Summer is here, and travel is back! The U.S. Travel Association estimated that we will spend $95 billion on trips this summer, very close to what we spent in 2019. About 60% of us will hit the road at least once this summer. Despite higher prices in nearly everything, at least 35% of those travelers plan to travel more this summer than last. It’s clear that we have cabin fever.
Still, the world has changed, and there are safety concerns to consider, especially for the millions of older adults who wish to travel once again. COVID-19 is still here, economic uncertainty is on the rise, and tensions are high in many essential travel locations like airports. But that doesn’t mean your summer plans should be postponed for another year. We’ve got the planning advice and preparation tips you need to safely make your travel dreams come true.
COVID in Summer 2022
We can’t wish the virus away. There are still new cases and new variants appearing in locations all around the world. The CDC reminds us that the threat of getting severely ill with COVID increases with age and certain medical conditions. According to AARP, 73% of those over 70 are concerned about the virus, but 78% consider it safe to travel.
It can be safe to travel if you keep yourself informed. The CDC travel guidance website is updated frequently. Here are a couple of the CDC’s current suggestions for domestic travel:
- The CDC continues to recommend (not require) that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings like planes and airports
- The CDC recommends getting up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccines before traveling.
- The CDC recommends testing for COVID no more than 3 days before travel.
There may be countries that the CDC recommends you avoid if you have not been vaccinated. Check that list here.
If you have more questions about travel safety and COVID, visit the CDC’s FAQ page.
What About Other Viruses?
The pandemic has made many of us fearful of other viruses like monkeypox. The CDC has issued a Level 2 Alert for monkeypox which means practice enhanced caution but not cancel travel. Monkeypox originated in African countries but has recently spread beyond the African continent. Cases of monkeypox have been reported in many countries worldwide, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Canada, France, and the United States. However, cases are rare among travelers. You can protect yourself by taking the usual precautions like washing your hands, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, and avoiding wild animals. Currently, monkeypox is not a reason to cancel your travel plans this summer.
That being said, there may be other vaccinations you should take before embarking overseas. For example, your doctor may suggest a cholera vaccination if you are going to Africa. You may need to get those vaccines up to 6 weeks before leaving. Visit the CDC’s Travelers’ Health website to learn what viruses you may encounter and ask your doctor for medical advice.
Before You Go
Whether you are boarding a plane, train, cruise, bus, or car, planning ahead for your health care and safety needs as you travel is essential. Here are some tips.
- Talk to your doctor: Your doctor is your best resource for planning a healthy trip. Discuss your travel plans and any precautions you should take. In addition, it wouldn’t hurt to get a complete physical before you leave to make sure there aren’t new health issues to consider.
- Ask advice on your medications: Medications often need to be carefully timed. If you are crossing time zones while traveling, ask your doctor whether you should take your medicines according to your home or the local time zone. Also, ask if any new foods or drinks you might consume while traveling could negatively affect your medication.
- Write it all down: Just in case, make a list of all prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and supplements you take, including the dose, what time you take the medicines, and the diagnosis these medications treat. Also, include your doctors’ contact information and medical insurance information. Place a copy of this document in your suitcase, your carry-on, and with your passport or ID.
- Other documentation to prepare: Make copies of your travel insurance, your passport ID page, your driver’s license, your emergency contact list, any travel service contracts like car rentals or hotel agreements, and your travel itinerary to keep with you at all times. Also, give a backup copy of your itinerary to family or friends back home and those you plan to visit at your destination.
The trip to your destination is often the most stressful part of your vacation. But with these simple planning tips, you should be able to sit back and enjoy the ride.
- Luggage help: Unless you are traveling very light, ask for help with your luggage. Traveling is hard on the human body, and we can quickly get tired. You can injure yourself by attempting to pick up your bag from a fast-moving airport baggage carousel or loading it into a car’s trunk. Don’t try to do it all. Ask for help when you need it.
- Gate transfers: Airline gate agents are required to help those who need assistance between connecting flight gates. Gate agents should never leave a passenger in a wheelchair unattended for more than 30 minutes. Pre-boarding assistance is available to passengers who need extra time to board an airplane. If you need help, ask the gate agent before the boarding call.
- Prevent deep-vein thrombosis (DVT): DVT occurs when blood clots form in the veins of your legs and block blood flow to your heart. Older adults are at risk of DVT when sitting still for long periods, like on a long trip. This is particularly important if you have had any surgery, like knee replacements, in your legs. Wearing compression socks can help prevent DVT. Also, getting up and walking around is essential to keep your blood flowing. You can also do leg and foot stretches while you are seated. Your doctor may also suggest taking half an aspirin on the day of your trip to thin your blood. DVT is a serious condition that can cause death, so be very careful of sitting too long when traveling.
- Carry your medications with you: The chance of losing your checked baggage is too significant to risk not keeping your medicines with you at all times. Instead, pack several days’ worth of your medications in your carry-on and keep them near you, even while you are in your seat. Keep your medications in the original bottles with the prescription labels intact. Then, if you need more, a pharmacy can easily verify the correct kind of medication and dosage.
- Avoid dehydration: The air inside planes and other enclosed vehicles can be very dry and contribute to dehydration. Bring a large bottle of water with you and drink regularly even if you do not feel thirsty. Don’t drink alcohol, soda, or coffee, which can dry you out even more.
While You Are There
- Protect yourself from getting sick: Aside from getting vaccinated against viruses, there are other simple ways to keep from getting ill while on vacation. Wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often, especially after being in a crowded vehicle and before eating. Drink only bottled water. Use common sense when choosing what to eat and drink. Don’t eat at buffets or from street vendors. Stay away from people who appear sick and wear a mask in places with little ventilation.
- Give yourself a break from jet lag: Jet lag is a real thing and can ruin your schedule. Plan to take it easy on your first day to recover from crossing time zones.
- Schedule regular rest periods: You will have a better time if you are not exhausted or feeling unwell. Rest when you feel the need.
Special Note Regarding Theft
Unfortunately, thieves and pickpockets often consider older people easy targets. However, you can stay safe with these simple suggestions:
- Keep money, credit cards, phone, and other valuables on a belt under your clothes.
- Men–if you do choose to carry your wallet, be sure it contains only essential items and put it into a front pocket, not a rear one.
- If you carry a purse, use a cross-body purse that you wear across your torso instead of hanging off your shoulder.
- Use an anti-theft bag with RFID blocking technology to help prevent electronic identity theft.
- Don’t travel at night.
- Don’t travel alone.
- Don’t wear expensive clothes or jewelry.
- Consider carrying a small amount of cash in a pocket or visible purse. Then, if confronted by a mugger, you may be able to hand that over and avoid further confrontation.
- Lock your luggage when it is out of your sight.
- Always be aware of your surroundings and who is near you.
Buy Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is often worth the investment, especially for older adults who may experience unforeseen medical issues or other reasons to cancel or interrupt a trip.
Basic travel insurance will reimburse you for a limited number of cancellation reasons. It may be a good idea to ensure your travel insurance includes Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) coverage, which is usually an optional (and expensive) upgrade. With basic travel insurance, acceptable reasons are mostly circumstances beyond your control, like transportation cancellations, weather issues, or other natural disasters. With CFAR, you have the flexibility to cancel your travel plans for almost any reason and still get back your prepaid travel expenses. This has been especially important since the pandemic started. If we experience another COVID surge and you no longer feel comfortable traveling, you can cancel your plans and get your deposits reimbursed.
If you are traveling outside of the United States, you should know that Medicare will most likely not cover any medical bills you may incur if you have an accident or get sick. You can buy travel medical insurance as a part of your trip cancellation insurance or separately. Some but not all policies will cover COVID-related medical expenses.
While counting down the days to your next summer trip, spend some time thinking ahead about those critical health and safety issues. With a bit of planning and preparation, you’ll enjoy the journey of a lifetime and come home healthy, happy, and with memories that will last forever.