The Freebird Club is giving those aged 50+ wings to travel and the opportunity to meet new companions.
One in five Canadian seniors feels lonely or dissatisfied with life. How do we fix this? In England, a "Minister of Loneliness" was recently appointed to combat health problems attributed to feelings of isolation for seniors—but perhaps there's a better way.
Peter Mangan was determined to help his dad—a widower and retiree—feel fulfilled. "He never said he was lonely," says Mangan, "but often said he was bored." Mangan asked his dad to play the host to the short-term renters of his vacation home and saw a dramatic change in his father's spirit. As the host and self-appointed expert on the area, Mangan's father was able to share with guests his insightful knowledge of his hometown and act as a tour guide. He would even be invited by guests to play a round of golf or meet for a meal or drink at the local pub.
Seeing his father becoming uplifted and enjoying himself, Mangan was inspired to help other seniors. He created a social and travel club, dubbed The Freebird Club, where those over the age of 50 could find reasonably-priced travel accommodations in owner-occupied homes, and also provide homeowners in that age group with an opportunity to earn extra income by renting out unused rooms in their homes, all with the added bonus of social interaction.
Don and Cathy Throndson of Edmonton, Alberta were looking for somewhere to stay in Hamburg, Germany for a few days and checked out The Freebird Club. "Our host shared a photo in her profile of her thatched-roof cottage outside of Hamburg, which is what originally caught our eye," says Cathy. In addition to charming accommodations, the Throndsons found a host who exceeded every expectation they had. "Our host met us at the airport, took us on an initial tour of Hamburg and provided wonderful accommodations," says Don. "She even had a dinner party at the cottage with us and some of her friends, where she prepared a meal for all of us."
Hosts on The Freebird Club are well-vetted by the team to ensure they provide a level of hospitality to their guests. "Both guests and hosts are free to choose from simply a warm welcome for independent travellers, all the way up to spending time getting to know each other while touring local sights," says Mangan.
The club currently has around 3800 members in 70 countries, and about 10% of the members are hosts in about 30 countries, predominately the UK and Europe.
Ready to join? New members are screened by The Freebird Club in the application process, and a one-time membership fee of 25 Euros (about $38 CAD) is required to ensure a level of commitment. You'll have the option to become a traveller guest, accommodation host or both. Travelling guests choose a destination, view the profiles of hosts available in that area and can have an online conversation with a potential host. Communication is done through The Freebird Club website until both parties feel comfortable enough to make a booking.
The Throndsons consider their Hamburg host a new friend and have stayed in contact with her since returning home. Eliminating loneliness for seniors through a travel-based, shared-space arrangement seems like a win-win around the globe—no minister needed.