Baby boomers are reaching retirement age—and many plan to lace up some good walking shoes and take those trips they’ve always dreamed about. Some even plan to take their parents. The good news is the travel industry has been paying attention, and there’s never been a better time for seniors to hit the road or take to the skies.
When are you too old to travel? NEVER. Short of illness that keeps you bed- or house-bound, there are travel adventures for every age group. Dicky knees, achy hips, reliance on medication or mobility aids—even the need for dialysis—do not have to put the kibosh on your travel dreams. Here are some tips to help smooth the road.
Destinations: Mindful of smart choices
Options for destinations, accommodations and transportation should be determined by the health and mobility of the least spry in the party (if you want everybody to enjoy the trip, that is). Ninety-year-old triathlete aside, as we age, it often takes longer to recover from long flights, to get over jet lag, to accommodate different time zones and mealtimes. But there are options for every type of traveller, including those with mobility and health issues.
Remember health conditions when choosing destinations. People with high blood pressure and heart conditions should avoid high temperatures and high humidity (and women suffering hot flashes won’t enjoy it, either). People with breathing difficulties should avoid destinations that are very dusty or smoggy. The Nephron Information Center (www.nephron.com) and Medical Institute Inc. (www.lifeoptions.org) have lists of destinations that accommodate dialysis. If you’re disabled, check out the Disabled Peoples’ International website (www.dpi.org) for advice on travelling with a disability and information about accessibility in your destination country.
It may be difficult for lifelong budget travellers to drop extra money to stay at a hotel close to main attractions or pay cab fare or rent a car rather than use public transport. But money spent on items you once considered ‘luxuries’ can be time- and energy-saving devices that stretch out stamina, thus increasing enjoyment of the trip.
If a member of your party has trouble walking far or standing for a long time, consider buying or renting a lightweight, portable wheelchair. It can make long lineups at airports more bearable, and it means no one needs to stay behind when excursions call for long walks. Using a wheelchair usually guarantees a convenient place to sit.
Check the Foreign Affairs website (www.travel.gc.ca) for travel advisories, entrance and exit requirements and tips for safe travel, including registering with them so you can be contacted in case danger develops. The Public Health Agency of Canada website (www.phac-aspc.gc.ca) has advice about vaccines, protection against diseases, what to do if you get sick abroad or after you return home. You can download or order Well on your Way—A Canadian’s Guide to Healthy Travel Abroad. The Canadian Transportation Agency (www.otc-cta.gc.ca/doc.php?sid=1021) has downloadable copies of Take Charge of Your Travel: A Guide for Persons with Disabilities.
Independent Travel: Sweetening the deal
If you can don hiking boots and tackle Kilimanjaro, your options are completely open. But you might want to take advantage of some perks that come with advanced booking—like senior discounts on train travel, accommodations and local tours.
Accommodations: Making room for the best options
Did you love staying in hostels in the ’60s and ’70s? Some will welcome you back now that you’re in your 60s and 70s. They’re not just youth hostels anymore…some have private rooms, accommodate wheelchairs, provide party rooms so college-aged nighthawks don’t disturb other guests. Check Hostelling International (www.hihostels.com) for lists.
Group Travel: Charting the advantages
If you don’t want the hassle of driving or setting up accommodations, try a group tour. Some even deal with the luggage. If you want to avoid the lock-step aspect, consider begging off group activities for the odd morning or afternoon to soak up local atmosphere or take a local tour on your own. Rather than a tour that jams in a bunch of sites, try one-stop tours that concentrate on one city or one region. How about an educational tour? You can learn another language with an immersion program for the 50 plus (www.learningtraveller.com), steep yourself in art, architecture, music or literature, sample ethnic cuisines or learn about winemaking in programs offered by such companies as Routes to Learning Canada (formerly Canadian Elderhostel), (www.routestolearning.ca).
Also, investigate specialized tours for the 50-plus demographic. Companies like ElderTreks (adventure by day, comfort by night); 50plus Expeditions (adventure trips for active travellers) or Senior Tours Canada (worry free travel specialists) have a menu of small-group excursions that allow you to choose the type of excursion (cultural, historical, wildlife, hiking or biking, etc.), the region or country and activity levels ranging from easy to very athletic and adventuresome. (www.eldertreks.com; www.50plusexpeditions.com; www.seniortours.ca).
Net Surfing: Learning what’s out there
tvtrip.com is a video guide comparing prices and amenities of hotels around the world;
ii-escape.com lists boutique hotels;
unusualhotelsoftheworld.com is a list of quirky hotels;
for a good night’s sleep check out relaisdusilence.com, two- to four-star European hotels ranging from chateaux, estates, cottages, farmhouses and mills, many with gastronomic meals;
seniorshomeexchange.com lets you swap with other seniors around the world;
For technophiles: zicasso.com and tripology.com are free services that match you to travel agents who vie to plan your dream vacation (you choose the itinerary that best suits);
tripit.com creates an itinerary, including maps, weather conditions, driving directions;
triporama.com lets group members share in building itineraries.
Renting Wheels: Avoiding a sudden stop of plans
The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) is the only agency licensed in Canada to issue international driving permits. Some car rental companies set cut-off ages at 70 or 75. To avoid disappointment, shop around for a company with no age restrictions. Double check by calling the rental company and ask specifically about the policy at your destination and ask them to verify by e-mail that you’ll be able to rent a car when you arrive (and take a printout with you). Some companies will rent to older drivers who have a personal insurance policy that covers them and the car while travelling.
Visiting Your Doctor: Making sure you’re good to go
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends you see your doctor at least six weeks before travel. You’ll get required vaccinations, advice on reducing the risk of getting ill while travelling, including suggestions for preventive medications for such things as malaria and travellers’ diarrhea. Request prescriptions to cover the time you’re away. And don’t forget vaccination or medical declarations you need in foreign countries.
First Aid: Have Band-aids will travel
Medications for diarrhea, nausea and constipation
Acetaminophen or aspirin
Emergency Medical and Travel Insurance: For peace of mind
Provincial health plans don’t cover out-of-country travel, and don’t assume credit card company insurance will be adequate. Look for a plan that pays for foreign hospitalization and related medical costs; covers doctor’s visits and medications; provides direct payment of bills and cash advances so you don’t have to pay out of your pocket; provides for medical evacuation; covers return of remains to Canada in case of death abroad; covers emergency dental care and ambulance services; doesn’t exclude or limit coverage for certain regions or countries you visit. Carry proof of insurance coverage and tell a relative or friend at home how to contact your insurer.
Trip cancellation insurance reimburses you for prepaid, non-refundable expenses such as airline tickets and resort accommodations if you’re forced to cancel a trip due to unforeseen emergency. But the devil’s in the details. How is “unforeseen” defined? Will you be covered if there’s a strike, or a delayed flight causes missed connections? Most policies don’t cover pre-existing health conditions, so if you have to cancel due to a flare-up, you may not be covered. Make sure you’re covered for the entire time you’re away. Pay attention to expiration times and dates and deadlines for filing claims. Are you covered for connecting flights before and after you catch your international flight? What happens if a delay or cancellation means you have to book another flight to make connections?
Some credit card companies offer medical and travel insurance if you book your trip using the card; check to see if you need to top it up.
Watch Your Wallet: Protecting your cash
Picking pockets is how some people make a living in many tourist destinations, so instead of using your regular wallet, consider a travel wallet worn inside your shirt. If you must carry a wallet, carry it in a front pocket, ideally with a zipper or Velcro closing. Keep a photocopy of your credit cards, passport and other important documents in your baggage, along with telephone numbers for reporting a theft and arranging replacements. Use the safe in the hotel room. Do not carry all your cash in a wallet—thieves watch restaurants and ticket lineups to spot who’s got lots of cash and where they carry it. It is also a good idea to call your credit card company in advance to advise them of your trip. That way, any card transactions during your trip or at your destination won’t appear to them as being out of the ordinary. Unusual credit card activity, including sudden use of the card at a much different location, can cause the card to be ‘frozen.’
Medical Supplies: Knowing what to bring
Check www.travel.gc.ca to see whether the medications and supplements you take are illegal for use in the destination country. Penalties for possession range from steep fines to jail terms, even though the banned substance may be an ingredient in legal prescription medication in Canada. Tylenol 3, for instance, contains codeine, which can land you a jail sentence in some Middle Eastern countries.
Keep medications in original bottles and pack them, medical supplies and equipment in carry-on baggage (checked luggage can be lost or rifled). Carry sufficient supplies for the whole trip. Keep a list of medications and dosages in your checked baggage, along with contact information for your doctor. Do you need a doctor’s letter explaining medications or equipment like syringes or CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) machines? Pack spare prescription glasses or contact lenses, hearing aid, batteries, electrical adapters for medical equipment.
The Homecoming: Staying on top of your health
If you develop fevers, sweating, shivering, flu-like symptoms, skin problems (like boils), chronic fatigue or blood in the urine, see your doctor and report that you’ve recently travelled. Illnesses like malaria can strike months after you return; persistent diarrhea can be evidence of a virus, bacteria or parasite picked up overseas; boils and skin eruptions may be insect infestations or fungal infections; bites from insects and ticks can spread diseases like encephalitis and Lyme disease. But if your health is fine—and it usually will be fine—just relax and savour the memories…and perhaps consider crossing something else off your bucket list.
Tips for flying
Getting Packed: Inside and out
Put your name, address and telephone number on the inside of your checked luggage in case the outside tag is torn off. Carry photocopies of your passport, itinerary and emergency numbers for credit card companies and the nearest Canadian Embassy in your checked luggage.
Make a list of what you’ll need, and try to pack days in advance. Take the list of what is in your carry-on baggage with you so if your luggage is lost, you know what’s missing. Leave your valuables at home—don’t test the honesty of poorly paid employees in destination countries. Save space by packing sample sizes of shampoos, etc.
Airport Security: Tips for smoother passage
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has online lists of what’s allowed in carry-on baggage at www.catsa-acsta.gc.ca under the heading Your Trip.
Use a checkpoint friendly bag for your laptop.
Pack things that will set off the metal detector, including belts, keys, watches, pens, nail clippers and shoes with metal shanks or toes. Put change, jewelry, cell phones and portable stereos in your carry-on bag before you get to security.
Wear slip-on shoes and don’t wear underwire bras.
Don’t wrap gifts. Security will unwrap them to inspect contents.
The U.S. has restrictions on carry-on baggage and contents and conducts random enhanced security searches. Consult U.S. Transportation Security Administration website www.tsa.gov/travelers.
Disability-related equipment, including wheelchairs, walkers and scooters, aids and devices are allowed through security, but are liable to close scrutiny. Alert your airline early about needs for assistance to check-in and board the aircraft. If you use a wheelchair or mobility device, contact the airline in advance of travel to sort out assistance during departure.
On The Plane: Some refreshing tips
Get a good night’s sleep before you leave—if you’re flying to a hub city for a connector flight, consider going a day early and staying overnight so you start the longest part of the journey refreshed. This can make all the difference if plans are disrupted or you’re travelling with an elderly relative.
On the flight, adjust meal and sleep time to correspond to your destination. This helps minimize jet lag. It is also not a good idea to drink coffee, tea or cola, which contain caffeine. Pack high protein snacks like nuts in case flights are delayed or meal service is delayed due to choppy weather.
If there’s daylight when you arrive, get out into it. Light is most effective at resetting body rhythms.
Protecting Against DVT: Time for a walk
Deep-vein thrombosis is caused by small blood clots forming in the legs during long periods of sitting experienced on overseas flights. Dehydration, low oxygen levels and restricted movement increase risks. For prevention, wear compression stockings; drink water, not caffeinated drinks, including colas, or alcohol; to keep blood pumping, every half hour or so walk around or flex and extend calf muscles 10 times.
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