8 Key Travel Tips for Seniors
Follow these steps to a stress-free, healthy vacation
Maybe it’s going on an African safari. Perhaps it’s cruising around the Hawaiian Islands. It could be gazing at Michelangelo's masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
Many people have worked hard all their lives and dream of visiting far-off places after they retire. If you’re one of the over-65 set with an adventurous spirit, don’t let health concerns keep you from taking that journey.
"By all means, travel. Don’t sit at home,” says Michael Zimring, MD, director of the Center for Wilderness and Travel Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore and co-author of the book “Healthy Travel: Don't Travel Without It!”. But do some planning and take basic precautions.
Here’s a checklist to help make your trip relaxing and safe.
1. Get a pre-trip checkup. Talk with your doctor about your plans and ask what precautions or adjustments he or she would suggest. Zimring recommends seeing a certified travel physician if one is available in your area. To find one, go to the online directory at the International Society of Travel Medicine.
Your doctor will go over any special items to take on your trip and any immunizations you need. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also provides a list of what shots you’ll need based on your destination.
During your doctor’s appointment, another topic to discuss is how to avoid and treat Montezuma’s revenge, which can keep an unlucky traveler stuck in the loo over precious vacation days. Travelers’ diarrhea, caused by bacteria, commonly strikes travelers in developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, according to the CDC. The CDC advises you to avoid buying food or open beverages from street vendors. Make sure anything you eat is well cooked, and drink only bottled beverages (with no ice). Coffee and tea are OK as long as the water has been boiled.
2. Organize your meds. “Take labeled prescription bottles plus duplicate prescriptions,” says Zimring. Pack separate sets of your medications in two places: One supply goes in your checked baggage, the other, in your carry-on bag. Once you arrive, put the meds into a seven-day pill organizer. You’re more likely to get confused about whether you’ve taken your pills when you’re traveling and on a new schedule, Zimring says, and using an organizer will help. Don’t worry about any change in time zones. Just take your medicine once or twice a day as prescribed.
3. Buy a medical ID. “If you have a medical problem such as diabetes or heart disease, wear a medical ID,” says Zimring. Medical ID pendants and bracelets are available in many styles online. To learn more, go to the MedicAlert Foundation website.
4. Create an emergency kit. Zimring suggests bringing the following medications:
- An antibiotic such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro) to treat ailments like urinary infections or travelers’ diarrhea. (You’ll need a prescription from your doctor.)
- Loperamide, available by prescription or over the counter in brands like Immodium, for treating traveler’s diarrhea.
- Antibiotic ointment
- Fluconazole, a treatment for vaginal yeast infections that can be prescribed by your doctor or purchased OTC.
In addition, the American Academy of Family Physicians notes that taking two ounces or two tablets of bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) four times a day during your trip could cut risk for travelers’ diarrhea by 60 percent. So pack some Pepto for prevention!
5. Buy travel insurance. For trips overseas, travel insurance is essential, says Zimring. He advises older travelers to buy the type of insurance that will pay for transportation to a qualified hospital and treatment there if you become seriously ill or are hurt far from home.
Zimring offers his travel insurance picks on his website.The auto club AAA has a partnership with Allianz Global Assistance, which has a range of insurance plans covering everything from the basics (such as if your flight is canceled) to emergency medical transport.
6. Drink plenty of water. “Hydration is key to avoiding illnesses,” says Zimring. “For instance, if you are dehydrated, you are more at risk for blood clots in the legs when you are flying.” A dry nose and throat on the plane can even make you more susceptible to catching a virus.
If you pull up the skin on the back of your hand and it doesn’t spring back right away, or if your urine is dark yellow or orange, you’re probably dehydrated.
You can bring bottled water on the plane if you buy it after you’ve passed through security checkpoints. Since the quality of airplane water poured from a beverage cart pitcher is sometimes questionable, ask your flight attendant for more bottled water during the flight.
7. Stock up on hand sanitizer. You’ll be touching a lot of germ-infested surfaces like seat backs, doorknobs and faucet handles. Carry a hand sanitizer and use it often, says Zimring.
8. Don’t go alone. “If you have a medical problem such as heart disease or diabetes, travel with someone else,” says Zimring. Plenty of travel companies offer group tours. You should be able to find one that fits your budget. If you don’t like group tours, you might consider hiring a travel companion. A variety of companies offer this service.