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Safe Passage: Tips for Older Travelers

April 2023

Safe Passage: Tips for Older Travelers

After pandemic-related travel restrictions lifted, older Americans flocked back to the skies and roads. In 2022, two-thirds of adults ages 50 and older planned at least one trip.

For all its perks—sightseeing, visiting far-flung family—traveling comes with its share of challenges.

For some, security checks and cramped seats are inconveniences. But if you have an illness, disability, or limited mobility, they become bigger barriers. Here’s how to prevent such problems and increase your odds of smooth sailing.

Locating your lodging

Unfortunately, many hotel rooms aren’t designed with older adults in mind. Large hotels are required by law to set aside a few rooms as wheelchair accessible. But smaller facilities aren’t subject to those rules. And rooms listed as senior-friendly or accessible don’t always match up with travelers’ needs.

Skip the corporate reservation line. Instead, call the hotel directly and inquire about any necessary features. For instance, ask:

  • Is there a roll-in shower for wheelchair users? Does it have a seat and grab bars?

  • How tall is the bed?

  • How many outlets are there, and are they easy to reach?

  • Can extra furniture be removed?

You can also search for accessible rooms and houses on Airbnb. There, property owners list specific features, along with photos. These include wide guest entrances, step-free showers, and ceiling hoists, among others.

Because they’re limited, accessible accommodations often book fast. So the earlier you plan, the better.

Protecting your health

At least a month before a big trip, visit your healthcare provider. Discuss your destination and itinerary. Ask if you need vaccines or other treatments to stay safe and healthy.

While you are on the road or in the air, watch out for blood clots, which can occur when you sit for long periods of time. Besides age, other risk factors include recent injuries or surgeries and a personal or family history of clots.

To prevent them, walk around every 2 to 3 hours. If you’re flying, choose an aisle seat; on the road, take breaks. When sitting, raise and lower your heels and toes to keep blood moving. Ask your provider about compression stockings and preventive medicines.

Packing wisely

Take time to stock a travel health kit. Include enough prescription and over-the-counter medicines for your entire trip, plus extras in case you’re delayed. Also add items like hand sanitizer, insect repellent, and sunscreen.

If you’re flying, label medicines clearly. Separate liquid medicines and related accessories—such as freezer packs and syringes—from other belongings at checkpoints. Inform Transportation Security Agency (TSA) agents you have medical items before screening begins.

Also, carry important documents, including medical alert information and health insurance cards, with you. Bring a letter from your provider describing any health conditions, medicines, and possible complications.

Flying high

Airlines flying in the U.S. must provide equal access to people with disabilities. This includes accommodations like removable armrests and aisle seats. Some might require advance notice, or early check-in, to provide them. Check with your airline for details.

You can also call the U.S. Department of Transportation at 800-778-4838 for more details about your rights. The TSA has information about traveling with devices like wheelchairs, oxygen, and other portable equipment.

Planning for surprises

Ask if your health insurance company covers medical care where you’re heading. If not, consider buying an additional travel plan. Either way, map out where you can access treatment at your destination, should you need it. If you’re overseas, the U.S. embassy can often assist.

Of course, no one anticipates a health problem while they’re traveling. But advance planning can give you peace of mind—and help you keep a cool head if the unexpected arises.



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