Traveling is fun and it’s supposed to be fun. You get to see new and exciting places and get to mingle with different people and cultures. But preparation is key to any successful senior travel. There are several factors you need to consider especially when you’re traveling abroad.
When deciding which country to visit, first and foremost, your security should be considered. Is the country or city safe to visit? Is there civil unrest or demonstrations in that country? Does the country experience bad weather? If so, what time of the year should be avoided?
Check out for travel alerts and warnings issued by the State Department. Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and get updated with safety and security announcements. The embassy or consulate will be able to reach you should any emergency arise.
2. Travel documents and Passport
Your passport is your golden ticket so to speak. A valid passport is required for entry and exit to most countries. It can take as long as 12 weeks to get your passport. More than likely it will only take 6 weeks but be sure to allow plenty of time in case the processing takes longer than expected. A passport is required for you to reenter the United States. Take note of the six-month passport rule when traveling since many countries will actually deny entry for passports that expire in less than 6 months from date of travel. So it’s wise to have your passport renewed at least 7-9 months prior to your passport’s expiration date.
Make at least two photocopies of your passport. Leave one copy with a trusted friend or relative at home and take the other copy with you. In case your passport gets lost, there will still be a way for you to prove your citizenship. Prudence dictates to keep your passport in your hotel room while traveling and just carry the photocopy with you instead. Many travelers have sent themselves a copy of their passport in their email. That way you will be able to access the copy if needed.
What other travel documents do you need to bring and make copies of? Plan your senior travel so it will be easy and without unnecessary complications.
- Airline ticket
- Foreign visa, if necessary
- Driver’s license
- Credit cards and money
- Confirmations for travel and hotels
3. Register with your embassy
Register with the embassy so they can keep record of your contact information. Conversely, make sure to get the contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the place you’re traveling to, which you may find here.
For senior travel this is important. In case for some reason your family has no other way of reaching you while you’re overseas, they may contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services so the State Department can contact the U.S. Consulate of your place of visit and they will try to locate you and relay the message.
Office of Overseas Citizens Services
1-888-407-4747 (office hours)
202-647-5225 (after office hours)
4. Medicine & Vaccination
While security is paramount during travel, your health is just as crucial. You need to ensure that your health is always in check while traveling overseas. This is even more important if you are managing certain chronic health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
Here are a few tips:
- Get the proper vaccinations needed. Some countries may require you to carry an International Certificate of Vaccination (Yellow Card) or other proof that you have undergone certain medical tests before they permit you to enter their country so be sure to check with the embassy of the country you’re visiting.
- Don’t know what vaccinations are necessary? Check out the U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for vaccination recommendations and travel health precautions in these countries.
- Pack enough prescription medications that will last your entire trip and bring a few more extra in case your trip takes longer than intended.
- Ask your physician for the equivalent generic name of your medications in case you need to purchase them overseas. Also, request a letter from your physician regarding your medications because some countries have stringent restrictions on bringing medications to their country without proper documents.
- Bring over-the-counter medications such as Advil or Imodium so you have them ready whenever the need arises. Sure there are drugstores everywhere but your bag is definitely more accessible.
- Check with your insurance provider whether your policy covers emergencies overseas. (Otherwise consider getting supplemental insurance so extra coverage can be added or a short-term policy that includes coverage overseas). Note that Social Security and Medicare do not provide any coverage overseas.
- Medications should go to your carry-on bag and not your luggage.
Wise tip: For those managing medical conditions, make a medical information card that includes pertinent information like your medical history, current treatments, current medications, and your doctor’s contact information. Write these down on a small piece of paper or index card and have it laminated.
5. Use of Cash
While you prefer to always use your credit card, not every place or establishment you go to may take credit cards so always carry cash with you.
First off, do your research and check out the exchange rate so you would have a pretty good idea of what your dollar is worth to the country you’re going. This way you won’t get taken advantage of by money exchange centers that turn out to be total rip-offs. Better yet, get cash from the ATM or the bank since they will have reasonable and accurate conversion rates. If you are not comfortable with carrying huge amounts of cash (in fact, this is not advisable), use traveler’s checks.
6. Use of Credit Cards
Some questions you need to answer:
Does your credit card work in the country you’re visiting?
In Europe particularly, most of the banks have already transitioned from magnetic strip cards to chip and PIN technology. In the US most credit cards have changed to this technology but check first to be certain.
Have you called your bank or credit card provider?
Call your credit card company before you leave and inform them when & where you will be traveling. Their security measures are sophisticated but they could cancel your card if they suspect it as a fraudulent transaction.
Also be aware that some credit cards will charge a foreign transaction fee. Call and see if your credit card company charges this fee. If so, apply for and obtain a card that does not charge this fee. Fidelity Investments is one company that will not charge an ATM fee at all. You will be charged the fee but then they simply reimburse it to you. There are others so it is always advisable to call and find out first.
7. Do your research.
You can’t just jump into the water without knowing how deep it is. You need to learn some basic information about the country you’re going to. Get to know a little bit about their culture and a few basic words in their language. Become familiar with their laws because some things that are legal in the U.S. may be illegal in other countries. Ignorance of the law excuses no one. Better to be prepared.
Research events that might be occurring during your stay so you don’t miss out on the fun happenings. After arrival, writte down your hotel address and somehow familiarize yourself with a few landmarks within the area to make it easier to know the location of your hotel.
Plan your trip ahead and make your itinerary so you don’t waste time, effort, and money. List down the different tourist attractions and places you plan on visiting.
Prepare these items to avoid getting lost. That would not make for a happy travel experience:
- Local maps or guidebooks
- Travel apps
- Google Map – since you need internet connection to do this, just access this at the hotel room while you have internet and then take screenshots of the maps so you can later refer to them once you’re out.
Do you have mobility issues?
If you find it difficult to take long walks, find out your different options for transportation, whether you decide to take local transport vehicles or rent a car.
Yo also need to bring your chargers and power converters for your electronic devices such as phones, cameras, and laptops. Find out if you will need to bring your own charger adapter since different countries have different size plugs and voltages.
If you don’t have an international calling and data plan, be sure to turn off your international data roaming otherwise you will get charged for it – big time. Call your mobile phone provider to find out. Often is is useful to bring an unlocked mobile phone with you. In most countries you can purchase a sim card for your phone needs. But check that you can put one in your phone before leaving.
9. Luggage and packing
- Travel light. Only bring clothes you need and be sure to pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag.
- Check with your airlines as to your baggage allowance and the dimensions allowed for carry-on luggage.
- Most airlines will charge for bags and you do not want any financial surprises.
- Pack in snacks in your carry on luggage for just in case.
- Provide locks on your bag to keep your luggage secured.
- Place your travel documents in your carry-on luggage.
10. Just have fun!
Regardless of where you are going, how you are going to get there, and what time of year you are traveling, the most important thing you need to keep in mind is to just have fun! Don’t stress out on certain things especially those you have no control of. When things don’t happen the way you had it planned, just go with the flow and enjoy each moment of your trip. That’s actually what makes your experience even more memorable.
Do you have other travel tips to share? What do you think should be the most important thing you need to do or bring before traveling overseas?