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Travel Safety Tips for Older Adults

February 14, 2023
Older woman taking photo of scenery

Travelling as an older adult can provide enormous benefits including the chance to stay physically active, mentally stimulated and socially engaged. For many healthy seniors, travel is an opportunity that is now available to them after years spent raising children, working long hours or navigating high living expenses. If you plan on travelling outside of Canada, there are some important travel safety tips for older adults to follow.

Although you should never feel limited by your age, travelling in your later years can come with added challenges and risks, especially if you live with a chronic health condition or mobility difficulties. Read on for the recommendations and precautions you should take before you leave and some others that will depend on your destination and the activities you have planned.

Talk to Your Doctor

Approximately six weeks before your vacation, visit your doctor to share your travel plans and discuss any concerns. Your healthcare provider will review your immunization history to make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccinations. They may also suggest other vaccines or preventative medications specific to your destination. It is also usually recommended that your COVID-19 booster vaccine doses are up-to-date and that you have had your seasonal flu shot to reduce your risk of infection when travelling.

If you take daily medications and will be crossing time zones, ask your doctor whether dosing should remain on home time or switch to the time in your destination. Your doctor can also flag other potential medication concerns including added sensitivity to heat or ultraviolet (UV) rays or if certain foods unique to your destination could cause interactions. This is also a great opportunity to ask your doctor to write down your prescriptions, dosage details and any important information about your health if you require medical attention while you’re away.

Research Insurance Options

Travel insurance is always important for people of any age leaving the country, but the right coverage is essential for older adults who may be more at risk of injury or illness. If you have an existing policy, or rely on travel insurance through your credit card, make sure that all household travellers are protected.

Your policy should also include, any pre-existing medical conditions, medical evacuation to Canada or the nearest place with appropriate medical care and death due to an accident or sudden illness. You can also add coverage for non-medical expenses like lost luggage, cancelled flights or trip interruption due to illness.

Copy and Store  

As part of your trip preparation, make copies of all important documents in case they are lost. This should include your passport, driver’s licence, prescriptions, accommodation and transportation arrangements and your travel insurance policy. Pack physical copies in your carry-on bag for anything that isn’t a security concern, and otherwise, upload password-protected copies to a secure email address or to a file-sharing service like Dropbox. Share the link and details with a family member or friend at home for added protection.

Be Cautious with Prescriptions

Some medications that are legal in Canada may be illegal in your destination. If you are unsure, contact the Canadian office in the country you are visiting to make sure that all of your medications are allowed.

Do not attempt to save space by combining your medications into a single container. Instead, pack your prescriptions in your carry-on and in their original, labelled containers. Add a few extra doses to prepare for any potential travel delays. If you use needles or syringes to administer your medication, these can go in your carry-on, but some countries may require a medical note to verify their use. Liquid prescriptions are exempt from any volume restrictions, but should be separated and accessible so you can easily show them when you’re going through security.

Declare Medical Devices and Equipment

Medical supplies, equipment and mobility aids are not subject to general airline carry-on limits. If you need to check a mobility device at the gate at the airport or require assistance to move through boarding or screening, connect with the airline ahead of time to make these arrangements. Select the family or special assistance line if you have a medical implant like a pacemaker, artificial limb or mobility aid to be screened by security agents who are trained appropriately.

Eat and Drink Safely

Depending on your destination, there are many illnesses that can be caused by contaminated food or beverages. For older adults with an underlying medical condition, complications from travellers’ diarrhea can be serious.

To reduce your chance of getting sick, the Canadian Government recommends that you follow their ‘boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it’ recommendations. This includes avoiding room temperature food, raw or undercooked meat and fish and unpeeled vegetables and fruits. If water quality is a concern, brush your teeth with bottled water and avoid swallowing any water in the shower.

Other Travel Safety Tips

  • Older adults, especially those living with cancer or congestive heart failure, are more prone to blood clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). To reduce your risk, get up and walk around during any air travel, wear compression stockings, or take other preventative measures as directed by your doctor.
  • If you take multiple medications, consider packing a pillbox with compartments for each day of the week. Being out of your usual routine and away from home can make you more susceptible to medication or dosage mistakes.
  • Travel with a well-stocked first aid kit which includes: adhesive bandages, blister pads, antiseptic wound cleanser, oral rehydration salts, tensor bandages, tweezers and a thermometer, as well as allergy, nausea and pain medications.
  • Driving hazards in your destination may include: driving on the other side of the road, challenging or busy routes, deteriorated road surfaces or an unfamiliar rental vehicle. If this is the case, you may want to consider other transportation options.
  • Older adults are often more likely to carry cash and wear valuable jewellery than younger travellers. To avoid being targeted by thieves, wear a money belt, don’t carry valuables in your pockets or purse, lock up items in your room and leave jewellery and other expensive items at home.
  • Email a copy of your travel itinerary to family and friends back home, check in regularly and keep a cell phone on you at all times.

If you need assistance while you’re abroad, contact the nearest Canadian Embassy or Consulate, or the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.

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