Travel is a pleasure for many retirees, but it can be a challenge for those who have disabilities or move slowly. We’d like to share some tips for senior travelers. Planning is the key and designing a checklist specific to you or a family member that you can use every time your travel will be a Godsend.
I have ten tips (this is not exhaustive) that I think are very important, but you can go online to Rick Steves Travel Savvy Senior tips or the AARP for more information on travel for seniors.
- Planning will make all the difference – If traveling for pleasure, choosing a time of the year like late spring or early fall is much better than summer or holiday travel. Make reservations way ahead of the trip for the best prices and the ability to choose seating that might be needed for those with special needs. You should call ahead and talk to an agent when making special accommodations for a frail traveler. For fragile travelers, use a Professional Care Manager to help you with all the details and to choose services known to be extra kind to those with disabilities. You might need a paid companion, and the Care Manager can arrange for that as well.
- Special Services – From wheelchair services to special meals on flights that serve meals. Usually, you can bring an individual who is in a wheelchair to the drop off arrival area at the airport and the airline will call for an attendant to take that person all the way through security and to the gate. Ask before you arrive at the airport as to how these services will be arranged or called for.
- Security & Safety – It is best to travel with a passport. Make sure yours or the traveler’s is up to date. When it comes to traveling, use either a money belt that the passport can be stored in with cash and/or credit cards or a pouch that goes over the neck and is out of sight. Don’t allow frail mom to use her handbag for this travel time. She can have a small toiletry bag with those items she most looks for: like tissues, lipstick, and medications that she takes during the traveling time. But this bag isn’t a safe spot for her travel documents. Be sure you or your elder have printed boarding passes that can be kept in a secure place.
- Travel Insurance – As we age anything can change in an instant so we might have to cancel a trip – so buy travel insurance. If you are traveling outside the US, you will need medical insurance coverage as well – Medicare does not cover you outside of the US, except in very limited circumstances.
- Pack Light – If possible, try to pack everything necessary in a rolling carry on suitcase plus an over the shoulder carry on bag (where you can keep boarding passes, medication, and some snacks). Rick Steves travel guide books have great suggestions on what type of clothing you need. Wear your comfortable walking shoes – handpack those sandals or dress shoes, if you even need them. Don’t bring your “bling” – leave your valuable jewelry at home – bring costume jewelry.
- Medications – Never pack these in a checked suitcase. They should be in their original prescription bottles, and you might need a doctor’s note describing what each medication is to be used for. Have a paper list of all your medications. Know both the generic and the brand names. Don’t bring them in a medication sorter as they might not get through security in another country. Bring your pill sorter to use when you arrive at your destination and always travel with an extra three days’ supply. If you use appliances or any type of medical support, do you need an extra? If you have a hearing aid – bring batteries. Bring more than one pair of glasses and don’t forget sunglasses and sunscreen. If your frail elder needs to take medications during the travel time, set a timer on a cell phone to remind them when to take them.
- Implants you have that are metal – Have a doctor’s letter describing what implants you have so that you can get through the metal detectors.
- Don’t advertise your absence – Don’t tell everyone on Facebook you will be gone. Don’t put out the card that says “clean my room” when you are out of your hotel room. Someone is always looking for ways to take advantage – be safe and protect your belongings.
- Arrival & Destination Support – If your family member is flying to another family member’s home, remind them of routines, medications, foods likes and dislikes. Prepare the person to meet your family member at the gate even if you have wheelchair support arranged. The receiving family member will need a copy of the ticket, and they need to go to the airline full-service desk to get a pass to go through security to pick up the elder. They should check with the airline on the internet to be sure they are scheduled to arrive as planned. Be sure the receiving family has names and phone numbers of medical providers just in case there is a medical emergency as well as a copy of insurance cards before they arrive – all of these little details can be taken care of before they leave home.
- Itinerary – Don’t over plan your days. Leave time for afternoon naps or long breaks. When you travel, you often want to see so much that you over tax yourself – limit your sightseeing to get the most out of your days. A bus tour of the new city and one museum or historic site a day. To get the most out of seeing new countries and cultures, spend time during meals in markets and neighborhoods and avoid the historic center. Use a tour book to guide you to hidden treasures. If you have an older family member with you, plan for down days with nothing scheduled – don’t over plan every day. One event every few days could be just enough.
Travel can be exhausting – planning ahead will reduce anxiety and ensure you have the best time possible. If you are receiving a frail family member – remember “you” are the destination they are coming to see. Enjoy!