Health

Senior Travel Safety And Security: A Comprehensive Guide to Staying Safe On Vacation

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Traveling can be a great way for those in retirement to spend their time meaningfully. The proven physical and mental health benefits that result from traveling can elevate your golden years to new heights. With mental health being a growing concern these days, having the ability to travel to visit family and friends can vastly improve your quality of life after retirement.

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Seniors have different priorities than travelers of younger ages. Rather than extensive sightseeing or filling up their vacation calendar with excursions, they typically seek more relaxed, leisurely experiences. Extended stays are also more popular when you’re over 65, which can help improve the quality of your trip.

But you may have additional needs regarding comfort and safety on the road as you age, and it’s important to consider them before embarking on your trip. Whether you’re looking to take a short trip or a longer excursion, planning is key. Before taking off on your next adventure, let’s review the important factors you’ll want to consider to get more out of your vacations.

Senior Travel Options

If you’re looking to travel, the world is your oyster, but there are many options available that cater to seniors who wish to travel. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Cruises
  • RV and Vehicle Vacations
  • Resorts
  • Train Trips
  • Pre-Planned Vacation Packages

These options are more likely to have accommodations that seniors may find desirable and better match the pace you are seeking. It’s been shown that seniors tend to favor cruises because everything is provided1, and activities are self-determined, empowering you with accommodations, resources, and a personalized experience.

Many different travel options can take you far and wide, and you’ll need to plan accordingly for each. But when considering cruises, you will want to plan for both foreign and domestic variables depending on your ports of call. This means preparing for extended stays, additional travel logistics, healthcare, and travel emergencies.

Protecting Yourself While Planning

A major part of planning any vacation these days will be protecting yourself from scams. Unfortunately, many scams specifically target seniors, with $1.7 billion in losses for the elderly in 2021 alone2.

This is because when you are a part of this demographic, you are more likely to have more equity built up. This makes you not only a profitable target but a susceptible one. Sadly, for seniors, you may have a harder time spotting everchanging scams and criminal trends on the Internet due to a generational difference in World Wide Web use.

Considering up to 67% of travelers make their bookings online, you’ll want to stay up-to-date on these travel scams to stay safe:

  • “Free” Vacations: You know the old saying, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” well, this is a prime example. You’ll want to stay clear of free vacation listings, particularly those requiring personal information, including your credit card information or Social Security number. It is very, very unlikely that you can find a truly “free” vacation simply being advertised to the public that isn’t a scam.
  • Vacation Deal Robocalls: Similar to “free” vacation scams, robocalls that offer vacation deals should be disregarded. Airlines, hotels, and other vacation-related industries often have specific criteria for deals on their offerings, and you would likely know ahead of time if you meet these criteria. These deals usually center around being a specific credit cardholder or member of an association.
  • Vacation Home Scams: Vacation homes and vacation rental listings can also be breeding grounds for scams. These scams can be harder to identify on platforms like Airbnb or Vrbo. However, you can always call the number provided to confirm the booking details before selecting a listing. Always use a trusted platform and never pay through wire transfer, Venmo, or other non-reversible payment platforms.

There are many red flags you’ll want to remember to look out for when booking any vacation. Any offer requesting payment by wire, through third-party payment services like Venmo, CashApp, or PayPal, and lack of specific information are all signs that you may be looking at a scam. If you feel rushed or pressured into making a snap decision when booking, this can be another red flag.

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Seniors may want to work with loved ones or a reputable travel agent if they don’t feel confident about navigating these scams themselves. Purchasing travel insurance is another good way to ensure you’re protected when it comes to travel purchases.

Choosing Your Destination

Choosing your destination is exciting and can take many different forms. From visiting family to seeking new adventures, and rediscovering old stomping grounds, there are a host of options. Arguably, the single most important decision you’ll make, of course, is the place you’ll end up visiting.

But, like most things, there are multiple factors to consider when you are booking a vacation. You’re going to have to consider everything from healthcare, accessibility, finances, and more before you book. Let’s explore some of the most important considerations you’ll need to make as a senior traveler.

Accessibility and Mobility Considerations

Getting to your destination is important, but so is getting around once you arrive. If you or a loved one requires mobility accommodations, be sure to research whether these will be available at the places you’ll be visiting, as well as any planned stops along the way.

This is a particularly important consideration if you are traveling in areas that may not be able to accommodate those with mobility issues. For example, some older buildings, infrastructure, or terrains may simply not be capable of assisting in this manner. Failing to plan can mean wasting time and money, ultimately leading to you and your party feeling discouraged by the entire trip.

Understanding the ADA design requirements for hotels is important for travelers with mobility concerns. But it’s worth noting must follow different requirements based on when they were built or renovated:

  • Hotels that started construction prior to March 15, 2012, will be held to the 1991 standards. An exception to this would be if an alteration to guest rooms has occurred since the guideline’s date.
  • Any hotel constructed on or after March 15, 2012, will have to adhere to the 2010 standards. Additionally, hotels which have had renovations to guest rooms on or after the guideline’s date are also subject to the 2010 ADA guidelines.

Because of these guidelines, the following features may be available during your stay:

  • Doorways wide enough for wheelchairs to fit through;
  • Smoke alarms with visual and sound;
  • Braille options for signs and documents;
  • Ramps and elevators.

While the ADA requires these things by law, it is still smart to call ahead to fully understand the availability of accommodations for the places you plan to visit. A general rule of thumb to remember is that older buildings may have fewer accommodations than newer constructions.

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Furthermore, when traveling internationally, it can become even more vital to seek out accessibility information, as ADA requirements may not apply outside of the U.S. and its territories in this capacity.

Medical Considerations

Whether major or not, any type of healthcare you require while traveling can be a big deal if you’re not properly prepared. This is especially true if you are at a higher risk due to your health factors.

But preparing ahead of time can help you mitigate not only your risk but your costs for healthcare. This means doing the following:

  • Be aware of any potential laws and local trends dealing with healthcare, such as necessary vaccinations and potential diseases in the area. Furthermore, you’ll want to plan your destination accordingly. For example, if you are prone to asthma, the air quality level of your destination should be a higher priority than for most.
  • Understanding the non-emergency transport options and how to reach them when you’re traveling is also important. Ambulances are available for emergencies by calling 911, but if you are in need of non-emergency medical care, there are transport options available in some areas. Saving these numbers to your phone can help you prevent a minor medical issue from turning into an emergency.
  • Before you leave, it’s imperative to check your Medicare coverage. This can help you better understand how your benefits work across state lines, or even in different countries, before traveling. There are some services Original Medicare does not cover. Further, the price of prescription medications may be affected in areas where you cannot use your Medicare drug coverage.
  • Note that when traveling abroad, some Medicare plan benefits are only available through exceptions. Those with a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan, however, can access foreign travel emergency benefits that hold a lifetime limit of $50,000.
  • Still understand how your coverage works when staying stateside. There are different networks in which providers operate, varying fees, and differing guidelines. Furthermore, when using Medicare, you’ll need to double-check that the provider from whom you receive healthcare accepts Medicare. Though the overwhelming majority of practitioners in the United States accept Medicare, it can only help to ensure that yours do.

You can check your international coverage through your insurance portal or by contacting your insurance agent. Even if you aren’t charged for a procedure in the country where you receive it, you may face fees upon returning home, as insurance coverage for treatments you receive internationally can be complicated.

It’s always important to understand how your health insurance coverage helps you remain covered, no matter how you are insured. Yet, for those with Medicare Supplement plans, you may find additional value in the coverage as it is very beneficial no matter what state you’re in. Take a closer look at how Medigap helps travelers cover the costs of their healthcare from Miami to Juneau and everywhere else in the United States.

Medicare Supplement Plans

Because Original Medicare can leave you with leftover costs, Medicare Supplement plans are available. Also known as Medigap, there are several types of Medicare Supplement plans available.

This is an excellent feature of Medigap plans because when you compare Medicare Supplement plans, you’ll notice that there are several different benefits each offer. Since everyone has varying budgets and health factors, this provides better options for your healthcare on a personal level.

Several companies offer Medicare Supplement plans, but some Medigap plans are more common than others. This is because these plans offer the most comprehensive benefits available to Medicare beneficiaries:

Each of these Medicare Supplement plans will offer different levels of coverage and pricing, and some will have certain requirements. For example, to enroll in Medicare Supplement Plan F, you must have been eligible for Medicare benefits before January 1, 2020.

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For many, having a Medicare Supplement plan can be beneficial to help cover rising medical costs. It’s even great for those who are worried about their healthcare when traveling because Medigap plans have no networks.

However, if you don’t want or need a full Medicare Supplement plan, there are other Medicare add-ons that you may find more beneficial. Having a Medicare Advantage plan vs. a Medigap can also help you save on your healthcare costs, especially monthly premiums.

But keep in mind the following about Medicare Advantage plans:

  • No plan provides coverage outside of the United States.
  • Even in areas where you are covered by Medicare benefits, it can be difficult when traveling with a Medicare Advantage plan. These plans may suit your healthcare needs, especially when traveling locally, but can provide limited or no coverage when traveling to other states or even counties.
  • You will still need to pay your Medicare Part B premium in addition to your Medicare Advantage premium each month.

For some, a Medicare Advantage plan may be the best choice. However, for the purposes of traveling, it is best to understand Medigap coverage and how to enroll. Because you can only have one of the other, Medicare Supplement plans are typically preferable to Medicare Advantage plans when it comes to travel.

Pre-Trip Planning for Seniors

Pre-trip planning is a great way to reduce stress during your trip and ensure you can be as comfortable as possible. This can be an especially important step when you’re a senior, as pre-existing conditions may influence how you travel. There are several pre-trip planning steps available to you that will help ensure that you are well-looked-after during your trip.

Pre-Trip Medical Check-ins

If you have a pre-existing condition at any age, it’s a smart idea to confirm with your doctor that you are safe to travel. Altitude, changes in weather and humidity, and changes in diet can all be hard on the body.

Additionally, if you require medications, it’s prudent to get a signed note with all medications listed. This way, you can present it to airport security or customs to keep your meds with you, especially if you are going somewhere where that medication may not be available. Your note is also helpful regarding any implants or devices that could set off security alarms.

Notes from your doctor can also help you during a medical emergency away from your primary healthcare providers. It is likewise important to ensure Medicare prescription drug coverage will allow you to get medication at your destination or to ensure that you pack enough in advance to last the duration of your trip.

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Packing

When you’re a senior, packing may take longer, as you’ll likely require more items when traveling. It can be hard to decide what to bring and what to leave when it comes to comforts, and determining needs versus wants, particularly if you experience pain, difficulty sleeping, or other conditions that are eased by the comforts of home.

When traveling, you often have to contend with weight limits for luggage. Therefore, it’s important to have a discerning eye for what you bring with you. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when packing:

  • Can I substitute this item with something smaller?
  • Will this item or something similar be available at my destination?
  • Am I willing to pay more in luggage fees to have this with me?

These questions can help you decide what is necessary to pack in your luggage or carry-on.

Other items that may be excluded from traditional packing requirements can include medical equipment, such as wheelchairs. You may want to look into durable medical equipment (DME) on Medicare when traveling because airlines have lost or damaged up to 15,425 wheelchairs or scooters since they were required to start reporting these incidents in 20183.

While airlines are completely liable for the replacement or repairs of your damaged medical equipment, this can take some time and leave people without mobility assistance in the meantime. Your DME can be harder to damage through handling, such as that by an airline, than standard-issue medical equipment.

Travel Documents

Having your travel documents is important for any trip, and depending on where you’re traveling to and for how long, you’ll need a different variety of documents. It’s important for all travelers to bring copies of important documents — not the originals — in case of loss or damage. Some documents that you may need include:

  • Vaccination record
  • Passport
  • More than one form of identification
  • Medical documents
  • Travel visa
  • Proof of income
  • Will or medical directories

Some of these documents are required by different countries to better understand why you’ll be entering the country, how long you’ll be staying, and provide proof that you have the funds to get home.

The others are simply smart to have in case of an emergency, such as your Medicare card. If you are traveling to a country where English is not the primary language, you may want translations of these documents in the official language of that country for emergencies.

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During Your Vacation

Your vacations are meant to be fun and relaxing times. To ensure that this stays true, there are ways for you to maintain your well-being and maximize your enjoyment while on vacation:

  • Practice Healthy Habits: During travel, we may indulge in more fried foods, processed sugars, and alcohol than we do at home. This can cause several problems, particularly for seniors with increased health risks. Eating healthy, practicing moderation for treats, and exercising regularly can help aid digestion, prevent blood clots, and ensure you’re feeling your best self throughout your trip.
  • Practice Device Security: Your devices, such as your phones, contain sensitive information on them, including your location, home address, and credit card information. Always remember to secure your devices when traveling to help mitigate your risks. Turning off Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth on your gadgets when you’re not using these features helps ensure that your data is protected from outside influences.
  • Know Device Risks: Many seniors may not know the risks of public amenities, such as Wi-Fi or USB chargers. Connections to these can offer hackers and other unsavory types direct access to your devices. This is why using a VPN, or avoiding open connections in public spaces, is so important. Never connect to a random USB port without knowing you can trust it.
  • Don’t Go Somewhere Without Telling Someone: Whether you let the front desk at your lodging know, or you text a friend or family member, it is generally good practice not to go places without telling someone where you will be. Though this is always important, it’s particularly important in an unfamiliar city. Not only can you get lost, but if you experience an emergency and no one knows where you are, your condition can quickly worsen.

These tips are important for travelers of all ages, not just seniors, to stay safe.

Airport Accessibility and Safety

When it comes to airport accessibility and safety, there are many options for seniors who need accommodations. For example, most airlines allow you to request assistance in advance, either for early boarding, wheelchair assistance, and other help necessary.

TSA Cares is a helpline for people with disabilities, medical conditions, or other special circumstances. They can help you when traveling with certain medications and your equipment and even assist with your passport help. They also can provide TSA notification cards for conditions that may take priority in an emergency or may require direct assistance.

Outside of the airline-provided help, there are things that you can do to make your airport experience easier:

  • Carry your medications with you on your person and not in your luggage. You may need them to show security or in case of an emergency.
  • Always arrive in enough time to get the assistance you need without feeling rushed or causing a delay.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask flight attendants for help if you need it. This can include assistance fastening or unfastening the seatbelt, standing and sitting to use the restroom, and other reasonable tasks.

Just as it’s a good idea to get a feel for the accessibility at your destination, inquiring ahead with your planned airport destinations can also help. During your trip, however, be sure to utilize the resources available for a better, safer traveling experience.

Ground Travel Safety

When traveling on the ground, both to and from your destination, you’ll want to take the proper precautions regarding your safety. Ground travel safety practices will ensure that you arrive safely to your vacation and can maximize your enjoyment throughout your trip. These ground travel safety tips are helpful for all ages, but particularly for seniors who may have different needs while traveling:

  • Look At Your Route In Advance: Knowing where you will pass is especially important if you’re using taxis or ride-share services so that you have a general idea of where you are going. This can help you avoid being overcharged for extemporaneous routes, as well as help you recognize signs of human trafficking.
  • Know Where The Nearest Hospitals Are: This is a general smart safety practice, particularly if you have a pre-existing condition. Knowing where the nearest hospital is can also provide peace of mind, especially if you start feeling unwell, which can happen when traveling to new places.
  • Plan Frequent Stops And Breaks: If you’re a senior traveler, stops and breaks are important to conserve energy and reduce the risk of overexertion. Planning activities with benches or seating areas, such as museum tours, can be a great option for senior travelers.
  • Bring A Supportive Pillow: Comfort is king, and bringing your supportive pillow, either for your hotel room or riding in a car or plane for extended periods, can help reduce strain on your joints and make you feel less tired overall during your travels. When applicable, other comforts, such as blankets, can also help seniors enjoy the ride that much more.
  • Stay Hydrated: 17% to 28% of older adults in the United States experience dehydration4, which can cause you to feel fatigued or dizzy, and ensure other unpleasant symptoms. These symptoms can worsen due to higher activity, often associated with vacation. Staying hydrated can ensure you feel more energized, improve your ability to fight off illness, and even help with sleep5.

Whether you’re traveling alone, with a companion, or in a group, these tips are especially important for seniors looking to make the most out of their safety and comfort while traveling.

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Returning Home

Once you get home from your vacation, there are a few security steps you should take for your financial safety. Checking your credit card statement to make sure there are no suspicious or unauthorized charges that took place on your trip should be one of the first things you do. During vacations, your spending is likely higher and more frequent, putting you at risk of letting small, fraudulent charges slip under the radar.

After reviewing your accounts, take a moment to change your passwords and use any “sign out of all devices” features on apps. If you’re concerned about not being able to remember frequent password changes, using a service like a password manager is a great way to make sure your devices are more protected.

Finally, run antivirus software on all your devices. This will ensure that if you are connected to any compromised Wi-Fi networks, anything that might have been transferred to your device is detected and brought to your attention. A VPN will also provide you with a protected network connection, so you don’t have to rely on public networks in hotels or coffee shops.

Additional Travel Resources

Traveling safely as a senior is all about using the resources and help available to you. If you’re planning a trip, here are some additional travel resources geared toward seniors that you may find useful:

  • Senior Travel Discounts: Certain airlines, hotels, or attractions may offer seniors discounts. These are not guaranteed, and you should read the eligibility requirements fully before booking.
  • Senior Travel Groups: Senior travel groups are designed to connect seniors with like-minded travelers to improve safety and provide companionship. Look for groups in your area to find some great opportunities.
  • ADA Complaint Line: If you experience a breach of ADA requirements while traveling, you can file an official complaint on their website. This will ensure that the place or persons are investigated by the bureau to prevent future breaches.

While many seniors experience travel anxiety for various reasons, there are several ways to confront these barriers and make travel more accessible across the board. With the right preparation, travel can be safe, comfortable, and affordable for everyone.

References

  1. Living on cruise ships is cost-effective for elderly people, National Library of Medicine. Accessed February 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC526150/
  2. Elder Fraud Report 2021, Federal Bureau of Investigation. Accessed February 2023. https://www.justice.gov/file/1523276/download
  3. Airlines have lost or damaged more than 15,000 wheelchairs since 2018. Accessed February 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2021/06/07/wheelchair-scooter-damage-airplane-flights/
  4. Adult Dehydration, National Library of Medicine. Accessed February 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555956/
  5. Adult Dehydration, National Library of Medicine. Accessed February 2023. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/the-importance-of-hydration/
  6. Travel Behavior Change in Older Travelers: Understanding Critical Reactions to Incidents Encountered in Public Transport, National Library of Medicine. Accessed February 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4661677/

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