineyards of the Margaret River and the wild dolphins of Monkey Mia and whale sharks of the Unesco-listed Ningaloo Marine Park up the coast.
Settle in by booking a one-bedroom serviced apartment at Fraser Suites Perth (frasershospitality.com), with a pool and views of the Swan River, or browse the private long-term apartment listings at not1night.com.au.
Perth is a haven for expats, with social clubs aplenty – try perthpoms.com to meet British residents – but if you want to really integrate, Meetup Perth (meetup.com) advertises local gatherings, while Befriend (befriend.org.au) is a social network that arranges get-togethers for singles wanting to become part of the community. Alternatively, try learning something new. Travellers can log onto classbento.com.au, which offers all manner of group creative classes and workshops – from soy candle-making to cooking classes – where solo travellers can meet others with similar interests and hobbies.
Qantas (qantas.com) flies from London Heathrow to Perth from £1,257 return. All travellers must complete a Digital Passenger Declaration (dpd.homeaffairs.gov.au) and show proof of full vaccination, as well as a negative PCR test taken within three days of scheduled departure, or a negative Rapid Antigen Test taken under medical supervision within 24 hours of scheduled departure.
Bangalore – or Bengaluru – the capital of the southern Karnataka state was voted the best city to live in India by the government’s Ease of Living Index in 2020. Billed as the “Silicon Valley of India”, this influx of wealth has attracted first-rate art, culture, food and entertainment, and its appeal is topped off with cooler weather, thanks to its elevation. Arrange a fully furnished apartment through Aster Extended Stay Hebbal (city.space), or La Residence (la-residence-serviced-accommodation.business.site), then delve into exploring the city environs. Go for walks in among the lake-studded Yelagiri hills and vineyards of Ramnagar, explore the hill temple at Avani and the palaces of Mysore, and take a dip in the natural swimming pool of the waterfall-streaked Chunchi Gorge.
Back in the city, get to know others by joining The Human Library (facebook.com/humanlibrarybengaluru), where attendees from different backgrounds share their life stories with each other, or become a member of That Extra Step (thatextrastep.com), which was established to combat rising urban isolation and build community, with activities such as game nights, karaoke sessions and “eat and greets”.
British Airways (ba.com) flies from London to Bangalore from £580 return. All travellers must submit a self-declaration form on the Air Suvidha portal (newdelhi airport.in), and show either proof of full vaccination or a negative RT-PCR test taken within the past 72 hours.