7 Tips for Safe Senior Travel

Traveling safely in your retirement years: top tips for a smooth and enjoyable journey

Group of seniors traveling together and touring a city overseas.

A road trip along Route 66, European jet-setting, tropical cruises – retirement offers the time to have the experiences you’ve always dreamed of. Whether you’re traveling by plane, train or automobile, here are seven tips for staying safe and keeping the good times rolling on your next trip.

1. Pack smarter, not harder

Packing well is an art form. You want to be prepared for anything – without carrying everything. Once you’ve packed the essentials, here are other important items to add, plus tips for things to leave behind.

  • Pack important medications and assistance devices in your carry-on luggage, so you have them on you even if your flight or bags are delayed. Be sure to pack enough medication for your entire trip – you may not be able to find your prescription at your destination. It’s also a good idea to tuck a list of your medications in your bag in case of an emergency.
  • Bring chargers and batteries. Whether for your phone, laptop or hearing aids, make sure you’ve got enough juice to last the trip.
  • Unless you’re embarking on a months-long voyage, leave the full-size shampoo at home. If you’ve got special products you use, fill reusable travel-sized bottles to keep your bags light and avoid spills.
  • Looking good on vacation doesn’t have to mean lots of luggage. Packing a capsule wardrobe – where a few well-chosen pieces mix and match into different looks – means you can pack light and have the perfect outfit for any occasion. Packing for different climates? Be strategic with layers so you can easily adjust to the temperature.
  • Word from the wise: Roll, don’t fold. Rolling clothes is more space-efficient and makes finding items much easier than if they’re folded and stacked.
  • Once your bags are packed, check them. Traveling is a breeze when you don’t have to haul your luggage with you, especially if a connecting flight can’t be avoided. Tight connections, crowded airports and possibilities for delays are all good reasons to skip the layover if you can.

2. Take advantage of technology

Your smartphone makes it easy to stay on top of flight or train schedules, hotel check-ins and even tickets for tourist attractions. These alerts can be especially important in loud terminals where it’s easy to miss important travel announcements.

Smartphones aren’t the only form of technology that can help you stay safe and get the most out of your vacation. If you use hearing aids, check for a setting that makes it easier to hear more clearly in noisy environments, like airports. If you’re flying with hearing aids or other assistive devices, don’t worry about removing them before clearing security – just be aware that if they set off the metal detector you may receive a pat-down. If you choose to remove hearing aids, don’t put them through the security x-ray machine, as that could damage the microphone.

If the open road is more your speed, some hearing devices now pair with Bluetooth®, so you can get driving directions right in your ear and keep your eyes on the road. Some devices are also directional, so you can better hear someone in the passenger seat while tuning out ambient road noise.

3. Get a little help from your friends…at the airport

With increased security measures and airports the size of small cities, it’s nice to have a helping hand. Airlines are federally required to offer services to ensure all passengers can reasonably and safely get to their flights, including the 25% of adults who have some type of disability.

The best time to arrange for airport assistance is when you book your flight. You can do that on your carrier’s website, or through your airline’s special assistance phone line. Once at the airport, let a ticket agent know if you’ll need help getting to your gate. Showing your printable TSA disability card will also help Transportation Security Administration officials know that you may require alternative screening methods.

Make flying easier by giving yourself plenty of time. With labor shortages and long security lines, there may be a wait for wheelchair assistance, a guide to help with visual impairments or assistance with carrying luggage. You can also shave a little time and hassle off the security experience by enrolling in TSA PreCheck®, which allows you to keep your shoes on and your laptop and liquids in your bag.

For assistance upon landing, ask the airline to have someone ready to help at your destination. This attendant can provide a wheelchair, call an airport cart to get you to your next gate quickly or help you at baggage claim.

Take a tip from the pros: These assistants and guides are independent contractors, not airline employees, so offering a tip for their help is an important gesture to show you appreciate their service.

4. Avoid scams

A trip is only fun if you actually get to go on it. If you find a deal that’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Be wary of free cruises and emails making unrealistic promises. Book all reservations – such as hotels, airfare and rental cars – through trustworthy websites. You can also check their refund policies to see what they offer in the event of a fraudulent booking. For instance, if an Airbnb® rental doesn’t accurately represent their property, the company may refund or rebook your stay.

Traveling internationally? Be aware of your surroundings. AARP suggests keeping important documents and items – phones, keys, passports – in a secure inner pocket of your bag or backpack. Purses and fanny packs are targets for pickpockets and many scammers utilize an array of tricks to distract you. The U.S. embassy in France recommends carrying only what you’re willing to lose, which means limited cash and only one credit card and one form of ID.

You should also alert your credit card company before going abroad so they can be on the lookout for fraudulent activity on your account. You can learn more about travel advisories for your destination from the state department website.

5. Before you go

Schedule a pre-trip medical checkup with your doctor and contact your insurance provider to ensure you’ve got coverage wherever you go. If you’re traveling somewhere with known infectious diseases, make sure you’re up to date on your immunizations.

If you’re traveling abroad, check your passport expiration date. Many countries won’t let you travel during the last six months of a valid passport, and wait times for renewal can be two to three months. If you plan to rent a car, do your research. Some countries and car rental companies have maximum age limits for drivers. Finding out ahead of time will spare you the headache of arriving jet lagged in a foreign country without a way to get to your destination.

It’s also a good idea to start breaking in those new walking shoes you purchased for the trip. Nothing is more miserable for walking than dealing with brand new blisters.

6. You are your best advocate

Wherever you’re going, however you get there, the number one tip for a smooth trip is to be proactive. From discounts to flight assistance, just asking what’s available can go a long way.

Airlines and hotels may not advertise senior discounts, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have them. Calling to ask about special rates can save you 10-15%. There may also be perks built into your credit card, such as discounted ride-hailing services and free lounge access at airports. Airport lounges offer complimentary drinks, clean bathrooms and a comfortable place to wait for your flight.

There are reasons to advocate for yourself beyond getting the best price, and accessibility is key among them. Whether you use an assistive mobility device or not, it’s good to ask if there are stairs or steep hills to access your hotel. If you have hearing limitations, let train conductors and airline attendants know, so they can communicate any emergency announcements or instructions and alert you if your stop is coming up.

TSA Cares is a service that answers questions regarding disabilities and medical conditions. They can be reached 72 hours before your flight at 855.787.2227. You can also use this helpline to schedule a TSA passenger support specialist who is trained to assist those with special needs throughout the security screening process.

Finally, there are things you can do for yourself to make a long flight or ride safer and more comfortable. It may seem small, but staying hydrated is key to staying healthy on your trip. Sitting still for long periods of time increases your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), so avoid crossing your legs and take opportunities to stretch or walk down the aisle or at a rest stop.

7. Buckle up and enjoy the ride

It’s a vacation, remember? It can be easy to get wrapped up in the details, but don’t let logistics get in the way of a good time.

A little planning and legwork make safe travel easy for older adults. No matter where you go, following these tips will take the turbulence out of your trip. So buy your tickets, pack your bags and get ready for smooth sailing.

At Holiday by Atria, every day is a vacation. Take a trip to a Holiday nearby to learn more about the friends and fun waiting for you.


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