Retirement is meant for travel! There are many benefits of traveling later in life, including getting out of the house, getting some exercise, and seeing new things and meeting new people. Traveling can create irreplaceable memories that you’ll be glad you took the time and effort to create. But like many things, travel changes as we age. Once you choose where you’re going, check out these tips to help you prepare for a trip abroad.
Some airlines offer senior discounts but require you book directly with them instead of a third party or travel agent. Check AARP for member discounts on travel, including car rentals, cruises, flights and vacation packages, hotels and resorts, tours, and more.
It’s important to purchase travel insurance to cover any trip abroad, but seniors should consider supplemental travel insurance that includes medical coverage in case of illness or injury, as Medicare doesn’t cover healthcare services outside the US. Contact your health insurance company to see if you have any coverage abroad. Seniors may pay more for travel insurance, or have difficulty getting medical coverage due to a pre-existing medical condition. If you are traveling to a remote area, look into purchasing evacuation insurance, which will pay for emergency transportation to a qualified hospital—especially if you are too ill to fly commercially.
TSA doesn’t require you to have your meds in prescription bottles, but certain states and countries do, so it’s a good idea to keep your scripts in the original containers from the pharmacy. Store scripts in your carry-on along with a change of clothes and underwear as well as basic toiletries in case your luggage gets misplaced. If you take any controlled meds or have a lot of prescriptions, it wouldn’t hurt to get a letter from your doctor in addition to a copy of any prescription. Meanwhile, make sure fellow travelers are aware of any health conditions or allergies.
Well-seasoned travelers know to bring a raincoat, sunscreen, and first aid kit with Dramamine, Imodium, Benadryl, Advil, Pepto Bismol, antacids, bandages, Neosporin, and Purell wipes. In addition to these essentials (and your passport!!) here are some more items to pack for travel abroad. For instance, if you wear readers, don’t forget an extra pair of glasses. Bring a broken-in pair of walking shoes as well as a spare pair. Ancient sites can be quite slippery, so make sure your footwear has good traction. You might even want to invest in a collapsible walking stick. Ladies—remember that many churches in other countries require you to cover your shoulders and knees to enter, so bring a scarf with you and avoid wearing shorts. Do not bring a heavy backpack to carry around all day—a light sack of essentials will do.
Seniors can request a ride on a cart or assistance with a wheelchair by asking at the check-in desk for assistance getting to the gate. One bonus about traveling if you’re 75 and up is that you don’t have to take off your shoes or jacket to get through security.
Avoid racking up a sky-high cell phone bill while you’re abroad. Most cell phone carriers offer international plans with set data and messaging limits. Check with your carrier for specific info. If you do get a data plan, turn off the data for all your apps except for the ones you’ll be using daily. If you don’t get a data plan, turn off data completely. WiFi in Europe, in particular, is pretty reliable and most hotels have it, but some charge a fee for use. Either way, you can always download city maps beforehand in the Google Maps app on your smartphone so you can access them offline. And don’t forget a converter or adapter for your phone charger. If you have a USB charger, you’ll just need an adapter, but that won’t work for your hairdryer. The most widely used international plug is the two-pronged Type C.
There are a few ways to access moolah for your trip. You can get traveler’s checks from your bank before you leave; you can use an ATM card at a foreign ATM for a fee (works for most major banks, but not always reliable); and/or you can exchange currency at your bank or credit union before your trip, or find a currency exchange upon arrival to your destination. Use a currency converter online to see current rates. Credit cards are now becoming more commonly accepted in stores abroad, but you will at least need some cash for tips and small coins to use for public restrooms in many foreign places. Be sure to contact your bank and/or credit card company prior to departure to let them know you will be out of the country.
Pickpockets love tourists! All travelers need to be aware of their surroundings, but especially senior citizens as they can be seen as an easy target. Pay close attention in touristy areas. Have a bag that securely fastens or bring a lock or safety pin to secure your purse. Speaking of which, purses should be cross-body so they’re harder to grab. Don’t carry everything in one place—hotel rooms should have a safe for passports, extra cash, and valuables. Carry a copy of your passport with you and make copies of your credit cards to leave with a trusted person back home in case they are lost or stolen (it is easier to report a stolen credit card when you have the card number). Follow basic safety guidelines for big cities, and don’t ride in cars after dark in developing countries, and don’t travel at night in questionable areas. In addition to these safety tips, learn emergency phone numbers for the country, and keep a copy of your hotel info handy in case you get lost.
If you’re traveling to a non-English speaking country, you’ll want to memorize (or carry) a few words and phrases to help you get around. Sure you could carry around a phrasebook, or you could use a translation app like Google Translate on your smartphone. Just plug the English word or phrase in, and select the language you need, and viola! It also works the other way; you can enter the word or phrase in another language (even if you’re not sure which language it is) and it’ll spit out the English translation. The speaker icon lets you listen to the pronunciation. There’s even a feature now that lets you take a picture of text (using the camera on your phone) that will translate written text visually—super handy for menus, signs, and newspapers! Save your favorite translations to use offline.