Seniors Travel Abroad-Staying Healthy: Fifty-plus travelers are increasingly on the go from Bruges to Bali. With the broad options available from solo travel to group tours, seniors need not give up on going abroad merely because a milestone birthday has been reached. However, a few safety tips can prevent a dream trip from becoming a true nightmare.
While, at any age, jetlag plus navigating unfamiliar settings can lead to accidents, Baby Boomers may have pre-existing conditions, mobility issues or other special circumstances. The key is to do some basic research before leaving home. It is important to know how conditions at your destination will impact your enjoyment, and then exercise reasonable care while abroad.
Seniors Travel Abroad-Staying Healthy: Know Before You Go:
- Do your research before you book your reservation. Always take a look at the State Department and CDC.gov sites as to known issues at your destination. Be sure to note any problems with water contamination, existing diseases and other health hazards. Visit a travelers clinic for country-specific shots and pills as well as to update common vaccines.
- Refill and pack all your prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs at home. Fill all your prescriptions at home since prescribed medicines may not be the same outside the US. (Be aware that destinations, such as Dubai, have very strict laws concerning both prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. Even in the EU, certain countries state that visitors should bring a doctors letter or pharmacists verification of drugs for personal use. The simplest way is to have your pharmacy provide a printout of prescriptions for your account.)
- Check out your insurance coverage. If your health insurance doesnt provide coverage outside the US, be sure to get travel insurance.
Seniors Travel Abroad-Staying Healthy: Plan Carefully:
- Have an emergency plan. Have a way to access an emergency source of cash while on travel. The reason? If you become ill or have an accident, some foreign medical facilities require payment when services are given rather than await insurance reimbursement. In addition, in the case of lost or stolen documents and credit cards, it may be impossible to get an expedited passport to return home without the cash to pay fees.
- Pick lodging carefully. If you are not traveling with a tour, pick a hotel or bed and breakfast with a 24 hour front desk to act as your direct contact in case of illness or accident. Where there is a language barrier, reception is most likely to have bi-lingual staff. I discovered how real this challenge can be during a long weekend off the coast of West Africa. When I asked a helpful staff member “How bad really is the cholera epidemic?”, he replied “Oh, so you would like a sandwich!”. When all else fails, try a mobile app on your smartphone.
- Pack your own safety devices. 1. Take a small flashlight for a dual-purpose. Make certain you can make your way in the dark after trying out local restaurants or finding your way around an unfamiliar lodging in the middle of the night. Also use a flashlight while walking early morning or in the evening so that motorists will see you easily. 2. Wear a whistle on a wristband. Whatever the language barrier, a shrill blast will quickly attract attention in an emergency.
- Contact your airline to address accessibility issues. If you have mobility concerns, speak with your airline before you travel. Even in large airports, such as Beijing and Frankfurt, I have had my flights stop on the tarmac not at a gate/jetway. Passengers had to disembark via tall metal staircases juggling luggage and roller bags while trying to avoid tripping.
Seniors Travel Abroad-Staying Healthy: Once You’re There:
- Outdoors: Watch out where you step while sightseeing. While looking around mesmerized by Old World charm, watch out for potholes and broken cobblestones. Wear shoes that have a non-slick sole to avoid sliding downhill on a rainy day.
- Indoors: Take care navigating slick marble/tile floors. Unlike in the US, most foreign lodgings dont have safety mats to prevent slips/falls in showers and tubs. Once you reach for the shampoo or shower gel, you may find a surface as slick as an ice skating rink!
- Dont assume you will find elevators in every public building. While airports are more likely to have elevators and escalators, be aware that smaller train and bus stations may not. (On travel between towns, dont mistake a bus station for a bus stop. I learned this distinction when I found myself dispatched alone on the shoulder of a small roadway in Slovenia one winters day.)
- In flu season, use extra care. Make hand sanitizer your most valuable toiletry both at meal time and on flights over and back. When you are confined in a plane or on crowded buses and trains, consider temporarily using a disposable mask, especially if you are sitting near someone who is coughing.
Although I have dodged local epidemics and feasting crocodiles, I have never been really sick while traveling to 68+ countries. With reasonable care and planning, seniors can still savor the thrill of exploring new destinations whether as solo travelers or with group tours.
For more information, check out our additional advice on “Staying Healthy While Traveling Abroad”. See also AARP’s “Travel Solo Like a Pro”.
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