Walking tours offer adventure at your own pace

For many, the golden years are a time to reflect and relax. But that doesn’t necessarily mean sitting around at home doing nothing. In fact, for many fitness-minded seniors, reflecting and relaxing are synonymous with walking and traveling.

Recognizing this, several companies around the country offer walking tours that appeal to seniors. Among them is the Berkeley-based Backroads, which offers walking and biking tours throughout the United States, including the Wine Country, Yellowstone National Park and Alaska.

Backroads, which started out solely as a biking-tour company, now also offers overseas walking trips to such locations as Europe, South America and China. The average age for Backroads clients is between 35 and 55, said Backroads spokeswoman Allyson Quibell.

“Our most popular trip in 2004 was walking New Zealand,” Quibell said. Other popular trips, she said, include walking Patagonia and Costa Rica.

Taking such trips ranges in price from about $1,400 for the six-day, five-night Yosemite National Park trip to $6,000 for a nine-day, eight-night Patagonia walking trip in Chile and Argentina

In fact, there are numerous companies catering to seniors, such as ElderTreks, a Toronto-based firm offering worldwide exotic travel for those 50 and over; Golden Odysseys, which offers walking tours for travelers 50-plus, including castle getaways, equestrian holidays in Ireland, and trips to Colonial Williamsburg and Santa Fe, N.M.

Among other tour companies focusing on seniors is New Jersey-based Golden Age Festival Travel, which offers group and individual tour packages throughout the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe.

In addition, there are literally hundreds more types of walking tours geared toward special interests.

Interested in marine biology? Wildland Tours offers tours in Canada during which naturalists can study and catalog the humpbacks and orcas of northern Newfoundland and southern Labrador. The area, though rich with wildlife, is one of North America’s least-studied marine areas.

For art buffs, the Russia-based Sokol Tours offers art history and architecture tours in Moscow. Asia Voyages offers art/architecture journeys into Beijing. Similar tours are offered in most eastern European countries, as well as in Switzerland and elsewhere.

Other specialized walking trips focus on fashion tours, Native Americans, wineries, film and film history, music, bird watching and the rain forest — just to name a few.

When narrowing down your options and ultimately deciding on a trip, it’s important to consider factors such as the weather, climate, length of walk and your own physical condition. Failure to take these factors into account could turn a good trip into a disaster.

While most walking tour vacations are designed for active individuals who love the outdoors, you shouldn’t have to be a fitness fanatic to enjoy your trip. Some travel companies, such as Backroads, have trip consultants who can help you select the best vacation for your interests and level of fitness. They also offer tips to help you physically prepare for the trip and tour leaders who offer support and encouragement during walking trips.

Doing research on your destination beforehand can also be helpful. Numerous Web sites, including www.virturaltourist.com, www.tripprep.com and www.weather.com, offer assistance with geographic areas, weather patterns, currency exchange rates and other valuable information.

Additionally, doing research on suitable attire for your trip is a good idea. Some tour planners even offer “outfitting experts” who can give you tips on what gear and clothing to take. Backroads goes so far as to sell its own brand of ball caps, socks and other functional active apparel.