10 Ways To Safe, Enjoyable Trips
Today’s seniors are on the move, traveling more than ever before. From a weekend in the mountains to a cruise in the Caribbean to an extended stay in an exciting foreign locale, many active older adults are preparing for the trip of a lifetime. But before taking off, the savvy senior traveler should take care to make a thorough plan for travel that considers items and actions necessary for preserving health and wellness. With a short checklist, older adults can guarantee their ability cope with anything extraordinary or unexpected that may develop away from home. Here are ten things to consider before setting off for that special trip.
By Mike Haskew
Before the Trip
Taking advantage of days leading up to a departure can lower pre-travel anxiety, allowing travelers to relax, unwind and enjoy the process. Before departure, take time to invest in these basic, precautionary steps.
1. Do Research
Knowing more about your destination can help in several ways. For example, learning about the climate can help you pack appropriate clothing, while homeland security alerts can help you determine a good departure time or schedule. It is particularly important to get information about medical facilities in the areas you will be visiting. Should a need arise, familiarity with locations can reduce the time taken to access treatment and lessen anxiety.
If traveling outside the United States, make sure that you have met passport and visa requirements. In addition, become familiar with the location of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, and find out whether you may be exposed to diseases that are not common in the United States. Finally, researching time zones can help you minimize jet lag by adjusting sleep patterns before travel. If you are traveling west, go to sleep later than normal. If traveling east, hit the hay a little earlier.
2. Get a Pre-Trip Checkup
Schedule a visit with your doctor prior to traveling, particularly if you are currently taking medications, have high blood pressure or heart disease, or recently had surgery. Consider discussing health concerns with your physician, such as sleep with time zone changes, possible effects of jet lag, proper dosages and timing of medications, and changes in diet. Those traveling to areas where contagious diseases are common should make sure they have the proper immunizations, especially against pneumonia or influenza. Anyone with dental concerns or vision issues should schedule an appointment with their dentist or eye doctor.
3. Manage Prescription Medications
Take enough of your prescription medications to last the entire trip, especially if traveling to a foreign country where some medications may not be readily available. It is also a good idea to keep medicines in more than one place in case a piece of luggage is lost or stolen. At a minimum, medications should be packed in carry-on luggage in case checked luggage is lost. Consider asking your doctor to prepare and sign a list of prescribed and over-thecounter drugs that you routinely take.
When packing, include an extra copy of current prescriptions, contact information for your doctor, and generic names of prescriptions that may not be familiar in other countries. If controlled substances are taken under the supervision of a physician, it is essential to have a certificate confirming the medicinal purpose of the substance in the traveler’s possession.
4. Consider Medical Alerts
Medical alert bracelets or necklaces can save lives when seconds count. If you have allergies or are under a doctor’s care for a chronic condition, it is wise to wear one. If you prefer, carry a medical alert card in your wallet or purse. This information is critically important, particularly if you are travelling alone.
5. Review Health Insurance and Make Copies of Medical Records
Familiarity with your medical insurance plan is imperative prior to departure. Many health policies require specific actions or prior approval for the coverage of treatment outside a specific service area. Particularly if you are travelling abroad, verify the extent of coverage available. Some countries participate in reciprocal health care agreements allowing travelers to seek emergency medical attention, while non-emergency care may not be provided until a patient returns home. Specific travel health insurance may be needed, and a current list of countries with reciprocal health agreements is typically available through Medicare.
In addition, it may be beneficial to obtain an updated medical history for every member of your traveling party. These should be copied and placed for safekeeping with other important documents, with a second copy packed in a suitcase and a third left at home with a friend or family member. Readily accessible medical information can facilitate timely treatment and prevent confusion on the part of doctors unfamiliar with your history.
During the Trip
Nothing can disrupt a pleasant travel experience more than a situation for which the traveler is unprepared. While the trip is in progress, it pays to take steps to ensure travel remains smooth, especially when it comes to personal well-being and comfort.
6. Move Around/Stay Active
Sitting in a confined space for an extended period—particularly if a traveler is overweight or suffers from coronary heart disease—places an individual at risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a serious, life threatening condition that develops when blood clots form in the veins of the legs, interrupting blood flow traveling to vital areas of the body such as the heart, lungs or brain. To minimize the risk of DVT, talk to your doctor before flying or riding for extended periods of time. He or she may prescribe an aspirin to thin the blood or inject the blood thinner, heparin.
Travelers can help themselves to avoid DVT by wearing loose clothing, stretching the legs and feet while traveling, refraining from sitting with the legs crossed, periodically walking down the aisle of a plane or train, drinking plenty of fluids, minimizing alcohol intake and refraining from smoking.
7. Stay Hydrated
Seniors traveling during the winter or summer months are often susceptible to dehydration or heat stroke due to extreme temperatures. Dry air may cause headaches, sinus problems, fatigue or even digestive issues. Avoid dehydration by carrying a bottle of water and drinking water regularly. Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea should be avoided along with tomato juice or any drink with a salty taste. These are natural diuretics, and may actually cause the body to deplete fluids more rapidly.
A good tip is to drink eight ounces of water or another plain beverage for each hour of flight or riding time. To keep the eyes and skin from drying out, carry artificial tears or prescription drops and hand lotion. Saline nasal spray may be used at two to three-hour intervals to maintain moisture in nasal passages and ward off infections.
8. Get Enough Sleep and Don’t Overexert Yourself
If traveling to a new time zone, seniors should be more proactive about getting enough sleep. Travelers should also be careful not to overexert themselves during a trip, particularly if strenuous exercise such as athletic activity, hiking, climbing or long walks are involved in a day’s activities. If a traveler begins to feel sick, lightheaded, fatigued, or short of breath, he or she should stop immediately and rest. To avoid overexertion and fatigue, consider allowing a day or more of easy or minimal activity to recover from the stress and strain of travel.
9. Wash Your Hands
When you are staying in hotels and venturing into large public places, the potential to come in contact with a variety of disease causing germs is greater than usual. Washing hands is the first line of defense against invasive bacteria or viruses. Travelers should carry a small container of hand sanitizer in case hand washing facilities are not readily available.
10. Be Careful about What You Eat and Drink
It is not necessary to travel outside the United States for food or water borne illnesses to erupt. Traveling a few miles from home can expose an individual to viral or bacterial infections. Regardless of your travel destination, eating foods without certainty of the preparation process or the cleanliness of its source may expose a traveler to serious conditions such as Hepatitis A or the discomfort of food poisoning. In addition, drinking water while traveling in underdeveloped countries or in rural areas of the United States may expose an individual to dysentery, an inflammatory disorder of the intestine. To avoid ailments, drink bottled water, and use it to brush teeth or rinse toothbrushes. Also, do not swallow water while swimming or showering or use ice cubes in beverages.
For senior travelers, an enjoyable trip means a journey with minimal potential for discomfort, illness, or accidents. A few simple, proactive measures can ensure a positive travel experience, offering peace of mind to those on the move and those awaiting their safe return.
Mike Haskew is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and holds a degree in history. He is a native Chattanoogan and is currently an executive with Community Trust & Banking Company.