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Travel Sleuth - Be A Savvy Senior Traveller
(2015 - Winter Issue)

Writer: Jane Stokes

There is no better time than the golden years to explore the world around us.

By combining decades of knowledge with real-time journeys, our participation, observations and interactions with people far from home may never be more enriching. Travelling when we’re older and wiser, however, often requires a specific level of comfort, value and cultural exchange. For example, when travelling to an exotic country for the first time, it’s smart to investigate exactly how exotic it is compared to home. Or, a repeat visit to a favourite place in the U.S., Mexico or the Caribbean may have to be revised to match our new needs. Even trips to familiar Canadian destinations could unveil a few surprises.

So for senior travellers specifically, here’s a checklist to ensure a better understanding of potential issues.


All travellers should assess their personal health needs and research the conditions and medical facilities available at their destination. Securing supplementary medical insurance to cover the costs of a sudden health emergency is essential. And, savvy seniors also take these extra steps before departure:

•          Get a medical and dental checkup to guard against surprises. Add inoculations if needed.

•          Pack sufficient medications for the duration, plus a few days.

•          Make a list of personal health requirements, including exact drug names (and their generic names); any allergies or conditions; and phone numbers for your doctors and the  insurance help line. Make copies and keep one in your wallet or purse for quick access.

•          Verify your insurance covers pre-existing medical conditions and ask questions if the terms are unclear.

•          Assess the transportation mode to ensure your well-being: legroom for air travel, back support for car comfort, washroom facilities on coach tours, and the rigours of cruise excursions. 


Undoing mistakes or making quick changes may have been a breeze in your youth, but they could be stressful now. Consider these tips:

•          Buy luggage with wheels and use elevators.

•          Book non-stop flights to minimize airport demands. If connections are necessary, ensure at least 90 minutes between flights.

•          Inquire about the aircraft and seat configuration.

•          Consult a travel agent to help you. Using an experienced advisor gives you some-one to call should anything go awry.


At home, it’s easy to joke about our senior moments and physical limitations, but such things may loom large on the road. Some special needs (wheelchair, guide dog or portable oxygen) are obvious, however others need thoughtful planning:

•          Reconfirm your requests before you leave home. For example, if accessibility is an issue, reconfirm the presence of ramps, elevators, room fixtures, bathroom bars and more.

•          Envision the demands for each day and activity. An airport or train station, for example, may require strenuous walking and carting of luggage. Porters are a good solution so keep ready cash on hand. 

•          Be realistic. You may not be able to participate in some tour activities, but if you anticipate it, your guide may suggest an attractive alternative. 


The needs of a travelling partner may impact on any plan. Or perhaps you have no one to accompany you. Options exist:

•          Join a club like the Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA), which is an authoritative guide for travel tips.

•          Travel with companies that specialize in the needs of seniors such as GoAheadTours.ca.

•          Research companion-finding websites such as triptogether.com or travbuddy.com.

•          Select adult-only hotels and resorts where there may be other solo guests.


There is safety in numbers so travel with a coach company, cruise line or tour group—and add these security measures as well:

•          Lock travel documents and cash in the hotel room safe or in a secure travel bag.

•          List the key identity numbers for passports, tickets, health insurance and credit cards. Keep a copy in each bag.

•          Leave expensive jewellery at home.

•          Be aware of pickpockets targeting travellers, particularly older people.

•          Avoid motel rooms with doors that open onto a parking lot or street.

•          Drink bottled mineral water. Be sure food has been refrigerated and/or cooked sufficiently. Avoid street vendor food.

•          Carry the phone number of the Canadian embassy or consulate in your wallet, as well as personal emergency phone numbers.

Educational Value

If your main purpose is to learn as much about the world as possible, identify the best opportunities to tap into your special interests:

•          Research cruise lines for special themes, tours and lectures.

•          Select a tour operator that specializes in learning opportunities, such as Road Scholar and ElderTreks.

Costs and Money Management

Always inquire about senior discounts, especially once you turn 65. A good travel agent is a prime source for value deals everywhere. Consider these money management tips:

•          Purchase travel cancellation insurance. Be sure you understand all terms so you are clear on the exact coverage.

•          Join senior-interest clubs such as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) whose member benefits include travel discounts.

•          Travel during low-season if weather is not a factor. Be aware, however, some attractions are high-season only.

•          Use bank machines and credit cards for daily incidentals. Don’t carry more cash than you need. Keep small change in a front pocket for easy access. 

•          Think about the Canadian dollar exchange rate if making a sizeable foreign purchase and brush up in advance on Canadian customs allowances.

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