Trains offer a more relaxing trip, but you can make flying easier by planning ahead and packing lightly.
While travel can be exciting, fulfilling and life-enhancing, it can also become more problematic as we age. Even though we may have more time and money, we may also have more ailments, medications, physical limitations and fearfulness—and less tolerance, stamina and patience for travel’s expanding challenges and frustrations. These days, just getting through the airport to the plane can be the worst part of any trip—not to mention increasingly cramped, claustrophobic planes with disappearing service and rapidly growing fees for formerly free amenities.
Older adults who have physical issues can find navigating the long airport walkways, trains, escalators and crowds daunting. Fortunately, the Air Carrier Access Act and Department of Transportation requires accessibility and assistance with boarding, deplaning, in-flight needs and making connections. If you need help with any of those tasks, contact your airline at least 48 hours in advance for special travel needs.
But how can we make getting to our destination more pleasant and less painful? Various experts offer helpful advice:
Take the Train!
For those with the time and money, train travel avoids much of the vexation, indignity and stress of airports and air travel. Avoid hassles with security lines, the Transportation Security Administration(TSA) and having your toothpaste, wine bottle or Swiss Army knife confiscated.“All aboard!” means just step on the train with help from the porter, who also stows your luggage.
Trains put leisure and enjoyment back into travel and can be the highlight of your trip. Relaxing in a comfortable observation or dining car, sipping a drink, enjoying a meal or watching the scenery stream past . . . well, “. . .nothing can be finer,” as the “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” song goes. Western U.S. and Canada, particularly, afford some of the best scenery. In contrast to the airlines’ shrinking seats and space, trains allow you to stretch out,stroll the cars, meet new people, have a civilized meal, take a shower or nap and sleep overnight in a private “roomette.” Trains even have free Wi-Fi.
Amtrak travelers 62 years of age and over can get a 15 percent discount on the lowest available rail fare on most Amtrak trains. On cross-border services operated jointly by Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada, a 10 percent senior discount is available.
Amtrak also offers credit cards similar to airline mileage credit cards with award-travel points. Seasoned rail traveler and train aficionado Curt Fettinger of Seattle spends his vacations riding Amtrak coast to coast and remarks on the conviviality of longer train trips: “This little community spontaneously forms—this little town going across the country.” Cunard cruise line’s former slogan, “Getting there is half the fun,” can again become a reality.
Tips for Flying
If flying is the best choice, here’s how to ease the process.
- Book well in advance for better airfares.
- Prepare for the security check and review TSA rules. Limit liquids and gels to 3.4-ounce containers in a quart-sized plastic bag. Medications are exempt from this rule and can be placed in a separate labeled bag.
- Pack valuables (camera, jewelry, electronics) and medications in your carry-on bag. Also include a change of clothes, underwear and a toothbrush (in case of lost checked luggage).
- Use a wheeled carry-on, preferably a more maneuverable spinner with four wheels, which can roll sideways down narrow aircraft aisles. Plus, it’s more stable when standing alone.
- Check baggage to avoid having to lug it through the airport and lift onto the overhead compartments.
- Stow laptops in your carry-on bag for easy removal during the security inspection. Sometimes TSA officials will ask you to turn on your computer, so make sure batteries are charged.
To get through the airport faster, you can apply for the TSA’s expedited security screening program, which means passengers considered low risk do not have to remove their shoes, belts, light jackets, laptops or 3-1-1 liquids. The program, which generally translates to shorter and faster lines, is available at more than 160 airports with 16 participating airlines. The $85 fee is well worth it if you travel frequently.
What to Pack
Pack light to avoid lugging large, heavy bags. Plan on laundering your clothes rather than bringing many changes of clothing. To make navigating the airport easier, bring stackable bags, such as a smaller bag that can sit atop a larger wheeled bag. Most airlines allow one carry-on suitcase and a personal item such as a handbag, briefcase or backpack that will fit under the seat.
Bring all medications needed for the trip because it can be difficult or time-consuming to fill prescriptions at your destination. Ditto for vitamins and supplements. However, if you must refill prescriptions abroad, ask your doctor for a list of generic names of your medications rather than brand names, because drugs often have different names in other countries. Make sure you carry your prescription with you too. Bring extra hearing-aid batteries and a spare pair of glasses. A magnifying glass and small flashlight help with small-print schedules, intricate maps and menus in dark restaurants.
Smartphone owners can install a free magnifying light app and use the GPS or Google Maps to find your way around.You can use your phone’s calculator, or pack one, to convert foreign exchange rates. Also, bring a small notebook to keep track of hotel room numbers, train/bus schedules or museum hours.
For seniors with health issues, travel insurance can avert possible medical and/or financial disaster. Read the fine print for evacuation coverage, which can be extremely costly if a severe illness prevents you from flying commercially. Medical transportation is not a paid expense from insurance carriers. Companies such as Emergency Assistance Plus, which is affiliated with United Airlines, will provide medical evacuation and other such emergency transportation for a small membership fee per year (call toll-free 855-516-4341). Travel insurance covers lost luggage, delayed or canceled flights, layover hotels and meals, and last-minute trip cancellations for certain situations. Allianz and Travel Guard are reputable companies, and some credit cards provide travel coverage.
Although Medicare has no foreign travel coverage, some Medicare supplemental insurance policies provide a foreign travel benefit designed to pay for medical expenses until you can get back home.
When to Go
To avoid the crowds, travel during the “shoulder season,” which is April through mid-June or September and October, especially in popular European destinations.
Former flight attendant Wendy Sue Knecht offers expert tips for traveling abroad. For example, don’t chew gum or spit on the sidewalk in Singapore (there’s a $700 fine!), don’t have open alcoholic containers in public areas in Canada (it’s illegal) and don’t eat while you’re walking on the streets in France or Japan (it’s considered rude). Knecht penned her experiences in her book, Life, Love, and a Hijacking. In a Next Avenue article, she advises:
- Blend in. Wear inconspicuous, logo-free clothing that won’t label you a foreigner or show disrespect for the country’s culture. Research what’s appropriate for your destination. For instance, in Muslim countries, modest clothing is a must.
- Store copies of your passport in your pocket, suitcase and carry-on bag—not in your wallet, in case it’s stolen. Include a list of any medical conditions, such as diabetes.
- Bring a minimal number of credit cards, and call your credit card company before the trip to alert them of your travel plans. Never store a wallet in your back pocket, where pickpockets have easy access. Use a money belt or neck holder inside of clothing. Carry handbags with straps across the body, rather than dangling on the shoulder.
- Speak quietly in public so as not to draw attention, and discreetly ask directions, preferably to a shop owner or your hotel’s concierge.
- Never go anywhere with strangers who offer to be a tour guide. Don’t ride in gypsy cabs.
- Buddy up, especially if traveling alone. Sit next to other people and pretend you’re with them. Sit near aisles and doors in crowded spaces like subways or trains.
- Trust your instincts; if something doesn’t feel right, leave. Report anything suspicious to local police.
- Stay alert. Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t talk on your cell phone while walking and don’t get distracted. Thieves look for distracted people as easy targets.
- Register for STEP—Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This free service from the U.S. State Department provides alerts (on your smartphone) from the U.S. Embassy about emergencies or natural disasters and can help if your passport is lost or stolen. It provides safety information for your destination and any pertinent warnings.
Also, bring along a contact list of family or friends in case something does happen to you. In an emergency, names and phone numbers can be helpful—and necessary—if medical information is needed.
Where to Go
AARP recommends 10 top international travel destinations for 2016:
Where to Go in the U.S.
For travelers on a budget, senior travel expert Nancy Parode in About Travel recommends seven U.S. destinations:
- Stratford-Upon-Avon, England: bucolic birthplace of Shakespeare, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, British ambience.
- Rio de Janeiro: Copacabana Beach, samba music,Carnival in February.
- Cuba: colonial splendor, vintage American cars, mountains, beaches, music, cuisine.
- Republic of Botswana: safaris with lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo.
- Wroclaw, Poland (no, not Warsaw): named 2016 European Capital of Culture; medieval, baroque and gothic architecture; museums; magnificent market square.
- Cuenca, Ecuador: colorful colonial town with cobblestone streets, fountains and plazas;named best place to retire in 2015 by International Living magazine.
- Singapore: vibrant, multicultural island nation, dragon dances, shopping, sanitary street food,fabulous hotels.
- Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: Hollywood playground, whale watching, deep-sea fishing, desert tours.
- Baltic States: pedestrian-friendly old towns in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; medieval architecture; museums; local color.
- Martinique: lush Caribbean island, Josephine Bonaparte’s birthplace, French/Creole cuisine,Mt. Peleevolcano, white-sand beaches, boutique hotels, plantation guest houses.
For top U.S. budget travel, see the sidebar.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors