The first wave of baby boomers have reached 65, and as the largest generation in history heads into its senior years, travel companies, cruise lines and adventure specialists are lining up to help make the dreams of these travellers come true.

After decades of child-rearing and high-pressure careers, the newly retired are discovering just how much leisure time, wanderlust and cash they  have. With the financial clout and free time their younger compatriots can only dream of, they have started making those once-in-a-lifetime trips on  their bucket lists a reality.

And the options they are exploring reflect a generation of travellers that are, compared to their predecessors, healthier, wealthier, more active and hold higher expectations for what they will get out of a trip. “There are key psychographic nuances of the travelling Boomer,” said Dr Simon Hudson, director of the Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development at the University of South Carolina, in his academic research paper on the topic. “They are looking for a memorable experience rather than a holiday.” 

Globetrotting Baby Boomers now travel, both domestically and abroad, more than the general population, according to one US survey. Dragoman, a UK-based tour operator specializing in 3-month overland trips, has seen a 23% year-on year growth in mature travellers, with South America and India  both emerging as popular destinations. And options are plenty for those looking for trips of a lifetime that can still be taken in the sunset year, as are resources. Some travel operators, such as Saga, have set up special travel divisions to cater to the Baby Boomer sector. And there are also websites such as Boomeropia and Baby Boomers Traveling that are dedicated to this category of travel as well.

One-of-a-kind experiences
This category is not just about driving down iconic Route 66 in the US on a Harley Davidson, cycling around Paris with a Gauloise cigarette in your mouth, learning to tango in Buenos Aries, diving for manta rays off the remote Andaman Islands, retracing the steps of Paul Gauguin on the Marquesas Islands in the Pacific or painting watercolours in Patagonia. These kinds of unique trips also encompass the once-in-a-lifetime trips like Machu Picchu at Peruvian dawn, laughing with Cambodian monks at Angkor Wat and signing up to Virgin Galactic’s outer space flight. This is dream big time.

Many tour companies cater to such high end, individual itineraries, including Abercrombie & Kent and Bridge and Wickers.

Get in touch with planet Earth
Encounters with wildlife top the bucket list. Consider game drives in Africa, panda spotting in China, getting up close and personal with polar and grizzly bears in Canada’s wild north and west, clambering through Borneo’s jungles to see orangutans, or peering through the Indian bush for a Bengal tiger. There is whale watching in Iceland, walking along Hawaii’s Na Pali Coast spotting endemic birds found nowhere else on earth or hearing the cries of Tasmanian Devils down under, all design to bring travellers and nature together.

There are many companies, including Wild Frontiers and Wildlife and Wilderness that cater to wildlife-themed itineraries.

Reach out to mankind
Consider experiencing the call to prayer at the mosques at Isfahan in Iran or the first site of the pyramids on the approach to Abu Simbel in Egypt. You could be watching Highland dancing in Scotland, singing in Papua New Guinea, Buddhist chanting in remote Tibetan monasteries or dancing the night away at the Burning Man Festival in the Mojave Desert.

Check out Zegrahm Expeditions in the US and Exodus and Intrepid Travel in the UK for more ideas in this realm.

Be adventurous
A hot air ballooning trip and sky diving top this category. Whether it is above the African plains or the Australian desert, Everest Base Camp in Nepal or Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, these adventures appeal to the more active Baby Boomer, as do trips on small cruise boats to Antarctica and the Arctic.  Think about that hike high along the Great Wall of China or bobbing up and down in a boat in the Galapagos Islands, or careering along a zipline in a Costa Rican jungle canopy.

Most adventure tour operators are country specific, but one that has global offerings is Cox & Kings.

Relive your youth
Maybe sitting in a field knee deep in mud at Glastonbury Festival in the UK is not a Boomer’s idea of fun, but the old hippy trails in Nepal and India are proving to be. Many Baby Boomers lived through the Vietnam War, now they are increasingly interested in the country and neighbouring Laos, following in the footsteps of students on gap year. Or you could think about joining the grey nomads in their recreational vehicles or Winnebagos winding up the US West Coast or circumnavigating Australia, reliving a much freer age.

STA Travel caters to the young (the ‘S’ stands for “student”), but it also has itineraries for older travellers.

Give something back
The post-Recession market for “voluntourism” is going strong and it is not just the cash-strapped, time-rich youth that want a rewarding challenge. Hundreds of worthwhile projects exist, from supporting schools and vulnerable children in St Lucia to assisting HIV/AIDS suffers in South Africa to clearing up after natural disasters like the Japanese tsunami or the earthquake in Haiti. Whether it is helping build an orphanage in Sri Lanka, nursing orphan elephants in Kenya or studying birds affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, you can give your time to underprivileged people, endangered animals and threatened environments and ecosystems.

Companies like Earthwatch and that have a clear focus on volunteer travel.

Correction: A previous version of this article misnamed Hawaii’s Na Pali Coast. This has been fixed.