Traveling abroad can be the adventure of a lifetime. You'll enjoy your trip more if you take the time to plan ahead and deal with paperwork well before your departure date.
Here are some useful tips for seniors traveling abroad:
Obtain or Update Travel Documents
Locate your passport, if you have one, and determine which other travel documents you will need for your trip. Keep in mind that many countries require that your passport be valid for one, three or even six months beyond the date of your arrival. If you need a new passport, submit your application at least two months before your trip begins.
Some countries require travel visas, obtainable from their embassy or consulate, as well as valid passports. If you plan to rent a car abroad, find out whether you will need to acquire an International Driving Permit.
Purchase Travel Insurance
Find out whether your health insurance policy will cover you in other countries. Medicare will not, so you will need to buy travel medical insurance if Medicare is your sole health insurance provider. You may wish to consider other types of travel insurance, such as Cancel For Any Reason, Trip Delay, Medical Evacuation or Trip Cancellation coverage. Be sure to read the entire policy before you buy, paying particular attention to exclusions.
Prep Your Mobility Aids
If you use a wheelchair, walker or scooter and are flying to your embarkation port, be sure you can easily place all assembly tools, baskets and bags on the x-ray machine belt. Be prepared to fold up your walker and put it through the x-ray machine; if the walker is too large, it will be screened manually instead. Canes, too, must be x-rayed, unless they are the white plastic collapsible variety.
Review Medical Conditions and Immunizations
Schedule an appointment with your doctor at least one month before your trip. Tell your doctor where you are going and ask about required and recommended immunizations. Make sure your prescriptions are up to date and obtain a written, signed prescription form for each. Should your medications be lost or stolen, having these prescription forms in hand will make replacing your medicines easier.
If you use medical oxygen and are flying to your destination, you will need to work with your doctor to document your need for portable oxygen concentrators during your flight. Some airlines require that you use a special form, signed by your doctor, while others ask for a doctor's statement on official letterhead. Cruise lines, too, have special requirements for oxygen use. Contact your airline and/or cruise line well in advance so that you can comply with their policies.
Consider the Terrain
Once you've decided where you'd like to go, find out what the streets, sidewalks and pathways are like. Pompeii's rutted paving stones challenge even the most confident walkers, for example, and big-city sidewalks can be hard on plantar fasciitis sufferers. Pack at least one pair of comfortable walking shoes that can get wet. If you know you'll be walking on cobblestones or gravel pathways, be sure your shoes are functional rather than fashionable.
Decide Which Travel Money You Will Use
Travelers checks still exist, but you'll save lots of time if you leave them behind and use a debit card to get cash from local automated teller machines (ATMs). Bring a credit card, preferably a Chip and PIN card, as backup and for deposits on rental cars and hotel rooms. Before your trip begins, contact your bank(s) and credit card company(ies) to let them know that you will be out of the country; otherwise, you may discover that a hold has been placed on your card(s). To minimize pickpocketing risk, put your cash, credit cards and debit cards into a money belt or pouch and wear it.
Organize Medications and Medical Supplies
Even if you usually use a pill organizer, plan to bring your original, labeled prescription bottles and boxes with you. Be sure you have enough of each medication to last a few days beyond the end of your trip in case your return flight is canceled or another difficulty arises. Keep your medications in their original containers until you clear customs and immigration; set up your pill organizer when you get to your hotel or cruise ship stateroom.
Overcome Language Barriers
You don't need to spend months studying another language, but you'll have a better travel experience if you learn a few polite words, such as, "Hello," "Goodbye," "Please," "Thank you," "May I," "I would like," "Where is," "I'm sorry," and the words for restroom, hotel, hospital, pharmacy and any food you cannot eat. Use a foreign language dictionary, Google Translate, an app or a phrase book to find the words you'll need to use on your trip.
Check Power Converters and Adapters
Whether you're traveling with a camera, laptop, tablet, mobile phone or oxygen concentrator, you'll want to be able to charge your devices each night. Look at the power requirements on each label; if you see "Input 100 – 240V, 50 – 60 Hz." or something similar, that device is already dual voltage and you should not plug it into a voltage converter. Instead, you'll need a plug adapter.
Consider buying a dual voltage hair dryer if you need to use one every day.
Learn About Tipping Customs
In the United States, servers expect generous tips because their hourly wages are extremely low. It is customary to tip 15 to 20 percent of your restaurant bill. However, this is not the case in many other countries. To avoid over-tipping, read up on tipping policies and practicalities in your destination country before your trip begins.