Travel Tips - Part 1

By Darryl Wilson

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After years of hard work, retirement can bring the well deserved life of leisure we've long desired.

Some choose to spend more time with their families or pursue a personal interest. Others choose to become globe trotters. Either way, traveling is very popular among seniors, whether it is a trip to Winnipeg to visit the grandchildren, an educational tour of Europe, or a leisurely cruise of the South Pacific.

It is also an activity that can come with some risk, especially where health and safety is concerned.

In this edition, we'll begin a three-part series on the important things you need to know to ensure your health and safety while traveling abroad.

In PART ONE, we examine everything that should be done prior to a trip, from pre-trip planning to packing your suitcase.


Pre-trip planning can be one of the most exciting parts of the whole travel experience. The number of places to visit and options to consider are always endless.

Your travel agent is the best place to make a start. They can help guide you through the planning process from start to finish and offer some good suggestions.

Many tour operators specialize in accommodating the needs of traveling seniors. They offer hassle-free, fully packaged tours that can even include such added niceties as home pick-up. From the moment you step out your front door to the time you return, every detail is taken care of. All you have to do is enjoy yourself.

Not all tour companies are equal, however. "All-inclusive" to one company may mean something different to another. Check around with several tour operators and compare their services item by item to ensure you are truly getting what you expect. Check out things like admission costs, tipping and taxes. Some tour companies include this in their package, others don't.

Ask your travel agent about the medical facilities in the areas you will be visiting. Are the facilities adequate and the services able to meet your needs if necessary?

Traveling in a group can be ideal for many people. Not only does it provide ready-made social opportunities but it can also provide an added level of security. Someone is always around to look out for you.

If you are an independent traveler and choose to make your own travel plans, notify your air carrier at the time of booking of any special needs, such as wheelchairs, guide dogs, seating or special dietary requirements. By taking care of these things in advance, your flight will be hassle-free.

Children interested in the welfare of their widowed parent will often try to get them to travel as a way to start meeting people again. This can be a huge change for them but a lot of anxiety can be alleviated by traveling with a group where a representative from the tour company is available to take care of any needs that arise.

Whether you are traveling alone or with a tour, purchasing a guide book in advance can help you learn more about your destination and will often advise you on any related health or safety issues. It can also help you research important factors such as climate, language and culture.


Some countries have a reciprocal health care agreement with other countries, which means emergency care is available. Non-emergency health care is only offered if delaying medical attention until returning home is unreasonable.

Check with Medicare for an up-to-date list of countries participating in reciprocal health care agreements.

Regardless of whether a reciprocal health care agreement is in place or not, it is always recommended you purchase travel health insurance.


Make an appointment to see your doctor for a complete medical check-up. This is especially important if you have coronary heart disease, hypertension or any other chronic condition, or if you have recently undergone surgery or experienced a heart attack.

It is also important to visit your dentist for a check-up, as well as any other health care providers you consult with on a regular basis, such as your optometrist.

While with these professionals, discuss any particular health concerns you may have, such as dietary changes and the impact of different eating habits on your specific condition. People with diabetes will need medical advice on how to safely stagger their medications to fit the different time zone.

Also consider having your flu and pneumonia vaccinations before you go on your trip. If you intend to travel to areas where infectious diseases are present, make sure you are fully vaccinated.


It is not uncommon for seniors to be traveling with medication. Here are some suggestions for those who need to bring medication with them.

- Some medications that are legal in Canada may be prohibited overseas. Contact the Canadian embassies in the countries you intend visiting to check.

- Some drugs may not be available overseas. Take enough regular medication with you to last the entire trip. Consider taking a little extra along just in case you are delayed for some unexpected reason.

- Consider a written and signed note from your doctor explaining the purpose of your medications. This is especially important if you are taking large amounts of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medication with you.

- If you are taking large amounts of over-the-counter medication with you, you should take a letter of explanation from your pharmacist.

- If the medication you regularly take requires syringes (such as insulin-dependent diabetes), take enough syringes to last the trip.

- When overseas, wear a bracelet or pendant that contains your medical details to inform others of your medical condition in case you need urgent help. Your doctor should be able to advise you about the options available.

- If you buy medications overseas, remember that the dosages may be different to the brands you are familiar with.

Make sure your carry-on bag contains everything you will need for the duration of the flight. Include a medical kit containing items such as regular medications, painkillers, antacids and band-aids; this will make your in-flight more comfortable and, if your luggage happens to get lost, you will have some of your most crucial items with you.

It might be a good idea to take along a pillbox with compartments for different days of the week. Being away from home and your usual routine could make you more likely to forget to take your medication.

Don't forget to pack a spare pair of glasses; they may come in handy.

Most importantly, use a suitcase with wheels. A strained back can ruin a whole trip!

In PART TWO we will explore how to ensure your comfort on-board the plane, as well as how to take care of yourself and keep safe while on your vacation.

Happy and safe travels!


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