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Traveling Safely

Many seniors spend their retirement years exploring faraway places or traveling closer to home to visit family and friends. If you have physical limitations or live with chronic illness, travel may be a bit more challenging, but it is still possible with a little extra planning.

Planning Considerations

Whether you are flying across the Atlantic or traveling across the state, it's important to have a well-planned itinerary. While this doesn't require having every hour tightly scheduled, it means you and your family will be prepared in case of an emergency.

Here are a few things to consider before taking any lengthy trip.

  • Check accommodations. If you suffer from a chronic condition such as arthritis or diabetes, it's helpful to make special requests of hotels and transportation companies in advance. Call hotels and ask the following questions:

    • Does the hotel have multiple floors? How many elevators? Can you book a room near an exit?
    • How close are you to tourist attractions and public transportation?
    • Is handicapped parking available?
    • Are doorknobs and faucets equipped with levers or hard-to-grasp faucets?
    • Do the bathrooms have handrails?
    • Are laundry services and room service available?
    • Does the hotel provide services and amenities, such as free transportation to airports or tourist attractions?
    • How close is the hotel to emergency services?
  • Contact airlines. Be sure the airline knows of your condition.

    • Check to see if the airline carries a defibrillator if you or someone you are traveling with has a heart condition.
    • Book non-stop flights.
    • Notify the airlines if you require extra oxygen. Due to the time required to make this accommodation, you will probably need to supply your own.
    • Request assistance inside the airport, if necessary.
  • Visit your doctor. A pre-trip check-up is wise. You can ask any last minute questions about your medications and discuss what can be done in the event of an emergency. Visit other health care providers who you consult with regularly, such as the dentist or optometrist.

    • Discuss any health concerns you have.
    • Ask any questions you may have about your prescription.
    • Ask about altering your medication schedule if significantly changing time zones.
    • Consider getting a flu vaccination and any other immunization required by an overseas trip.
  • Learn about your destination. Whether you are traveling domestically or internationally, it's important to know a little about the environment. This includes everything from weather patterns to culture.

    • Learn about the typical foods. If there aren't many that agree with your diet, consider packing snacks to supplement your meals.
    • Read about customs and manners. It will be a more pleasant experience if you know what to expect.
    • Prepare for the climate.
    • Attend a travel clinic at a local hospital. Some clinics provide information about immunizations or other region specific health concerns.
    • Make a list of all American embassies and consulates of countries you will be traveling to, if going abroad.

Medical and Health Concerns

If you have a chronic condition, maintaining your overall health and comfort is important to enjoy the trip.

  • Bring your medication in the original bottle. If your medication requires additional equipment or accessories, such as syringes, be sure to bring plenty of those as well. If you are traveling overseas, check to be sure that your medications are legal by contacting the American embassy in each country you visit.
  • Bring a list of all medications taken, the dosage, and generic drug names in case you need to replace any while on your trip.
  • Carry a written and signed note from your doctor explaining the purpose of your medications.
  • Wear a Medic Alert bracelet that informs others of your medical condition.
  • Check that medical equipment is insured for loss or theft.
  • Carry a copy of your living will and inform your fellow travelers where it's located. You may also want to bring any health directive documents with you.
  • Bring extra glasses, hearing aid batteries and denture adhesive.

Medical Insurance

If you are traveling overseas, be sure you know what medical services your health insurance provides. Medicare does not cover services outside the US, but some Medicare supplemental policies do.

If you do not have coverage, you may want to consider buying a medical assistance program for the length of your trip in case of emergency. If you do purchase additional insurance be sure that it covers not only the hospital costs but also medical evacuation to the US, which tends to be very costly. According to the US Department of State, medical evacuation can easily cost $10,000 or more depending on your location and condition.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs recommends that travelers carry both their insurance identity card and a claim form.

Emergency Situations

If you experience an emergency while abroad, contact the American Citizen Services (ACS) in the American consulate or embassy where you are traveling. The ACS can help:

  • Provide a list of doctors, dentists, hospitals, and clinics
  • Inform your family in the US if you become ill or injured while traveling
  • Help arrange transportation to the US if immediate return is necessary

Though there may be more challenges to traveling than when you were young, you don't have to let a medical condition get in the way of your travel plans. With a little preparation, you can travel safely and be assured that you know what to do in the event of an emergency.

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