Travel Tips for Seniors

by Paul Konrardy

If you or your traveling companion are over 50 and planning a trip, here are some strategies for making your journey safe and comfortable.

WHN TIP – Check Health Notices: Going out of the country? Then check the CDC’s Travel Health Notices page to learn about current health issues related to specific international destinations.

Plan Ahead

Be sure you or your senior traveler is cleared for travel, especially if there’s been a recent health problem or surgery. Explain the mode of travel you’ll be taking and the length of the journey and ask for any recommendations or precautions to make the trip safer from a health standpoint.

Review each stage of the trip and consider what special services or accommodations you may need. Whatever mode of transportation you’re using and wherever you’ll be staying, make sure that the provider can accommodate any special equipment or assistance you may need. Don’t wait until you arrive to find out they can’t.

Consider a tour or cruise that offer special services or plans for those with special needs and disabilities or for the older population.

Need help planning your trip? Visit the Opening Door, Inc. website for accurate travel information for persons with disabilities. Click on Travel Agents & Tour Operators for a list of tour operators and agents that specialize in meeting the needs of disabled or mature travelers.

General Safety Tips

Be sure that each of you has a list of other members of the travel party including full name and contact information with cell phone number, in case you are separated or there is an emergency. Consider using a lanyard with all the information printed and folded to fit inside the holder.

Just in case, check the hospitals in the area where you’ll be staying against those listed on your health insurance. When you check in, ask the desk clerk for the phone number and location of the nearest pharmacy, preferably one with late or 24-hour service and delivery service.

Travel insurance is a must-have. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends considering purchasing the following types:

  • Trip Cancellation Insurance — covers your financial investment in your trip, such as flights, cruises, or train tickets. Carefully examine the policy to make sure that it covers what you need it to cover, including cancellation if you or a close family member gets sick. Depending on the policy, trip cancellation insurance might not cover any medical care you need overseas, so you may need a separate travel health insurance policy.
  • Travel Health Insurance — covers medical care or hospitalization overseas. Check your current health insurance to find out if it covers emergencies that happen abroad or has exclusions, such as for pre-existing conditions or adventure activities. If your health insurance coverage is not adequate, consider buying a short-term supplemental policy. Look for a policy that will make payments to hospitals directly.
  • Medical Evacuation Insurance — pays for emergency transportation from a remote or poor area to a high-quality hospital. Make sure that the policy provides a 24-hour physician support center.

More information is available here. Need a provider? The following list from the CDC is a good starting point:

Be sure to have an updated medical information sheet and health contact list, bring a hard copy or store in your phone. AARP has a free downloadable My Personal Medication Record pdf in English and Spanish. Have all members of your party complete their own forms.

Make at least two photocopy sets of the passport, driver’s license, Medicare and insurance cards, travel tickets and itinerary, boarding pass (if secured in advance online), plus any physician prescriptions and/or statements. Keep one set in the carry-on bag and a second left at home with a friend or family member.

Health and Wellness Tips

Transport all your medications in their original containers and pack them in your carry-on—not your checked bag. Carry copies of your prescriptions. Bring extra doses in case your flight home is delayed.

Carrying medication that needs to be kept chilled or requires needles or other devices for administration? Carry a letter from your doctor for back up in case of questions.

Trip Tips


Choosing a direct non-stop flight versus one that involves plane changes is a better choice, even if the cost is a little higher. Having multiple legs to your journey raises the risk that, if one flight is delayed, you’ll miss the next one, leaving you stuck in the terminal.

Using a wheelchair at the airport can make navigating through a crowded terminal easier and faster, especially if each member of the party also has carry-ons. Wheelchair travelers also generally get to the head of the boarding line. Just be sure to book the wheelchair when you’re making your reservation.

Request an aisle seat or first class or business seating for more legroom and easier access to the bathroom.

If you use a portable oxygen device or other types of medical equipment, make sure you clear it with the airline. According to the TSA, not all airlines allow the use of portable oxygen concentrators.  Also, check with the manufacturer to determine whether the oxygen concentrator is approved for in-flight use.

Knee or hip implants, pacemakers, metal pins or other medical conditions that prohibit sensor screening? Carry a physician’s statement detailing the condition and alert security personnel about the situation so they can do a wand screening.

Riding the rails?

Amtrak provides wheeled mobility device space and mobility lifts at train platforms. Amtrak offers a 10% discount for persons traveling with a passenger with a disability (companion fare). Those designated as companions must be 18 years of age or older. More information is available at Amtrak’s Accessible Travel Services site.


If the open seas are more to your liking, here are a few things to make sure it’s all smooth sailing. Guide for Seniors cautions that while a cruise line may comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), it may not have the utmost convenience to passengers with disabilities. Know what you need and confirm that your room and the ship itself can meet your specific requirements. (How to Choose a Senior Cruise has useful information on types of cabins and suites.)

AgingCare suggests starting with a shorter cruise (3 or 4 days) for cruise newbies and when booking, notify the cruise line that a person with special needs or with moderate disabilities will be aboard. Most ships have accessible staterooms featuring wider doors, roll-in showers and grab bars. Also, ask about priority boarding and disembarkation as well as the availability of extra assistance during those times.

Some cruise lines provide tracking devices. Given the size of the most cruise ships and the fact that one corridor looks much like another, it can help find a missing senior while allowing everyone a certain amount of freedom and peace of mind. (More advice at Taking a Cruise with an Elderly Person.)

Want to go ashore? CruiseCritic points out that very few shore excursions are wheelchair accessible, while port access is often done via a tender, a small boat that transports passengers from the cruise ship to the pier area. If you or your senior traveler uses a wheelchair, check with the cruise line re accessible tendering. (More tips at 7 Top Cruise Tips for Senior Travelers.)

Be sure to ask about special rates for seniors 55 and older, advises Carnival Cruise Line in Top 10 Tips for Cruising With a Senior or Grandparent.

Accommodations Tips

Reserving a room at a hotel or bed-and-breakfast? When booking your room, let them know if you have specific needs, such as a walk-in or handicap-accessible shower or a ground floor room or elevator access to upper floors.

If you (or your senior traveler) need frequent snacks or have medication that needs to be refrigerated, it might be worth it to pay extra for an in-room refrigerator—especially when you weigh the cost of room service or the inconvenience of having to dress just for a quick trip to the dining room.

Lock your meds in your suitcase or request a room with a safe where you can store drugs that may have a high street value. Don’t carry them with you when you sightsee—if you are targeted by a thief, you’ll lose all of them.

To avoid unauthorized “visitors” to your room, skip placing the “clean my room” sign on your door and instead, stop at the desk when you’re leaving and ask that your room be cleaned. This way, you aren’t advertising that your room is empty, save for your belongings. (More safety tips in 7 Safety Tips for Senior Travelers.)

Sightseeing Safety Tips

While one of the joys of traveling is to have new experiences, you also want to be smart and be safe. Whether you’re traveling in the States or overseas, you want to be cautious and careful when you’re in unfamiliar places.

Find out what modes of transportation are available and whether they stop running at specified times.

When you sightsee, leave your information in your suitcase in your room and just bring your identification and insurance cards, plus a credit card and traveler’s checks. Don’t bring everything with you in case you fall victim to a pickpocket.

Carry the full address of your hotel and the phone number in case you need to contact them or get lost while taking in the sights. You can also make the hotel one of your ICE contacts on your cell phone. Just make sure you have the local number, not the 800 reservation line.

Ask the hotel desk manager or concierge if there are certain areas where you shouldn’t venture as well as the must-see places you should visit. It’s also a good idea if you’re traveling alone to let the manager know where you are going and when you are returning, as well as providing your cell number and emergency contact person.

Pay attention to those around you. Don’t be so engrossed in the landmarks that you don’t notice the pickpocket sidling up behind you.

Dress for comfort and take frequent breaks. Even if you (or your senior traveler) are in great condition, chances are the trip involves more physical activity than you may be used to. Wear comfortable supportive shoes, bring a sweater or shawl for chilly air-conditioned rooms and pack a bottle or two of water.

Scope out restroom locations before you need them. Some restaurants or shops reserve them only for customers. Again, the concierge or desk clerk might be able to give you some tips on where to go when you have to go.

Believe it or not, there is an app for that! Check out How to Find a Public Restroom

For More Information

Rick Steves’ Savvy Senior Travelers
The site is full of great advice for having a safe and comfortable European vacation, regardless of your age!

A Place for Mom’s 7 Tips for Safe Travel with Seniors
The site offers tips to help make your travel exploration a good experience.

Trip Savvy’s Should I Take Cash, a Debit Card or a Credit Card on My Trip?
This article reviews the pros and cons of traveling with cash, credit and debit cards, travelers checks, and prepaid travel cards.

Photo Credit: William Hager

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