A Trip as Gift

Archie Modequillo (The Freeman) - November 11, 2018 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — We’re at that time of the year again. Big-earning kids of “Baby Boomers” may want to give their now senior parents something differently significant for Christmas. After all, if it were not for Pa and Ma they probably wouldn’t be occupying the corner offices of today’s high-rise corporate buildings.

Parents don’t expect a payback, of course. They are happy enough to see their grownup kids earning monthly salaries in amounts that they (the parents) could not put together in several months, during their time. But, for sure, they wouldn’t mind either if the kids surprise them with a gift they didn’t expect to get.

What about a trip as gift? It’s much more than the usual perfume for Mama and wine for Papa, or an elaborate Christmas dinner with the whole family at a posh restaurant. A trip is something else, especially for ageing couples who can still manage to go by themselves.

The trip doesn’t have to be something fancy, though. There are budget flights and backpacker hostels available in Southeast Asia, for example. The old couple will find it so much fun to discover “new worlds” on their own, with a sense of frugality that they’ve been used to.

The website www.aseantourism.travel cites many advantages that Southeast Asia offers, especially to travelers from the region itself:

Authenticity. An expert travel consultant says that traveling seniors tend to seek travel opportunities that go beyond the standard tour stops. They’re looking for unique places and for ways to really connect with the local culture, whether that be by taking off-the-main-path journeys, volunteering or staying for longer than a week in a single destination.

Southeast Asia is full of destinations that allow travelers to tap directly into the local culture, but not all cultures are created equal. Senior travelers looking for that cultural connection may visit Cambodia, where they'll find no shortage of village homestays, ancient temples, and art performances around the countryside; or Indonesia, a sprawling country where it seems every island (almost 10,000 in all) has its own, unique culture for tourists to enjoy.

Value. Getting the most bang for their buck is essential for traveling seniors – not necessarily because they have tight travel budgets, but because they want to keep traveling as long as they possibly can. And with seniors who grew up during the difficult era, frugality is a way of life.

While low cost travel has always been the hallmark of Southeast Asia, which makes it a backpackers’ haven, senior travelers will find that the region delivers its greatest value as a retirement destination.

The Philippines itself has become one of Southeast Asia's top retirement destinations – thousands of foreign retirees from over a hundred countries spend time going around the islands to enjoy their golden years at a comfortable cost. Malaysia, on the other hand, has leveraged its relatively low medical costs to become a regional leader in medical tourism, with the number of medical tourists exceeding one million since 2013 and continually growing.

Safety and sanitation. Seniors are ever concerned about keeping themselves safe and protecting their travel documents and money. Food safety is also a crucial matter to them. While some senior travelers are very adventurous when it comes to food, others worry about what they’ll eat once they are at their destination – and whether the drinking water is safe.

Singapore has solved the food safety problem in one fell swoop, by efficiently regulating their street-food vendors. The country's famous "hawker centers" number about 113 government- owned places and at least twice as many privately owned ones. All of them undergo the strictest scrutiny from inspectors, but that has not seemed to prevent the hawkers from producing some of the most delicious food in the region.

Thailand, for its part, delivers plenty where value, authenticity and safety are concerned. Once the sole preserve of the young backpackers, the country has since become something of a must-see for seniors too, given its wide range of accommodations, easy-to-reach tourist destinations ranging from jungle to beach to temple, and spectacular street-food scene.

Vietnam has historically appealed to war veteran senior travelers, but the country's appeal has expanded, thanks to the rapid development of its beaches, historical sites and natural wonders (the world's largest cave is in Vietnam, and is unsurprisingly booked solid for years in advance).

Southeast Asia is a senior-friendly destination. The cultures around the region are somehow familiar to Filipino travelers. And so it’s an ideal start for Ma and Pa.

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