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Many seniors look forward to spending their post-retirement years traveling the globe, enjoying adventures that they didn’t have time for when they were busy working and raising families. Yet whether affected by physical limitations, memory loss or other issues, some older travelers might need extra help, especially at the airport. A little advance preparation can deliver peace of mind and make journeys as effortless and pleasurable as possible, for senior travelers and their caregivers alike.

RELATED: 5 great reasons kids and grandparents should travel together

PRE-TRAVEL

Confirm that senior travel companions have been cleared by their doctor(s) to fly and are current on vaccines such as flu and pneumonia.

Do thorough research. Before paying for any flights, hotels, meals or entertainment, inquire about senior discounts.

Try to choose flight times that best suit your senior’s needs. Traveling on less-busy days, at less-busy times or through certain airports, may help reduce stress. Request a wheelchair or electric cart in advance, and make sure you know who to call if assistance fails to turn up.

As needed, be sure to have: a spare pair of prescription glasses/sunglasses; hearing aids/batteries; and medications in original packaging (plus an extra week’s supply). All of this should be stored in a carry-on, not checked baggage. Using a smartphone camera, photograph the senior traveler’s ID (passport, driver’s license, or state-issued identification card), prescription lens information and medications.

When booking hotel rooms, keep comfort and mobility in mind. A room near an elevator, on a ground floor or away from the street may be preferred. Wheelchair users require spacious, ADA-compliant rooms with toilet and bath/shower grab bars.

AIRPORT AND ARRIVAL

Plan to arrive at the airport at least two- to two-and-a-half hours before flight time for domestic departures (and even longer when flying to and from international airports).

The TSA currently offers some form of expedited screening for seniors (75+) and their travel companions, but TSA Pre-Check (which Orbitz Rewards Platinum members receive free) may be a more dependable way to alleviate waiting in protracted lines at participating airports. Keep medications in a separate bag for easy screening. For seniors with implants, medical devices or carrying paraphernalia such as needles, a doctor’s note or TSA disability notification card can ease getting through security. (Note: On-board baggage limits don’t apply to medical supplies, equipment, mobility aids and assistive devices; liquids in excess of 3.4 oz/100 ml are allowed. Visit www.tsa.gov for further details.)

If you are unable to pre-book an optimal seat or seats (such as an aisle seat near the toilets or front of the plane), make specific requests known to an airline agent, most of whom will do their best to accommodate a senior traveler. A gate agent can assist with pre-boarding, as needed.

Stay healthy on board: Once seated, clean surrounding hard surfaces with antibacterial wipes, and use hand sanitizer liberally while in flight. Even if they’re not physician-prescribed, compression socks enhance comfort and provide added insurance against DVT (deep vein thrombosis), a common risk for senior flyers.

Paris is a fairly senior-friendly city

Paris is a fairly senior-friendly city

Keep your senior travel companion comfortable and entertained by bringing their favorite healthy snacks or drinks, a sweater or small blanket and pillow, and a book or deck of cards. Most international flights offer complimentary special meals on request, but domestic flights may not have food appropriate for seniors with specific dietary needs, so plan accordingly.

Consider equipping seniors, particularly those with cognitive impairment, with a wearable GPS device or ID bracelet. At minimum, slip a piece of paper with your name and phone number in one of their pockets, in case you become separated.

For a variety of reasons, seniors are more likely to tire sooner, so avoid trying to pack too many activities into each day, allow for a time and place to rest or nap, and factor in plenty of restroom stops. (Sundowners Syndrome is often an issue for older travelers suffering dementia.)

TRAVELING ABROAD

Overseas travel with seniors may seem overwhelming, but many countries revere the elderly, and, thanks to excellent public transportation, some popular international destinations are even easier to navigate than comparable cities in the United States. Expert Valerie Grubb (author of Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting With Your Aging Parents Through Travel and the blog Travel With Aging Parents) recommends Paris and London as being particularly senior-friendly cities. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Passports must be valid for six months after the return date, and certain countries also require a visa to visit.

Travel insurance for seniors is costly, but can provide trip reimbursement in case of illness or be a lifesaver if a senior needs evacuation for emergency medical care.

Overseas pharmacists may not recognize U.S. medication brand names, so have your senior’s physician provide generic names for any prescription drugs.

Uneven walkways can be rough going whether on foot or in wheelchairs, so keep that in mind when planning where to stay and what to see. Even for highly mobile seniors, an extra-stable pair of shoes is a must.

Fewer international hotels have elevators than in the U.S., so book ground-floor rooms if needed. (In many countries the “first floor” is what’s known as the second floor in the U.S.)

Upgrade your smartphone to a full international roaming plan for the duration of the trip. This will allow easy navigation, immediate access to important medical information and the ability to contact emergency services anytime, anywhere. (In the E.U., “112” is the number to call in case of police, fire, or medical emergencies.)

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Ann Naumann

Ann Naumann

Ann Naumann is a writer, editor and content strategist who leads the content marketing team at A Place for Mom. Her most recent vacation was to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and she’s currently planning a trip to Bratislava, Budapest, Vienna and Prague.
Ann Naumann

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