It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that travel is something best left to the young...
How to Minimize Travel Risks for 55+ Travelers
Life always carries risk. This is especially true for traveling and traveling when 55+ is riskier still. Yet, rather than being overwhelmed by risk, it must be managed so we don't fear exploring the world. In this post, we'll talk about three major types of risks older adults face when traveling and how to manage them.
Risk #1 – Health
It's a given that as we age, health concerns will be more likely to impact our travel aspirations. These concerns could be known conditions we must consider before a journey. They can also be unpleasant health surprises emerging when we're away from home. In either case, planning for these contingencies makes a lot of sense.
Planning for commercial flights begins with the question, "What pre-existing health conditions must I take into account?" Many doctors agree that those with certain serious conditions should not travel by air. Examples are:
- Recent heart attack (myocardial infarction)
- Unstable angina
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) or arrhythmias
- Severe heart valve disease
Another risk for some people is the risk of blood clots forming in their legs during a long flight. In these cases, medical professionals recommend wearing compression socks and getting up often to walk in the aircraft's aisle.
If you're dependent on supplemental oxygen, you need to know that aircraft cabin pressure changes your oxygen flow. Check with your doctor on increasing liters/minute flow while in flight.
Pre-Travel Health Appointment
If you have any health concerns, see your doctor at least ten days before traveling. The CDC recommends that you discuss the following at the appointment:
- Any chronic medical conditions
- All medications that you are taking
- The purpose of your trip (i.e., business or pleasure) and the expected level of physical exertion
- Destinations to be visited
- Accommodations where you will be staying (i.e., hotels, hostels, camping, etc.)
- Timing and length of your trip
You may also seek a certified travel medicine professional for your pre-trip appointment. Travel medicine is a relatively new field whose practitioners have specialized knowledge concerning:
- Travel-related illnesses, including evolving drug-resistant infections
- Global epidemiology health risks, both infectious and noninfectious
- Health regulations, including immunization requirements across the globe
Travel medicine providers are available on the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM) website.
Preparing to Travel
In addition to a pre-trip visit to your health professional, here are some further tips for healthy traveling:
- Bring a detailed list of all your medications and extra doses to avoid running out due to unforeseen circumstances.
- Before you leave, check your health insurance coverage at your travel destination. If necessary, buy a temporary supplemental policy. Bring copies of all coverage health insurance documentation.
- Update all necessary immunizations.
Risk #2 – Safety
Safety risks affect travelers of all ages, but older adults shouldn't let their guard down simply because they may be able to afford more upscale accommodations and amenities. Here are some ideas to help you stay safe on your trip.
Don't Advertise on Social Media
Be cautious about sharing information about your trip on social media before you go and when you're on the road. There have been instances when homes have been robbed because thieves knew the owners were out of town.
Remember Your Important Documents
Passports and visas are essential for international travel, but having a valid ID when traveling domestically is also crucial. For example, you'll need a driver's license and proof of insurance to rent a car. Sometimes hotels require identification as well. Regarding passports, carry your passport while traveling around in a foreign country. There may be instances when hotels may require you to present it at registration.
Other documents to bring include:
- Flight and other transportation documents like boarding passes and train tickets
- Medical information, as noted above, including COVID and other immunization records
- Birth certificate copy in case you need to replace your passport
- All travel insurance documents (more on that in the next section)
- Travel itinerary details
- Tickets or reservation information for events or other pre-arranged activities
Make paper copies of all the above and include these in your luggage as a backup. Also, take photographs of important documents with your phone. Finally, share paper and digital copies with a trusted friend or family member so they can get copies to you in an emergency.
Get in STEP
For overseas travelers, the U.S. Department of State offers the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The benefits of enrollment are:
- Travel advisories for your destination
- State Department can more easily help if you have serious problems when traveling.
- STEP can help friends and family contact you in case of an emergency.
Protect Your Stuff
Making plans to secure your personal belongings will help to reduce risk and stress as you travel.
- Look into pickpocket-proof clothes. A web search will provide options for such items.
- Use the safe in your hotel room to protect valuables.
- Don't travel with expensive jewelry. Married couples can leave their wedding rings at home and travel with cheap gold bands.
- Watch your handbags and backpacks when moving about. These make easy targets for thieves if you're not alert.
Think about how you'll handle payments on the road. Cash and a credit card will probably suffice if you're traveling domestically. Debit cards are riskier since the dollar amount of fraudulent charges a bank will cover depends on how soon you inform them of a compromised card. (Credit card issuers are more flexible about reversing fraudulent charges.) Also, bring an extra credit card in case your primary card is not accepted, lost, stolen, or otherwise compromised. Finally, tell your credit card company when and where you're traveling and ask how they handle currency exchange.
Traveler's cheques still have a place in your money universe when traveling. They have the advantage of being replaceable if lost or stolen, and they are usually easy to convert into local currency.
Speaking of currency, cash is still used just about anywhere. The amount of cash you'll need depends on where you're going. In major cities, a card will handle most transactions. However, cash is essential when traveling in rural areas or less developed countries. An excellent article on managing currency, plus other money tips for traveling, can be found at halfhalftravel.com.
Since we live in a smartphone-centric world, it's easy to forget that the full spectrum of connectivity we enjoy at home might not be available everywhere with your existing phone setup. Therefore, you'll want a reliable and fully-featured phone when traveling. There are several ways to do this:
- Purchase temporary international coverage from your existing carrier.
- Sign up for Google FI, a virtual cell phone service provider. Assuming your phone has an eSIM, this service has international choices allowing you to use your existing phone in over 200 countries.
- Acquire a local number via the eSIM on your phone. Companies like Airalo, Yesim, and esims.io offer this service.
Safety for Solo Travelers
A large proportion of older solo travelers are women. While all solo travelers need to manage travel safety risks, women need to be especially careful. Journeywomen.com offers a good list of safety tips for solo female travelers, including:
- Maintain awareness
- Avoid certain areas
- Trust your intuition
- Dress appropriately for the culture
- Learn self-defense skills
- Manage alcohol responsibly and never leave a drink unattended
- Have your phone ready
- Beware of inappropriate flattery
- Stay in at night
Risk #3 – Trip Interruption
A troubling travel scenario is making non-refundable reservations and then being unable to travel due to sickness or some other unpleasant contingency. Luckily, the booming travel insurance market allows travelers to purchase coverage online. Also, some credit cards offer travel insurance coverage as a perk.
Despite its apparent advantages, consumers must pay attention to the details when purchasing travel insurance policies. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- A travel insurance policy can list many exceptions. Even expensive "Cancel for Any Reason" (CFAR) policies have exceptions. Buyers need to understand all the policy provisions to know what's covered.
- Companies marketing travel insurance sometimes are not the actual insurers. Instead, they provide customer service to the traveler while the insurer is behind the scenes doing the underwriting and reviewing claims.
- If an incident arises that you believe will result in a claim, acquire as much documentation as possible while you're on the road and expect to provide even more once you get home. Too much documentation is better than not enough.
- Websites like travelinsurance.com allow you to get quotes from multiple sources.
- Look for provisions for air evacuation to the U.S. in case of acute illness or injury. This might make the policy more expensive, but it could be a lifesaver.
Learn even more with our eBook, 55+ Travel: The Why, Where, and How!