Guide to travelling and holidays for older people
4th May 2023
Retirement is the time to make the most of the freedom you’ve earned and the wisdom you’ve gained over the years. For many, taking the time to explore some of the world’s most enticing destinations is a life-long goal, but as we get older, travelling can sometimes become more challenging.
Whether planning a holiday here in the UK or escaping somewhere further afield, learn more in this guide to travelling and holidays for older people.
Tips for before you go away
A break from the daily routine or gaining fresh surroundings can bring both relief and nerves. While exciting, travelling away from what you know can be a big 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 planning a trip in minute detail.
So, no matter what type of travelling you would like to do, it’s important to carefully think about what will be required of you and what type of planning is needed. 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.”
Volunteering can be an attractive option for many in retirement, using your time to help others in need. However, if you are keen to volunteer overseas, you need to make sure you are fit enough to travel and take on a project. It’s worth remembering that the opportunities are the same for older people as they are for the young, in some cases, more so, as experience is required.
Volunteering projects or any trip can run from as little as a week to a few months, so determining how long you’re happy to travel for is an important factor to consider.
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Documents and healthcare
Having the correct documentation will help you on your way when travelling. Before setting off, ensure you have all your paperwork up to date - visa and travel insurance are essential.
Shop around and ensure your travel insurance covers your situation. 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 protect you in unexpected events.
Keeping a photocopy of these documents, a travel itinerary and boarding tickets, and a list of useful contact numbers in your hand luggage could come in handy later if problems arise and your 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 from When They Get Older 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 it goes missing, there’ll be no panic.”
If travelling leaves you feeling apprehensive, ensuring your home is well looked after is important. Beyond making sure alarms and personal security systems are working, consider asking a neighbour, friend, or family member to come in and check on your home when you are away. This will help protect your home and provide you with peace of mind while you travel.
We all have a tendency to overpack when going away, under the impression that we don’t know what eventualities our unfamiliar destination will throw at us. However, carrying the extra weight could make the travelling process more difficult rather than enjoyable. For anyone with mobility issues, a small to medium suitcase on wheels and a shoulder bag will generally do the job and ward off any avoidable strain.
What you need to pack will depend on your destination, but in terms of making your travels more comfortable, a travel pillow will support your neck and head while on a plane, train, or coach, and many are inflatable, making it easy to store them once you arrive.
If getting up and down stairs is an issue, 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 underfoot, or has a guest lift that can be used to easily get between floors.
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 decide to stay further away from the attractions.
Tips for when you are travelling
At home, we can rely on aids like straight stairlifts and mobility-friendly chairs to provide the support we need, but when we’re travelling, it’s worth enquiring into what provisions can be made for older passengers.
It would be best if you also made 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 noting 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 near the facilities you may need on the journey, such as toilets and a dining cart? Table seats on trains, for example, tend to have more legroom.
Some precautions might be necessary to avoid being vulnerable to scams and thieves during your travels. For example, if you’re travelling through a busy tourist destination known for pickpockets, it is advised that you take extra care 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.
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 will get around.
Underground transport like tubes and subways may be convenient but usually requires a lot of walking and negotiating stairways up and down to the platform level. Regardless of whether you’re carrying luggage or not, these crowded maze-like spaces can be daunting for travellers unfamiliar with the system.
Taxis take the stress out of navigating 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 ahead of your trip.
Kathy from When They Get Older 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.”
Many public attractions, such as museums and galleries, will be geared up for older 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 visiting. If you’re anxious about crowds, museums tend to become quieter later in the day, so it may be a good idea to plan other activities around this.
If you want to soak in the atmosphere and culture of a place but trekking around proves too tiring, cafés and restaurants with outdoor seating are perfect spots, 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 from When They Get Older 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.”
Tips for travelling with limited mobility
- Take out travel insurance
- Use transport that is accessible
- Find accommodation that can cater to your needs
- Research accessible attractions and restaurants
- Plan an itinerary you are comfortable with
- Travel with a companion for extra support
For those who have limited mobility, such as stairlift users, travelling might be more difficult, but you can still enjoy a wonderful holiday. Read on to discover some advice to make your travels a success at home and abroad.
Advice for holidays in the UK
Breaks in the UK can be just as enjoyable and exciting as holidays away. As shown in this article on the UK’s best country parks, limited mobility holidays do not have to mean restricted access to attractions that can make or break a trip.
Tourism for All has loads of information on how to get out and about in the UK, with a travel planner to help you find accessible places to stay and destinations to visit. You can also use this resource for accessible weekend breaks across the UK.
Perhaps a trip to London is enticing, taking in a show and seeing the sights. It’s certainly possible, and you can see the capital the way Londoners do, as the Underground has become far more accessible in recent years, with over 60 stations now step-free between streets and platforms. See the TFL website for access details.
Advice for holidays abroad
Want to escape to the sun or just explore somewhere new? Going abroad is more accessible than ever. There are plenty of disabled holidays to choose from, with specialist providers offering packages that take care of everything for you. Whether walk-in baths and showers are a must or the accommodation must be on one level, there are now plenty of providers to suit you.
Our previous guide to resources for the older traveller has a great selection of information, charity listings, operators and providers that can make travel easier; it’s just a case of deciding where you want to go!
So many options are now available to travellers with reduced mobility, from accessible safaris in Africa to a restful chateau in France; the rest is up to you.
If there are some iconic attractions around the world that you have always wanted to see, do some research to see what accessible facilities they offer. Read the following resource to discover the accessibility of some of the world’s most famous attractions, like the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, and the Statue of Liberty.
Accessible holiday checklist
Having a list is always helpful, especially when you are about to travel. Utilise the checklist below to ensure you have done everything you need before you set off.
Travelling abroad or here in the UK is an exciting proposition. No matter your age or level of mobility, you can enjoy a wonderful time away.
For more tips, guides, and advice, visit our news page.
This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.