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Senior travel is easy but 'be prepared'

Local kids join tourists at exercise
Local kids join tourists at exercise
Photo by Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

When you begin traveling as a retiree, there are many things to consider that may not have been necessary when you traveled before. Not only do you have the advantage of no time limits or work obligations, you also have to remember you are not the same person who may have backpacked across mountains or willingly slept on a beach.

For starters, consider travel insurance. There are all types of policies; some cover your airfare and medical costs; others reimburse you for canceled reservations or sudden emergencies. If you are in good health and feel invulnerable you may not want to buy this insurance, but I do recommend it if you or your traveling partner have chronic health issues, if you have elderly or ailing parents at home, or if the areas you plan to visit are subject to uprisings, strikes or hurricanes.

But do remember, even if your birth certificate says you are a senior, it is not necessary to conform to other people’s expectations. For example, while hiking at high altitudes in Asia, our guide, more than 20 years younger than our youngest traveler, told us it would take more than an hour to do a certain hike. We finished in 45 minutes, and though it was difficult to hike at 10,000 ft, we did it! And we didn’t think we had anything to prove. Tourist companies that specialize in trips for “seniors” need to be aware that there are all levels of ability and hope that people won’t sign up for something that is beyond their skill.

Another extra to consider is membership in airport lounge clubs. If you have long layovers on your travels or delays due to weather or other circumstances, it is quieter and easier to spend those hours in the VIP lounge. These clubs usually have ticket agents inside who can help you if you need to change a flight, find a different seat or help you book a new flight. When you are already tired and cranky from your travels, it is worth it to splurge a bit to make your travel days a bit less complicated. Some credit cards offer free passes to these clubs and others sell a one day pass if you don’t want to pay for a full year membership. Check out which airlines have these clubs at the airports you are visiting before you start your trip. It would be silly to join an airline club only to find that they don’t have one at the airport where you may be spending a lot of time. And keep in mind that you do not have to be flying on that air line that day to use the club. For example, you could be flying on Air China and have a membership in the United club where you could sit between flights.

If you are traveling to countries which are not quite as modern as the one you live in, be prepared to bring medicines and other necessities with you. While one of the benefits of travel is to visit places different from your own town, an upset stomach or inability to sleep can make it difficult to do everything you had planned. When I visited Bhutan, I had every drug imaginable with me and luckily didn’t need to use any of them, but it was comforting to know they were there. Bhutan, a country of 650,000 people is well on its way to modernization and has modern hospitals, but much of the population depends on herbs and natural treatments. We visited a museum where all types of plants and herbs are shown, from mustard seeds to mushrooms. There are descriptions of what illnesses they treat and are still used by the locals, but it helped to know that my western medicines were not far away.

I also suggest you ask about senior discounts at museums,churches, hotels and other tourist sites, even if they are not listed. It can’t hurt to ask and you might save enough to splurge on that ice cream sundae!

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