Seniors And Travel
Updated for November, 2021
The world is a beautiful place and we all should see as much of it as we can in our lifetime. As a senior, you’ve earned your time to travel. The children are grown and retirement is not just a dream, it’s a reality. So, if you no longer need to worry about putting in vacation requests, now is the time to explore. After all, a 2017 AARP survey found travel is at the top of the bucket list for more than 80% of Baby Boomers.
Aging has its perks. Whether you’re traveling by car, plane, ship or train, it’s important to know what assistance, discounts and benefits are available to you and what you can expect on your next great getaway.
Cars And RVs
Hitting the open road may be your preferred way to spend a vacation. Once you decide where you’re going, plan your route. You can always grab an atlas or map, but the GPS on your phone is just as handy as you go.
Before you leave, have your car or RV checked out. Get the vehicle tuned up and have the fluid levels and tire pressure checked. Pack an emergency kit with jumper cables and first aid needs. If you’re tech savvy, download the GasBuddy app on your phone. It compares gasoline prices based on your GPS location, so you can find the cheapest option when filling up. And if you’re a member, make sure you take your AAA information in case you need road side assistance.
Tips For Air Travel
Airplanes can make travel quicker but getting to and from the airport can be a lot of trouble – getting your luggage to the airport, checked in and through security can take a considerable amount of time. Airports offers cart rides for passengers with disabilities or mobility issues. They can assist you from one area of the terminal to another, just ask for one at the check-in desk of your airline. If you need help getting your bags to and from baggage claim, there are large carts you can rent and push yourself or you can hire a skycap to do it for you.
Airport security is necessary for our safety, but it can take a lot of time. General TSA security requires you to take off your shoes, jackets, belts and empty your pockets before you can go through any screener. You’ll have to take out any kind of liquids and electronics you’ve packed in your carry-on. Sometimes, you can be randomly selected for further screening. So be sure to pack your patience. The TSA says passengers 75 and older can receive, to some degree, expedited screening. It allows you to leave your shoes and jackets on. If you’re 75 or older and can’t stand up to be screened, there are other security methods the TSA will use to check you and your luggage.
If you have a disability or travel with a medical device or implant, you can apply to receive what’s called a TSA Notification Card that you present to the officers at the airport screening lines. You may have your hands or devices swabbed and your shoes physically inspected, but you won’t have to take your shoes off.
Pack all medications in your carry-on baggage, in case your checked luggage gets lost or delayed. It’s best to put them all together in a clear plastic bag to make it easy to find and get out. Be sure to pack extra medication in case you encounter delays.
Wear loose, comfortable clothing when you’re flying. And if you have circulatory problems, you may want to wear compression stockings to help the blood flow in your legs. If you’re traveling coast to coast or internationally, make sure you get up and stretch in the aisle from time to time to help your circulation.
Seniors can also request special assistance to board the flight. If you require a wheelchair and are traveling alone, an employee of the airport or airline you are flying can get you to the gate and on the plane. You’ll receive priority boarding – meaning you’ll board first. You can also get help with stowing your carry-ons. Just let your airline know your needs when you arrive, and they can help accommodate you.
Cruises can be a relatively easy and fun way to see the world. Once you board, most everything is taken care of for you. And there will be plenty of others your age to enjoy the experience with. Cruise lines say people 50 and older make up the largest number of their passengers.
Cruises can last anywhere from three days to two weeks. It may be a good idea to try a shorter trip if it’s your first time cruising – just to be sure sea sickness or other issues don’t cause you any problems. Most cruise lines offer senior discounts, so be sure and ask for it when you book your trip.
For an extra fee, most cruise lines offer a service to get you from the airport to the ship and back again when the cruise is over. You can reserve this with your booking. The drivers for the transfer services usually stand just outside the airport where cabs or buses pick up.
Once you’re on board, you can basically stash your wallet away in your room. Most cruise lines require you to have a credit card on file with them and whatever you buy on the ship will be charged to it. All the food is included in the cost of cruise, but soda and alcohol are extra. You can typically buy a beverage package during booking to keep getting a drink from being a hassle.
The first couple of hours are planned for you. Before ships set sail they usually do a walk-through of the water evacuation plan. That’s where you discover where the life vest and life boats are, but hopefully, it will be the only time you have to think about them. Once the ship leaves port, it becomes like a floating city – you can shop, eat, catch a Broadway style show, relax at the spa, try your luck at the casino and many other things to keep you entertained.
Cruise lines offer multiple shore excursions, allowing you the opportunity to see everything the port has to offer. Excursion descriptions usually include the activity level to help you decide what you’re able to do based on your health and mobility. But you don’t have to leave the ship. You can stay and lounge by the pool, play games, relax at the spa or enjoy one of the many meal options. Due to Maritime laws for cruise ships, some things like casinos won’t be open while you’re ported. You’ll have to wait until the ship gets back in international waters to play poker or shop duty free.
Cruise ships have medical staff on board and can treat minor medical issues, but if you take prescription medicine, you may possibly want to take extra. Ships don’t have full pharmacies on board, so if you run out you won’t be able to take your medicine until you get home.
A limited budget doesn’t mean you have to give up traveling. There are plenty of ways to see new things and enjoy new experiences without breaking the bank.
If you’re an outdoorsy kind of person, consider buying an America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass. Seniors 62 and up can buy a lifetime pass for $80 or an annual pass for $20. Many of our national parks are free, but the Senior Pass will give you and your traveling companions lifetime entrance into more than 100 parks that charge to get in. It also provides access to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by the federal government. The pass gives you discounts on parking, camping sites, boat launching and guided tours. You can buy a pass at any federal recreation site that charges to get in.
Riding the rails may be more your type of adventure. Amtrak offers seniors 65 and up a 10% discount on most train rides. On cross-border trips, the 10% off applies to travelers 60 and older. Amtrak goes to more than 500 destinations in 46 states and it’s a great way to see the U.S. without having to drive yourself.
If flying is more your style, British, American, Southwest, and United Airlines all offer senior citizens discounts in some form on standard fares. Double check the prices before you book though, because a sale or special price the airline is offering may be cheaper.
Aging can be a perk for car rental. AARP members can receive discounts up to 24% with Alamo, Avis and Payless car rentals. Hertz, Dollar and Budget all offer senior discounts as well.
When you make your hotel reservation, be sure and let them know you’re a senior. Many large hotel chains will give up to 15% off the cost of your stay.
Consider becoming a member of AARP, if you aren’t already. Memberships through the organization can get you discounts on a whole host of travel expenses. Depending on the plan you choose, it will cost between $12 and $14 per year.
If you’re looking to travel outside the U.S., you’ll need a passport. If you’ve never gotten one before or your old one is more than five years out of date, you’ll have to apply for a new passport. The U.S. State Department requires you to fill out an application and apply in person. You can find an approved location near you here. Be sure and carry with you a certified copy and a photocopy of your proof of U.S. citizenship. A birth certificate or a certificate of naturalization will work. You’ll also need a legal photo I.D., along with a photo of yourself that is two inches by two inches taken on a white or off-white background. It can’t be more than six months old. Several retail chains provide photo developing services and can take the pictures for you. A new passport will cost around $145.
You can renew your passport by mail if it was issued within the last 15 years and your name hasn’t changed. All you have to do is send in your passport with your application to the processing center. Renewal will cost you about $110.
It usually takes about four to six weeks to process the application, although you can get expedited service in two to three weeks for an extra charge. There are options for extreme cases when you need to travel right away. You can find specific information and application forms on the U.S. State Department’s Consumer Affairs Bureau website.
The Importance Of Vaccinations Before You Travel
If you’re traveling outside the United States, it’s important to make sure you are up to date on your vaccines before you leave. If you do nothing else, consider a tetanus booster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say more than half of all tetanus cases occur in people over 65. Getting a flu shot every year is highly recommended for seniors, but if you are hitting the road between October and May then you need to make sure you get vaccinated.
Depending on the country you are traveling to, certain vaccines may be recommended. If a tropical paradise, like Bermuda or the Bahamas, is calling your name then you should consider getting vaccinated for Hepatitis A. The CDC says it’s possible to contract it from contaminated food or water no matter where you stay or what you eat. But if an African safari to Tanzania is more your style, then you may require a typhoid or malaria vaccine. It’s best to talk to your doctor before you leave to see what’s recommended, and if you would like to see the CDC’s complete list of recommended vaccines for each country, click here.
Travel Health Insurance – It’s Worth It
No matter where you’re headed on your next vacation, you should strongly consider buying supplemental travel health insurance. If you are traveling out of the country and get sick or hurt, your insurance, including Medicare, will not pay for the treatment you need. Even in the United States, your health care plan may not cover out-of-network expenses if you need to go to the hospital or emergency room. The cost of your insurance will depend on where you’re going, how long you’re staying and how much the trip is costing you. Many trip booking sites give you the option to buy travel insurance when you book your trip. The Consumer Advocate has ranked the companies it views as the best ones to buy insurance from.
Senior Travel Clubs
If you don’t want to plan the trip yourself, consider joining a senior travel club. You can travel with other people your age, make new friends and plenty of memories. A good place to start looking for one is through your local senior citizen center, but there are a few large, established national options.
ElderTreks is a travel company designed exclusively for the 50 and older crowd. The travel groups consist of 16 people or less and the locations are exotic. The itineraries are designed specifically with seniors in mind. You can hike the Rockies, head to Africa on safari or experience the different cultures in Asia.
Learn more at www.eldertreks.com
Road Scholar is designed for anyone 50 and older interested in traveling to learn. There are dozens of trip options that include everything from a night at the symphony to an afternoon at the baseball park. And you can choose a trip based on your activity level and ability. The cost of travel insurance is included with your trip purchase.
Learn more at www.roadscholar.org
Smithsonian Journeys provides a knowledgeable and experienced guide with each tour. You can choose from an international getaway to a small-ship ocean cruise and everything in between. Tour groups can be as little as 12 people or as many as 100, depending on the adventure. Trips can be matched to your energy level and ability. Your tour will also provide you with emergency evacuation insurance and emergency assistance service, should you need it.
Learn more at www.smithsonianjourneys.org
There are a host of other travel clubs out there, but some just want your money. Be sure and check with the Better Business Bureau before you sign up.
The Pros And Cons Of Time Shares
If owning a timeshare is of interest to you, you aren’t alone. More than nine million Americans have one. The industry has changed over time and has become more consumer friendly, mostly because large hospitality chains like Disney, Four Seasons, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and Wyndham entered the game. The internet makes it easy to go online, see images and videos of potential properties and get detailed information about ownership costs and rules of use. Instead of sitting through a sales pitch where you might get free tickets at the end, you can now contact timeshare representatives by phone or live chat. It can be a costly proposition and experts warn against considering it an investment, because you often won’t get the money you’ve put into it back out of it. Consumer Reports says the average price is a little over $20,000, with maintenance fees costing you nearly $900 per year. Even after you paid off the cost of the timeshare, the maintenance fees continue, and often go up anywhere between two and five percent annually. In the early years of timeshares, you had fixed weeks and fixed resorts. Those are still around, but many vacation ownerships offer more flexible plans allowing you to vacation at any property or resort in the world that’s owned or affiliated with the particular brand you purchased from. Points-based vacation ownership lets you buy points and use them at different resorts. How many points you use depends on when and where you to choose to stay, how many days, and the unit’s size. Experts warn against making a split-second decision to buy a timeshare. It’s something you should consider carefully, even if you’re interested in this type of vacation travel. Before you sign off on the sale, make sure your contract contains everything you were promised. You may even want to have an attorney look over it for you. You can save money by going to websites like RedWeek.com to buy a used timeshare from someone looking to get rid of one. The Federal Trade Commission says every state has a “right of rescission” period, giving you anywhere from three to ten days to back out of the contract, even after you’ve signed it. The FTC recommends if you do opt out, send a written letter by certified mail. Deciding you no longer want it after the rescission period ends is where it gets tricky. Timeshares can be hard to sell, and often do so at a loss. There are companies out there who will help you get rid of them, but it will cost you at least a few thousand dollars for their time and effort.
Regardless of what kind of adventure piques your interest – just go and do it. After all the time you’ve spent working and saving, it’s finally time to cross off a few of those bucket list trips. Aside from just being fun, traveling is good for you, especially as you age. It keeps your mind and body active, and you’re never too old to learn new things or enjoy new experiences.
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