Adventure is Ageless: The Ultimate Guide to Senior Travel
Given improvements in public health and technology, we’re living longer than ever, which means longer retirements. Many seniors still have several decades of life ahead of them, and once they stop working, many hope to put their time towards traveling the globe. In fact, a study by the Stanford University School of Medicine found that 78.5% of bucket list writers want to travel to an exotic location. That’s a lot of people!
Traveling can help older adults stay physically, mentally and emotionally strong. However, seniors do need to take extra steps to make sure they stay healthy and safe while on the road, from booking accessible hotels to wearing the most comfortable walking sandals. In this ultimate guide, we explain the benefits of travel for seniors, offer our best tips for traveling and countdown the eight must-have travel essentials that all older adults should pack.
Benefits of Travel for Seniors
Many people want to travel because it’s fun, or they enjoy seeing new sites and meeting new people, which is a totally valid reason. But the benefits of travel don’t end there: Traveling can be good for your physical, mental and emotional health, especially as you age. Here are some of our favorite benefits of travel for seniors:
- Taking a vacation can lower your risk of certain conditions. One study found that women who vacationed every six years or less had a significantly higher risk of developing a heart attack or coronary death compared to women who vacationed at least twice a year.
- As for the men, another study found that men who did not take an annual vacation had a 20 percent higher risk of death and 30 percent greater risk of death from heart disease than those who did take one.
- Whether it’s short- or long-term, stress can have numerous negative effects on your health and actually speed up the aging process. However, one survey showed that taking a quick vacation of only a day or two helped 89 percent of people relax and leave the stress of work behind.
- Travel encourages physical activity, and active older adults have lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, cancers, lower risk of falling and better cognitive function.
- Travel challenges your brain with new experiences and environments, which can promote brain health, resilience and adaptation.
- Travel promotes social interaction with others, which boosts your mental health and reduces stress and feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Tips for Traveling
Traveling as an older adult requires more advanced planning and precautions, but it’s so worth it. Here are eight tips seniors should keep in mind as they pack their suitcases and book their flights:
1. Pack light.
Start with a wheeled suitcase, which will be much easier to maneuver through airports: You want to carry as little as possible to avoid hurting your back. Take only the essentials, and avoid overpacking on items such as clothes and shoes. Explore space-saving solutions, such as getting an e-reader rather packing a bunch of paperbacks. If you’d rather not hassle with your bag, check it at the airport so that you don’t have to lug it all the way to the terminal.
2. Give yourself plenty of time.
Rushing to get to the airport or packing your schedule full with minute-by-minute activities is a sure recipe for stress and exhaustion. Plan for the unexpected by leaving time in your schedule for delays and accidents; you never know when you might not be able to find your glasses or when an arthritis flare-up might happen. Give yourself time to wander around or rest at the hotel. After all, the last thing you want to do is get sick from exhaustion on your wonderful vacation!
3. Don’t flaunt expensive things.
Leave your expensive jewelry and watches behind in the safety of your home. Don’t wave around fancy cameras, and the same goes for your cash. Credit cards and small cameras are less appealing targets to thieves. On a similar note, don’t advertise that you’re traveling on social media or in public, and don’t hang the cleaning sign on the door of your hotel room. Both of these signal your absence to would-be thieves and make your home or hotel room a more appealing target.
4. Stay in touch with loved ones.
You shouldn’t tell strangers where you’re going, but you should inform your loved ones. Provide your family or trusted friends with a copy of your itinerary so they have a general idea of your whereabouts, including where you’ll be staying and when you’ll arrive. It’s a good idea to check in with them daily to make sure you’re okay, even if it’s just a quick text or phone call to put their minds at rest.
5. Consider travel insurance.
If your medical insurance doesn’t cover you while you travel, you should consider getting travel insurance for your trip. Of course, you hope that you don’t get sick on your vacation, but if an emergency does happen, you don’t want to be stranded without care or hit with a huge medical bill later from an out-of-network provider. Do some research ahead of time to find clinics, emergency rooms and other medical facilities close to your destination(s) so that you’re prepared for a worst-case scenario.
6. Book your accommodations wisely.
Not all hotels are created equal, both in terms of quality and their ability to accommodate certain needs. Before you book your rooms, double check that they have what you need: grab bars in the bath and shower, a first-floor location, accessible elevators, etc. If the website description isn’t clear, don’t be afraid to call the hotel for more information. Trust us, you don’t want to scramble for new accessible accommodations on the ground.
7. Look for senior-oriented activities.
Many activities tailored to seniors are available in tourist destinations, from cruises to month-long tours to daytime excursions. These activities are designed for seniors’ physical abilities and interests and take care of all that pesky planning for you. These tours are also a great way to make new friends with other people your age while you’re on the road.
8. Watch what you eat.
Traveling to a new location is the perfect opportunity to try out exotic cuisines. Unfortunately, seniors’ tummies are more prone to become upset, and even if they have a stomach of iron, certain foods may still interfere with their medications. Before you leave, have a talk with your doctor about what foods, drinks and ingredients you should avoid while on the road. Make a list of what to avoid, and research restaurant menus ahead of time to ensure that you can get something that won’t make you sick.
Travel Essentials for Seniors
Now you know you should pack light— but what essentials should you absolutely include? We’ve rounded up the must-have items that all seniors should pack in their suitcases:
Compression socks for travel are a must for globetrotters of any age and health status. In fact, flight attendants swear by compression stockings to keep their circulation going during long flights. Compression socks are also a great choice for road trips, long train rides or any travel scenario where you’ll be sitting for a long period of time. The specially-woven medical fabric provides just the right amount of pressure to encourage your blood to keep flowing rather than pool in your lower extremities.
Some people struggle to put on the tight fabric of compression socks, especially if they have limited mobility in their hands and arms. Donning gloves are made of a special rubber that glides easily over compression fabric and makes it easier to put on. Slippies, or sleeves that go inside the compression garment before you put it on, also help with donning. Both of these solutions fold up small and take up little room in your suitcase, making them a great choice for travelers who are pressed for space.
The most comfortable orthopedic sandals and shoes are a must for all travelers, and they’re especially important for seniors. Older adults are more prone to falling, tripping and other accidents, and they’re more likely to have foot conditions such as corns and bunions that can impair their ability to walk properly. Orthopedic shoes are specially designed to promote proper standing posture and walking mechanics, helping to prevent foot problems or correct existing ones. They also have non-slip soles to guard against falls and other accidents.
Braces and Supports
Braces and supports can help you manage a variety of conditions. Athletic braces and supports can protect weak joints and help keep you from re-aggravating old injuries. On the other hand, arthritis braces have special warming technology designed to ease stiffened joints and maintain optimum mobility. No matter the type, braces also give you the confidence to move normally with good mechanics, rather than favoring a weak spot and potentially hurting something else in the process.
Medications and Documentation
Always carry your medication with you on the plane, in the original bottle if possible. Bring extra doses in case you are delayed, as well as a copy of the prescription in case something goes wrong and you have to get it refilled while traveling. Take all necessary medical documentation with you, including your health insurance card, a medication list, your doctor’s name and contact number, advance directives, allergy list and anything else important.
Eyeglasses and Book Light
Taking care of your eyes while you’re on the road is important. Take your glasses in a case to keep them protected, and bring along cleaning wipes or spray. If you like to read at night, also bring along a bright book light, so you don’t strain your eyes in the dark. It’s also a good idea to pack a flashlight along as well, and some people also like to take a nightlight for their hotel room.
Travel Neck Pillow
If you’re planning to sleep on a plane or in a car, it’s vital to get yourself a quality travel pillow that will give your neck the support you need. Nothing ruins a trip faster than arriving with an awful pain in your neck and upper body because you slept the wrong way on the plane. Make sure the pillow is thick enough that you won’t have to bend your neck awkwardly while using it.
Mini First Aid Kit
Upset stomachs and small cuts happen whether you’re at home or traveling, so it’s best to be prepared while on the road. Pack yourself a small first aid kit with items such as gas-relief tablets, antacid tablets, pain and fever relief tablets, Band-Aids and topical antibiotic. As the saying goes, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it!
This guide may seem like a lot of information, but you’ll be grateful you did all this planning in advance once you arrive. Just like with the trip itself, give yourself plenty of time to plan in advance, and don’t rush— you’ll just stress yourself out, and the whole point of your vacation is to relax. Have fun on your vacation, and be sure to make plenty of memories and take lots of pictures.