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Guide to travelling in your later years

28th April 2016

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

Retirement is the time to make the most of the freedom you’ve earned and wisdom you’ve gained over the years. Taking the time to explore some of the world’s most enticing destinations is, for many, a life-long goal, but as we get older travelling can become an ever-increasing challenge.

Whether planning a visit to a friend up country or escaping somewhere further afield, learn more in our guide to travelling in your later years.

Before you go

Planning

A break from our daily routine or fresh surroundings can bring both relief and nerves. It’s important to remember that travelling away from what we know for however long, while exciting, is also a great change. Planning ahead and being well prepared can help to settle any anxiety you may have ahead of your trip.

Do your research and work out where you want to go, the best way to get there and anything you may need to take into consideration on your travels. For example, while a weekend visiting an old friend may not require much in the way of logistics, if you’re hoping to go further afield or take on a new challenge in retirement it could mean getting to grips with every minute detail of the plan.

Educational or voluntary opportunities, for instance, are a fantastic way to experience a different culture or be involved with a cause you care about. Kathy from the online advice forum When They Get Older explains: “Travelling and holidays are high on the agenda for many people as they reach retirement and have more time to do the things they enjoy. Young retirees have the world as their oyster and many are now taking to backpacking around the world with relish.

“As time passes though most of us will need to take different needs into account as we plan where and how we’re going to travel.” 

If you are keen to volunteer overseas, “…you need to make sure you are fit enough to travel and take on project work,” explains Gapwork’s Linsey.

“The world is waiting and the opportunities are the same for the elderly as they are for the young. In some cases more so as experience is required.”

Alongside many other opportunities, Gapwork offers voluntary projects and gap years for older people - tailored to suit individual needs and interests. Projects can run from as little as a couple of weeks, to three months and beyond a year, so determining how long you’re happy to help is important if you want to try something a bit more adventurous on your journey.

 

Documents & Healthcare

Needless to say, having the correct documentation will help you on your way when travelling. Before setting off, Linsey recommends that “…you have all your paperwork up to date, visa and travel insurance is essential.”

Likewise, keeping a photocopy of these documents, travel itinerary and boarding tickets, and a list of useful contact numbers in your hand luggage could come in handy later on if problems arise and your larger suitcases go astray.

If you’re concerned about pre-existing medical conditions or need advice on how to cope with limited mobility when travelling, a trip to your doctor before departure is a good idea. They should be able to provide guidance and ensure you’ve received any medication or vaccinations you may need depending on where your voyage will take you.

For those carrying medication, Kathy says: “For most, the older you get, the greater the collection of important pills and potions that need to travel with you.

“So if you’re going to be separated from your luggage during any part of the journey, pack enough medication in your case and again in your hand luggage to get you through your trip. That way if either goes missing, there’ll be no panic.

“I would also recommend carrying something like the electronic In Case of Emergency card that we reviewed recently which can be used by emergency services to find out all they need to know to treat you quickly if needed.”

 

Security

If the prospect of travelling leaves you feeling apprehensive, ensuring you have the proper paperwork in place should offer a little relief. Taking out insurance is vital for anyone travelling, but for retirees, having this security in place can make all the difference. Shop around and ensure your insurance covers your travel ambitions. Whether you’re jetting off for two weeks in the sun or staying for a few months, the policy you take out should cover your needs and keep you and your property secure in unexpected events.

 

Packing

Pack light. We all have a tendency to over pack when going away under the impression that we don’t know what eventualities our unfamiliar destination will throw at us, but in reality, as we get older carrying the extra weight can cause damage beyond what we might encounter on holiday. For the elderly and anyone with mobility issues, a small to medium suitcase on wheels and a shoulder bag will normally do the job and ward off any avoidable strain. 

On your travels

Special requirements

At home we can rely on the comfort of rise and recline chairs to provide the support we need when sitting, but when we’re travelling and seated for long periods of time, it’s worth enquiring into what provisions can be made for elderly passengers. You should also make the travel services you intend to use aware of any special dietary requirements, illnesses or mobility issues you have so that they can offer solutions where possible. It’s worth bearing in mind that many forms of public transport will have designated rows and seats and may operate lifts for travellers with disabilities. Likewise, train stations and airports often have wheelchairs they lend to passengers to help them move around between security and getting on board.

As a general rule, when booking your trip think about where the seat is positioned. Is it close to the facilities you may need on the journey; toilets, dining cart and so on? Table seats on trains, for example, tend to have more leg room.

 

Safety

It is an unfortunate fact that young travellers and the elderly are more vulnerable to scams and thieves. If you’re travelling through a busy tourist destination known for pickpockets, it is advised that you take consideration of your belongings. You should try to keep luggage within sight and carry valuables such as money, your passport and cards in a concealed money belt rather than a handbag which might attract unwanted attention. Ensure you know where you can report incidents should they arise. Most tourist centres and maps will clearly mark the nearest police station and if you’re staying in a hotel, staff should be able to help you make contact with the authorities.

In terms of safeguarding against injury or strain, a travel pillow will support your neck and head while travelling and many are inflatable making it easy to store them once you arrive.

 

Exploring

Travelling to a new place is exciting and with so many different sights, sounds and smells to take in, you’ll undoubtedly want to start exploring as soon as possible. Before you head out the hotel door, however, think about how you’re going to get around. Underground transport like that of the London Tube may be quick and convenient but usually requires a lot of walking and negotiating stairways up and down to platform level. Regardless of whether you’re carrying luggage or not, these crowded maze-like spaces can be daunting for older travellers unfamiliar to the system.

Taxis take the stress out of communicating directions in a foreign place but be safe and ask your accommodation to recommend a trusted service in the area. If you plan to hire a car on holiday be aware that some rental companies have an upper age limit. It’s best to check this when you book your hire ahead of your trip.

Kathy also suggests getting to grips with your travel routes before you set off. She explains: “Whether you’re driving, flying or travelling in any other way, know where toilet and refreshment facilities will be along the way.

“Check where hold ups are likely to occur too – whether it’s the A303 at Stonehenge or any road that passes through Antwerp – and make sure you have a break before you get there.

“Pit Stop Planning also means making a move for the flight gate as soon as you know where it is. We’ve nearly missed the flight before now due to slow walking to a distant gate and a last-minute dive to the loos.”

 

Accommodation

If getting up and down stairs is an issue, for better access request a ground floor room when you book your accommodation. Also enquire about the hotel or guest house’s accessibility options, as they may be able to offer options during your stay or provide advice about the building’s situation. For instance, ask whether it’s located on a hill, has uneven floors which could be difficult under foot or if they have a guest lift that can be used to get between floors with ease.

Consider where you should stay. If you’re planning a city break then the outskirts may be closer to the airport or train station but accommodation in the city centre is probably more conveniently located for sightseeing during your trip. Try to determine which would suit your needs better and what you can do transport-wise if you do decide to stay further away from the attractions.

 

Sightseeing

Many public attractions such as museums and galleries will be geared up for elderly visitors. They will likely have seating where you can rest while enjoying the collection and may have a lift to get from floor to floor. Some will even cater to those with reduced mobility, offering wheelchairs to help you get around while you’re visiting. If you’re anxious about crowds, museums tend to become quieter later on in the day so it may be a good idea to plan your other activities around this.

If you want to soak in the atmosphere and culture of a place but trekking around proves too tiring, cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating are perfect for a spot of people watching and you can enjoy the vibrancy of the place while you enjoy a drink or bite to eat. To make the most of your activity days, plan rest days in between so you can relax and recharge before another day of exploring.

The most important thing is to enjoy yourself and your time away. As Kathy says: “Travel is good.

“Seeing new places, meeting new people and keeping active are all part of staying healthy in body and mind as we age, even if we do need to make adjustments with time.”