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Not Too Old to Travel Abroad

By Tom Lowrey, Education Assistant

Do you sometimes wish you could travel abroad, but then find yourself nixing the idea because of perceived barriers due to your age? Think again! There may be more travel in your future. Here’s some advice from a couple of travel experts:

Sue Montesi has been a frequent visitor to our Trailside Activity & Dining Center, and has become a favorite Lunchtime Learners presenter. With her beautiful slides and captivating commentary, she has taken us to the cities of Italy and the continents of Africa and Australia. To date, she has visited 70 countries, with Iceland being the most recent. On quite a few of her travels, she has been the organizer and leader of a tour group. “Most of my international travelers are age 50 and above,” says Sue. Who better, then, to give advice regarding the topic of Traveling While Senior? Here is some of Sue’s advice:

  • If you don’t have a history of international traveling, travel with someone or sign up with a group for international travel.
  • Wear a cloth wallet (not leather as it will cause you to sweat) with a neck cord under your shirt or blouse. Your neck wallet always has your passport, your credit card(s) and ATM card, and your cash, as these are the things you must protect from pickpockets.
  • Use a small backpack for your water bottle, sweater, protein bar or other snack, small packet of tissues, etc. This keeps your hands free.
  • Purchase a piece of carry-on luggage with spinner wheels as it will stay upright and its upright handle will be about waist level to assist you with your walking. And it’s easier to maneuver in airport bathroom stalls!
  • Throughout the trip, including in airports, only wear comfortable walking shoes with rubber soles.
  • If traveling alone or if you have difficulty walking distances in large airports, request a wheelchair from the airline. If the time interval is somewhat short (two hours or less as flights don’t always keep their scheduled times, it can take time to deplane if your seat is at the rear, etc.) between flights in a large airport, request a wheelchair as you may not be able to walk fast to the gate of the next flight.

Sue also recommends carrying (not packing in your checked luggage) a sufficient supply of medications, no longer using Traveler Checks but having at least one credit card with a chip, and if you have a cell phone and will be traveling internationally that you check with your cell phone provider to see if your cell phone plan includes international calls, etc.

In 1979 Rick Steves wrote the first edition of Europe Through the Back Door, a general guide on how to travel in Europe. Since then he has authored many books and hosted many travel
videos, mainly about Europe. Rick polled his readers, asking seniors to share their advice about travel. Here are a few of their suggestions:

  • If you’re retired and can travel whenever you want, it’s smart to aim for shoulder season (April through mid-June, or September and October). This allows you to avoid the most exhausting things about European travel: crowds and the heat of summer.
  • Seniors pay more for travel insurance but are also more likely to need it. Find out exactly whether and how your medical insurance works overseas. When considering additional travel insurance, pay close attention to evacuation insurance, which covers the substantial expense of getting you to adequate medical care in case of an emergency—especially if you are too ill to fly commercially.
  • Carry an extra pair of eyeglasses if you wear them, and bring along a magnifying glass if it’ll help you read detailed maps and small-print schedules. A small notebook is handy for jotting down facts and reminders, such as your hotel-room number or Metro stop. Doing so will lessen your anxiety about forgetting these details, keeping your mind clear and uncluttered.
  • Take a full supply of any medications with you, and leave them in their original containers. Finding a pharmacy and filling a prescription in Europe can be time-consuming. Plus, nonprescription medications (such as vitamins or supplements) may not be available abroad in the same form you’re used to. If you wear hearing aids, be sure to bring spare batteries—it can be difficult to find a specific size in Europe.
  • If you’re not flying direct, check your bag. If you have to transfer to a connecting flight at a huge, busy airport, your carry-on bag will become a lug-around drag. Stay hydrated during long flights, and take short walks hourly to minimize the slight chance of getting a blood clot.
  • Accommodations: If stairs are a problem, request a ground-floor room. Think about the pros and cons of where you stay. For example, if you stay near the train station at the edge of town, you’ll minimize carrying your bag on arrival. On the other hand, staying in the city center gives you a convenient place to take a break between sights. No matter where you stay, ask about the building’s accessibility quirks before you book. Find out whether it’s at the top of a steep hill, has an elevator or stairs to upper floors, and so on.
  • Subways involve a lot of walking and stairs, and are a pain with luggage. Use city buses or taxis instead, and when out and about with your luggage, take a taxi. If you’re renting a car, be warned that some countries and some car rental companies have an upper age limit.
  • Just showing your gray hair or passport can snag you a discount at many railroads, sights, and even some events such as concerts. Always ask about discounts, even if you don’t see posted information about one.
  • Many museums have elevators, and even if these are freight elevators not open to the public, the staff might bend the rules for older travelers. Go late in the day for fewer crowds and cooler temperatures. Many museums offer loaner wheelchairs. Take bus tours for a painless overview of the highlights. Boat tours are also a pleasure. Hire an English-speaking cabbie to take you on a tour of a city or region.