Story and photo by Jessica Calderwood
While many seniors are busy reliving old memories, Ivan and Faunda Danielson are continually creating new ones. The Danielsons, who both turned 80 this year, pass each other a knowing smile as they recount their travels and can’t conceal the gleam of anticipation in their eyes at the thought of their next adventure.
The Danielsons are not alone in their love for travel. Now, more than ever, retired couples are able to continue traveling well into their 80s with increased mobility, health and longevity.
“We’ve got our health, why not?” Ivan Danielson said.
According to a report released in 2007 by AARP and Focalyst, retired people are more likely to take long vacations of two weeks or more, vacation by recreational vehicle (RV), take a cruise and go on an organized tour.
Retirement may bring an excess of free time but not always an excess of funds.
Jeni Jones, travel agent at A Travel Center in Sandy, Utah, said, “Our older clients are definitely there for the last-minute travel deals,” which usually saves on airfare. Jones said retirees are able to drop everything at a much shorter notice.
It gets cheaper still if you have the right connections. For example, the Danielsons fly standby for free thanks to their son, who works for an airline. Flying standby requires flexibility and patience, both of which the Danielsons have in spades. The payoff is thousands of dollars saved on flights every year.
In spite of the endless possibilities flying for free gives them, the Danielsons said emphatically, and in unison, their favorite trip was, “our Panama cruise.” This would come as no surprise to Jones.
In her experience, her older clientele tend to prefer cruises and guided tours for their value and the peace of mind they offer. Customers like to know things are planned and taken care of for them. In the case of international travel, Jones said, it is especially important for older travelers to know they will have English-speaking tour guides. “Besides,” she added with a smile, “your room floats with you.”
This rings true with the Danielsons, who have been on seven cruises to date and plan to continue cruising in the future. Aside from their favorite Panamanian cruise in October 2004, they’ve visited the Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico and seen Alaska three times.
Although a room on the waves is their favorite, a room on the road is the Danielsons most frequent travel option. They take great pride in their RV, which may have more miles on it than Forrest Gump’s sneakers.
It’s never a lonely road, though, as they are always accompanied by a coalition of longstanding travel comrades. Accumulated over the years, this group of friends and family began with Ivan Danielson’s fast friendship with a few members of his company in the U.S. Army Military Police. Tom Vincent and Wallace Berry and their wives were some of the first members of the travel group. Even after Berry died, the group still made it a point to include his widow, Marna, in their travel plans. On one trip, they met and adopted Dean and Dot Spackman, who soon will be celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. Faunda brought in her twin sister, Frieda, and husband, Mel. Ivan invited his sister, Ina.
With each new member comes fresh ideas and unique interests. Together in their travels, they’ve performed the Swedish Polka, achieved the title of horseshoe champions and sat basking in the late afternoon sun in rural Tennessee in the company of an ill-behaved pet goat. The Danielsons’ photo albums proudly display their adventures from Death Valley to Montana to New York and Canada.
On such road adventures, they serve as their own tour guides. Make no mistake, they still have a detailed itinerary, carefully color-coded by Ivan’s brother-in-law, Chuck Iverson.
It’s true that retirement has granted them more time and freedom to travel, but the Danielsons have made it a point to travel throughout their lives. They have fond memories of cozying up in a tent with their four children in Yellowstone National Park. Faunda’s eyes widen as she recounts the time a bear got into their food.
It makes one travel weary just to page through one of the Danielsons’ albums, to which they respond, “You’re just getting started!”