Older than 55? Welcome to the age of the tiger traveler

A review on the State Department's checklist for older travelers.
(Loris Lora / For The Times)

If you’re 55 or older, you should research your trip abroad before you go. Also, you should leave copies of your itinerary, passport and contact information with a trusted person on the home front. About now, I picture you shaking your head and asking, “Of course I do these things. Do you think I am dumber than a bucket of hair?” I definitely do not. I’m not sure about the State Department, which included those suggestions on a “Checklist for Older Travelers.”

If you are a baby boomer — born between 1946 and 1964 and are or will be older than 55 within the next 422 days — this list is aimed at you.

But you are travelers so this isn’t your first rodeo, research shows.

You plan to take as many as five leisure trips this year, and you’ll spend more than $6,000 on that travel. Almost half of you plan to travel domestically and internationally, and if you’re going abroad, you like the Caribbean, Latin American and Europe as destinations.

That’s what AARP’s 2018 travel survey shows, results that are not much different from 2017, it notes.


Older travelers are not novices. No rocking chair for these folks, unless they’re the ones you find in airports that are meant for destressing.

If you can move beyond the State Department’s annoying initial underestimation of your experience, you’ll find that the list does contain substantive suggestions that are especially key for international travel. Some pertain to everyone, some only to older travelers, but all are important:

►Check your passport to be sure that it is valid for at least six months after your return. Countries are increasingly asking for that window on passports, and although your document is good for 10 years, the State Department has urged travelers to renew at the nine-year mark.

►If you are covered by Medicare at home, you probably aren’t covered overseas. You’ll want to buy a policy that includes health insurance and, for good measure, medical evacuation coverage just to be safe.

►Make sure your prescriptions (which you know to carry in their original bottles and in your carry-on, not your suitcase) are legal in the country you’ll be visiting. While reporting a recent “On the Spot” column on this topic, I learned that some countries won’t allow some common meds such as Sudafed, so be wary of that too. There’s no central place to check what is and isn’t allowed, so if you’re uncertain, contact the embassy or consulate of the country you’ll be visiting.

Under the helpful-but-not-complete category, State’s list also suggests finding out whether a place is accessible if you use assistive devices — cane, walker, wheelchair. Good idea, but how?

Beth Godlin, president of Aon Affinity Travel Practice, a U.S.-based travel insurance and protection program, offered a solution instead of a suggestion.

►If you’re staying in a hotel, check with the concierge, Godlin said. If you’re on a group tour, your leader will know or can find out about accessibility.

Having an expert with you is one of the benefits of group travel, but Godlin also reminds travelers of possible pitfalls:

►Assess the level of activity required for a group trip. A tightly packed schedule helps you see everything you want to see (and some stuff you don’t), but consider whether you need some downtime because, she said, people sometimes “underestimate the toll that foreign places will take on you,” especially, she noted, if you’re “relying on multiple forms of transportation.”

Ah, yes, that plane trip is one of those forms, and it often begins your adventure. A trip, like life itself, can feel like an endurance contest, especially if your journey starts with a long flight. Be aware that:

►You may feel groggy after hours in the air, and for this you can blame your aircraft. Many are pressurized to 8,000 feet so you may experience a bit of oxygen deprivation, said Dr. Nikhil K. Bhayani, an infectious disease specialist at Texas Health HEB.

►But don’t assume you’ll be like the walking dead, because if you’re generally healthy “your body will compensate,” he said. Even someone with a heart condition should be OK if “you’re stable and you’re on medication,” he said.

►No matter what your age, you cannot sit like a lump in your seat for the entire flight. You need to get up and move, Bhayani said, to avoid blood clots.

►Long trips often mean jet lag, which can throw you off your game, so it’s imperative that you stay clear-headed to keep track of your meds. You’ll find numerous apps that can help, but here’s the analog solution: Download the American Heart Assn./American Stroke Assn. “Medicine Chart,” which, if filled in properly, will become a trove of information with your pharmacy phone number, refill date, how often you take the medication and times to take it and what it looks like. You can print this out and, just in case, email it to yourself.

►Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol. That’s true wherever you are and whatever your age, perhaps more so on a plane where the air is dry. If the thin cabin air makes you feel dopey, you may be doubly dopey if you fail to drink. As one of my friends constantly reminds me, “Hydrate to be great,” though I’d settle for better than average.

►Take some liquid lemon with you, he said. Huh? Dehydration can cause bad breath, and he finds that lemon or lime juice, perhaps mixed with water, can cleanse the palate. Plus it will make you a better seatmate.

►Finally, here’s another nasty little side effect of flying, besides bloating and gassiness, Bhayani said: constipation. Our routines are altered, and we may tend to avoid those Tom Thumb-size aircraft bathrooms. Our bodies get confused and they rebel. Check with your doc for a remedy (besides not altering your routine and staying hydrated), which might include over-the-counter meds.

That State Department list is really a starting point, sort of like the advice your Aunt Agnes used to give you that you’d always appear to be taking in even if you already knew it.

A reminder never hurts — quickly, off the top of your head, when does your passport expire? — but those who are 55? I crown them tiger travelers. They have the right combination of age, experience and openness to keep on growing no matter where they’re going.

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