When your youngest child spreads his wings and starts paying his own rent, an empty house can seem sad. But joyously you'll realize you've done all you can do to transform tot into teen, teen into functioning adult. From here, it's all up to them. Now you can get to those dreams that were put on the back burner.
For many Boomers raising kids came before travel. Gap years were less popular than they are now, and the world was a little less certain. The great news for those who chose to wait is that you'll enjoy a new era of travel: cheap flights, more leg room, faster planes and a world of travel advice at your fingertips. So dream big; dream far and wide.
Stuck on where to start? We've listed four dreamy destinations that are bucket list approved. And if you felt like you were missing out before, brush that aside! For reasons explained below you may not have wanted to travel here with the entire brood in tow anyway!
Dream Trip 1: An African Safari
Destinations: Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa
Samantha Stone, Unsplash
Why you should go: While you'll certainly experience some jet lag, everything will be put in perspective once you arrive. Awe-inspiring panoramas and some of the most storybook wildlife in the world await your arrival. Places like the Serengeti, Kruger National Park and Zanzibar are the stuff of daydreams. Africa is unlike anywhere else we've ever travelled. Diverse local cultures and striking natural landmarks make globetrotters weak in the knees.
Bram Vranckx, Unsplash
Why these destinations work well for empty nesters: The African safari is a staple on every traveller's bucket list, but it's not one easily completed. There are a few obstacles to tackle.
First, mainstream media would suggest the entire continent is a risky place to travel. Hogwash! Intermittent political instability in one country or region shouldn't paint the entire continent that way. That's like saying conflict in the Middle East should have a bearing on whether you travel to Japan. If you have hesitations just remind yourself, you aren't the first traveller going to Africa and you won't be the last. In fact, we promise there are Boomers on safari right now - and they're loving every moment of it.
Mohammad Yearuzzaman, Unsplash
Second, exotic destinations are alluring because they're far flung. Naturally they require more travel hours to reach. It takes some 18-40 hours to get to Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa from Canada. Once on the ground you'll be overlanding into the African bush. That journey is a daunting task for couples travelling with children. Naturally, this is why so many would-be travellers limit themselves to admiring the Big 5 in zoos. Travelling as empty-nesters definitely makes the African safari dream easier to realize.
Unfortunately with visas, different laws and customs, plus a handful of dialects, safaris can be tricky for the DIY traveller. Guided travel is a sure bet for value, comfort and convenience.
Dream Trip 2: Mystic China
Destinations: Beijing, Xian, Guilin, Shanghai
Why you should go: Travellers shouldn't miss cruising the scenic Yangtze River, paying a visit to Xian's 8,000 Terracotta Warriors and scrambling the iconic Great Wall. Stand in awe of Guilin's otherworldly landscape (pictured below), lose yourself in Beijing's Forbidden City and peer into jaw-dropping gorges. All this and you're still just scratching the surface.
In between world-famous landmarks be sure to admire China's ancient arts like calligraphy or tai chi. Dine on savoury Peking duck, slurp peppery noodles and sample delicate dumplings.
Carlos Adampol Galindo, Flickr/cadampol
Why these destinations work well for empty nesters: China has changed so dramatically in the past 50 years that sometimes it is hard to believe it is still the same country. Back when Russia was still known as the USSR, China was a mysterious country shrouded in Far East mysticism. It was closed off and steeped in Communist ideology. In the time since, it has become a world actor and economic powerhouse, yet it still lures travellers with intriguing culture, otherworldly landscapes and succulent cuisine. And if you thought the days of mysticism were past, you're dead wrong. Venture beyond the glassy towers of Shanghai to step back in time.
There has never been a better time to explore China, especially now that the kids are in college. Just imagine trying to find a burger for that fussy eater or squeezing a stroller onto crowded trains. Near impossible. (Well the hardy parents may do it but it's less holiday and more work.)
Dream Trip 3: the Holy Land
Destinations: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea
No matter what religion you keep, a trip to Israel - the Holy Land - is certain to be enlightening.
Why you should go: Is there any better way to connect to the world than through its past? Nothing will humble you more than spending a few days within the Holy City of Jerusalem. Then explore historically significant religious centres like Nazareth and Bethlehem, and wander Jericho, the oldest city in the world. Beyond city limits travellers can enjoy Israel's natural side: cruising the Sea of Galilee or floating in the restorative -albeit salty - waters of the Dead Sea.
Why this destination works well for empty nesters: Principles of Faith and Pillars; Judaism and Islam; The Wailing Wall and Dome of the Rock; they're enough to make young kids' heads swim. It could easily take a lifetime to understand the deep complexities of the Near East. Israel is a place to slow down and contemplate a nexus of ideas, ideologies, religion and tangled history. Saving a trip to Israel for later in life means seeing it through an adult lens, which offers a greater depth of understanding and appreciation.
Dream Trip 4: Wonder-Filled South America
Destinations: Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Galapagos
Why you should go: The Galapagos Islands are a volcanic archipelago preserving the most curious of creatures. The diverse wildlife not only inspired Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution, but many critters found here live nowhere else in the world. In the same vein of off-the-grid treasures, Machu Picchu is an Incan city once lost to the world. Buried by jungle for 500 years, travelling deep into the Andes feels like searching for El Dorado. Lest we say, both South American highlights scream bucket list.
Why these destinations work well for empty nesters: While both locations entice with once-in-a-lifetime adventure and admittedly, would be unforgettable for kids, each comes with their own set of challenges.
For Machu Picchu, it's accessibility. Reaching Peru will take over 11 hours from Canada, and the onward journey requires a flight from Lima to Cusco. (Or 18 hours by bus!) From there, travellers drive an hour and a half to Ollantaytambo, and then travel two hours by rail to finally reach Aguas Calientes. And that's assuming you're not interested in trekking to Machu. Going without kids means you'll be able to hike neighbouring Huayna Picchu. It's a grueling 45-minute, 650-step hike but the reward is one of the best views we have ever seen. From this high perch you can overlook all of the Lost City ruins and surrounding peaks.
Dollar Photo Club
Alternatively, the issue with the Galapagos Islands and the kiddos is space. Due to the fragile nature of the ecosystem, the trip is, for the most part, conducted by small boutique vessels.
We say, just take the easy way out: experience both Machu Picchu and the Galapagos on a single itinerary with Collette.
Are you an 'empty nester' who has travelled
one of these exotic destinations?
Let us know where you went and what you loved
Comment below or tweet us!
More dream trips on Canadian Traveller