By Sheryl Smolkin
For many seniors, no longer having time constraints on when or how long they travel can travel for is a very big bonus of being retired. And winter is a prime period for travelling snowbirds who want to get away from the frigid weather in most parts of Canada. A few weeks or more in Florida or Arizona are typical destinations for many older Canadians. But others seeking more adventurous and less costly vacations are planning to visit a myriad of more exotic locations like Ecuador, Uruguay, Panama, Mexico, Malaysia and Thailand.
Whether you are planning to travel across the continent or around the world, the 10 safety tips below will help to ensure you get to your destination and back without any unnecessary delays or nasty surprises.
- Check your visa: Find out if you need a visa, how to get it and how long it is good for. When my husband and I planned a trip to Russia and Ukraine with a synagogue group, I didn’t carefully check the dates when I picked up our visas. We were planning to travel in May and the date on my visa was correct, but my husband’s said March. We could not get on the plane to Moscow from our stop-over in Munich and the problem couldn’t be fixed, so we lost a week’s vacation and thousands of dollars. Visa problems are not covered by trip interruption insurance.
- Credit cards: Take several credit cards and keep them in different places so you have backup if your card or your wallet is stolen. Make sure to call your bank and credit card companies before you leave. Otherwise if they see an unusual spending pattern on your card, it may be refused. Also take photocopies of your cards and record the telephone numbers you have to call if they are lost or stolen so you can move quickly if necessary.
- Travel insurance: Review any travel insurance you have on credit cards, through work or other groups to ensure it covers the duration of your trip and the kinds of activities you are planning. Otherwise you may need additional coverage. Complete all medical information accurately or coverage may be denied. Understand the “pre-existing conditions” exemptions under the policy.
- Pack light: This is definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” I always take far too much! The ideal of course, is to take one small bag so you don’t have to spend hours waiting for checked baggage or risk that your bags don’t arrive when you do. Also if you have large heavy bags you are much less mobile and you run a greater risk of straining muscles or falling.
- Check with your doctor: Schedule a doctor’s appointment before you leave. Renew your prescriptions for the length of time you will be away and pack them in the original container. Take enough for a few days in your carry-on luggage in case your bags are lost. Ask if you need any additional vaccinations before you go. Depending on your destination, your doctor may refer you to a travel clinic.
- Avoid pick pockets: Be really alert and aware of your purse or wallet at all times. Ideally women should wear a cross-body purse that cannot be snatched off your shoulder. Men, do not put your wallet in your back pocket. Travel clothing has lots of hidden pockets with velcro flaps where you can safely hide your valuables. Don’t ever put your wallet down on a counter and take your eyes off it when you are making a purchase.
- Other valuables: Leave your diamond rings and other flashy, expensive jewelry at home. I feel really peculiar without a wedding ring and there are often formal nights on cruises so I bought some glitzy fakes that I travel with instead. But thieves often don’t know the difference so don’t wear anything too sparkly in dangerous areas. And always use the safe in your room for extra cash, credit cards, your passports and small electronics.
- Ask for special services: Airports are vast and travelers typically have to walk very long distances to get from the entrance to check-in, through security and then to the gates. Ask for wheelchair service if you need it. If the airline provides the service there is typically no charge.
- Be realistic: If you haven’t skied in 30 years, don’t plan a vacation skiing in the Alps. Unless you are an experienced scuba diver and you are in excellent health, age 80 is probably not a good time to do a deep dive on the Great Barrier Reef. A bus trip to 15 cities in 20 days will leave you exhausted and the only thing you will remember about your holiday is the pictures.
- Leave contact information: Make sure family members have a copy of your itinerary and telephone numbers for your hotels, tour operators etc. who can reach you. These days the texting, data and calling features of your smart phone can be activated all over the world, but unless you get a roaming package before you leave or buy a local SIM card for your unlocked phone, it can be very expensive. While you may want to “get off the grid” and turn off your electronics, there are definite advantages to having connectivity in a health or travel emergency.