For a senior, travel can be an excellent way to stimulate the mind, connect with a wider community, and just have fun. Exploring new environments and meeting new people can help older adults stay both physically active and socially engaged. Whether the idea is to experience more of the world, spend time with loved ones, or just take a break from the everyday routine, travel can bring enormous rewards.
Getting older certainly doesn’t have to keep anyone from having new adventures. An AARP survey of adults between the ages of 53 and 73 found that virtually all of them planned to take at least one domestic trip in 2019, and nearly a third anticipated taking four or more trips. What’s more, almost half said they expected to travel both within the U.S. and internationally.
Air Travel Tips and Tricks
Flying is often the quickest and most convenient way to travel, but it can be stressful and confusing. Here are a few things you can do to make the experience easier and more pleasant.
Some airlines offer reduced fares for older adults, although such fares may not be widely advertised. For instance, Delta has a senior discount in some markets, but it’s not available online; you can only get it by calling the reservations department. United Airlines offers special senior fares on some routes, but you may need to call and ask what’s available (and be sure to check if it’s any cheaper than the normal adult rate). Notably, Southwest Airlines has a senior discount in the form of reduced Anytime fares for adults over age 65; these senior fares are refundable and can be booked either online or by phone.
Most airlines allow you to check in for your flight through their websites or mobile apps up to 24 hours in advance. In most cases, it’s better to check in online rather than at the airport. Some budget airlines, such as Spirit, charge a fee to check in at the airline counter. Plus, checking in from your computer or phone allows you to save time at the airport, especially if you only have carry-on luggage; you can bypass the ticket counter and go straight through security to your departure gate.
Even if you have checked in online, you should be at the airport at least two hours before your flight is scheduled to take off. (Allow at least three hours for an international flight.) That’s especially important if you are checking baggage, since you will need to drop off your luggage at a designated counter by a certain time.
If you are traveling domestically and only have hand luggage, things are a bit simpler. In such a case, if you check in online, all you have to do at the airport is go through security and find your departure gate. However, you never know how long the security line will be, so it’s still wise to arrive early. And if you have mobility issues, be sure to allow for extra time so that you’re not rushed.
How to Travel as an Older Adult
You travel as a senior by assessing your needs, wants, and priorities (and taking advantage of discounts whenever possible). You probably have the flexibility to travel when it suits you, and avoiding the prime tourist season can help you save money and avoid crowds.
But make sure you pack for unpredictable weather and research some indoor activities so that you can stay out of the cold or rain. Also, be aware that some museums and other tourist sites have limited hours or are completely closed in the off season.
If your trip involves a lot of prepaid non-refundable expenses, travel insurance can save you a bundle of money if something goes sideways either before or during your holiday. This article provides some good tips on that topic. Travel medical insurance is crucial if you plan on leaving the U.S., since Medicare and most other health insurance plans do not apply outside the country.
You might also need medical coverage if you will be traveling domestically but outside of your approved network of healthcare providers. But make sure to study each insurance policy carefully; most do not provide coverage for pre-existing medical conditions.
Limit the amount of clothes you bring and plan to do laundry frequently. (You can always wash items in a hotel room sink and hang them to dry.) The less you have to lug around, the more mobile you will be.
That said, you should definitely throw in a few items to make your trip easier. If your eyesight isn’t what it used to be, bring a magnifying glass to help you read small print. If you use a hearing aid, bring an extra set of batteries. And if you’re going abroad, compile a list of the generic names of all your medications in case you need to get a refill from a pharmacist who doesn’t recognize American brand names. Read more in our article on healthy travelling article.
Bus tours and cruises can be excellent ways to travel for seniors. Everything is planned, organized, and coordinated by someone else, so you don’t need to worry about logistics. But it’s still important to find the tour or cruise that suits you best. If you are considering senior travel groups, here are a few questions you should get answers to:
- How much free time will you have?
- On a bus tour, will there be enough time at each stop to use the restroom and still explore the sites?
- What is the activity level of the tour?
- How early must you get going in the morning?
- Will headsets be used to make it easier for passengers to hear the guides when touring museums and other sites?
- How centrally located are the hotels or cruise ports?
- Can the bus or ship accommodate wheelchairs, walkers, or scooters?
The best senior vacations are often those that don’t try to cover too many sites in too little time. Think about basing yourself in a central hub and taking short day trips to surrounding areas. Or take a cruise that allows you to explore a variety of destinations without having to change accommodations.
Staying near the major attractions (or at least close to public transit options) makes it easier to get back to your room to relax at the end of a long day. If you have mobility issues, ask for a ground-floor room and find out if the hallways or doorways can fit a walker or wheelchair. Also, check whether the hotel is built on top of a steep hill or in an area that might be unsafe at night.