Travel Health and Safety Tips for Seniors
Staying physically active and connecting with other people are two important keys to successful aging. Travel is one of the best ways to do both at the same time.
You don't have to go to Europe or even across the country to experience the benefits of travel. A weekend at a nearby city, a visit to the state capitol with your local college's senior education program, a bike ride to a winery, or a bus trip to a downtown museum are just a few of many possibilities, all offering intellectual stimulation, lasting memories, and new friendships. And with families spread out around the country and the world, travel is an important way to stay connected with children, grandchildren, and other loved ones.
However, some older adults hesitate to travel because they are afraid of illness or injury, or of getting lost, or encountering hazards along the way. But travel need not be unsafe or stressful. If you are a senior or have senior loved ones who travel, here are a few tips for safer, more comfortable journey.
If you are going on a trip out of your area, here are some suggestions to ensure a safe and healthy trip:
- Prepare for your trip in advance. Know about any potential adverse conditions, such as extreme weather, Homeland Security advisories, or disease warnings. The U.S. State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both offer announcements of unsafe conditions. You can check the weather right before you pack by going to the Weather Channel website.
- Review your health insurance policy before you leave. What are the conditions for receiving medical care out of your service area? If you are traveling abroad, would you be covered? Does your policy pay for medical evacuation?
- Make sure your immunizations are up to date. Double-check that you have received the specific immunizations recommended or required for the area you are going to visit.
- Bring along enough medication for your trip. Especially if you are traveling abroad, leave medications in their original containers. If you are carrying any narcotic drugs, bring a letter from your doctor verifying your medical need for the prescription.
Special Health Concerns for Airline Passengers
Gone are the days when traveling by plane was a pampering treat! Nowadays, long lines, delays, cramped seats, and jet lag can be the norm. You can minimize discomfort by following a few steps:
- Get plenty of sleep before you leave.
- To avoid becoming dehydrated, drink enough water while avoiding alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
- Change sitting position frequently and walk down the aisle occasionally to avoid stiff joints or (in rare cases) dangerous blood clots.
- If you have a cold, take a decongestant and chew gum on takeoff and landing to avoid ear pain.
- Check with your doctor ahead of time if you have any questions about flying with your medical conditions.
Protect Your Money
- Be careful when shopping for a vacation package. Deal only with travel agencies and tour companies with a proven track record and strong reputations for value and honesty. Make sure you know what is included in a travel package so there will be no unpleasant surprises. Planning ahead helps ensure that you will have the relaxing, carefree vacation you want.
- Don't bring more cash than you think you will need for a few days, and carry only the credit cards you will use on the trip. Be aware that, in many countries, money changers factor a "commission" into their exchange rates. If you prefer, bringing an ATM card will allow you to withdraw cash at the current exchange rate and avoid these additional charges. Also, some countries still operate on a "cash only" basis. Check with your travel agent before you leave, and consult your bank to see if your card will be operable in the places you're visiting.
- Guard your valuables. Don't pack anything irreplaceable (such as family photos or heirloom jewelry). Help prevent theft by carrying money and valuables securely, in a front pocket or money belt. Carry handbags tucked under your arm, not by a strap.
- Check your auto insurance policy. If you will be driving outside the country, your auto insurance will probably not be valid. Check ahead about buying adequate short-term insurance for your trip.
Special Assistance If You Have a Disability
Some older persons are reluctant to travel because they feel insecure negotiating the crowded service desks and corridors of busy airports and other transportation terminals. A person with hearing difficulty often has the hardest time when there is significant background noise. Someone suffering from dizziness, limited vision, or mobility problems may fear falling or being jostled by crowds. If you are basically able to travel, but just need a little extra assistance, take advantage of these services available to travelers:
Boarding assistance. Most airlines and rail lines have wheelchairs available for those unable to walk long distances, and some also offer formal "meet and assist" programs. These programs assure that a traveler in need of assistance will be met at the check-in counter and given help getting to the point of departure, onto the plane or train, and off safely at the other end. It is best to confirm when booking tickets that you will need either wheelchair transportation or "meet and assist" service. And don't hesitate to take advantage of pre-boarding if you need the extra time or feel unsafe in the crowding of general boarding.
Oxygen. Persons with medical conditions requiring the use of an oxygen tank can travel safely on most kinds of public transport. Airlines have strict requirements about oxygen use. These usually include a letter from a physician explaining the person's oxygen requirement and a statement certifying that the oxygen provided by the airline is acceptable. If you are a supplemental oxygen user, make sure that you understand the regulations regarding oxygen use on whatever mode of transport you choose. You will also normally need to make arrangements ahead of time for a supply when you reach your destination.
Disabled accessibility. Most aircraft are wheelchair-accessible, though some small commuter planes are not. Trains and ships generally have a limited number of disabled-accessible cabins or compartments. Many resorts offer specially designed rooms and suites for use by persons in wheelchairs. When planning your trip, these options can be researched and reservations for special facilities confirmed in writing before the trip begins.
Even if your physical condition makes travel more of a challenge for you, many obstacles and potential problems can easily be overcome with a little advance planning.
The U.S. Government's FirstGov for Seniors includes information about travel and recreation for seniors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Travelers' Health offers health alerts, information about necessary immunizations, and how to plan for a safe, healthy trip to your destination.
Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care and assistance services.