Travel Tips for Seniors

Those who travel light, travel bright. It’s much easier to wind your way through airports and hotel lobbies, in and out of cabs, on and off buses if you’re not saddled with heavy luggage.

Sturdy Bag

The most important rule is to have a sturdy bag that’s easy to manage. Decent luggage is affordable. It doesn’t matter how it looks but it does matter how it carries, or pulls. Not all airports have convenient trolleys, not all cabbies are helpful, and don’t count on assistance at bus steps, which are always steep.

Size of Bag

The second rule is the bag should be the correct size—the minimal space required for the necessary belongings—plus one small carry-on bag. The latter should be packed with the bare essentials for one night and one day without the suitcase, and include all important documents and medicines. Take only enough medicines for the trip—clearly labeled—leave extras at home.

It is better to take a couple of lighter bags than one large, heavy one. Always bend at the knees to lift luggage and do not twist while lifting. Keep the object close to your body. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. For a small tip, have the baggage handler at the terminal help get the bags off of the luggage carousel. Businessmen who are used to traveling tend to be very helpful to women and us mature travelers when it comes to lifting the bags into the overhead bins.

When lifting above the head, first lift the bag onto the top of the seat then with hands on either side of the suitcase lift it up. Place the wheels into the overhead bin first then push it into the compartment.

Never carry a backpack on one shoulder, always distribute the weight by placing it on the back with arms in the two straps.


You’ve read the hints about taking clothes in a basic color—black, gray, brown—a bare minimum of slacks and/or skirts; blouses or shirts that don’t require ironing; a wrap suitable for the climate; a good pair of walking shoes and/or boots and a pair of dress shoes if needed. Two pairs of jeans can take the place of all those if your itinerary allows. Plan to wear things several days and make basic outfits look different with colorful scarves, bandannas, ties, belts, or squashable hats.

You might also consider a fisherman’s vest. This wonderful garment is available in lightweight to heavy fabric and has a multitude of pockets—for every conceivable need. You can find them in sporting goods sections at K-mart or other discount stores, and in the specialty houses such as Magellan’s.

If you always buy a tee-shirt or two, cut back on shirts and wear the ones you buy. One of my traveling companions told her grown children she’d bring them shirts but they’d be previously worn. With three children, she had a ready-made travel wardrobe. You can also wear other items you buy: sweatshirts, scarves, hats.

Save worn out clothes for travel. Everything you own has a “last” wearing. When that time has come, throw the article in a travel drawer and pack it for your next trip. This includes underwear, blouses, shirts, sox, and nylons with loose elastic or runs (for under slacks or longish skirts). You can take comfortable sandals, sneakers or other shoes that you don’t bring home.

We travel to experience other cultures, gain fresh insight, and see the world’s wonders. We don’t have to be fashion plates to accomplish our goals. As long as we’re clean, neat and reasonably well put together, it’s doubtful anyone will give us much more than a second look. We’re judged more by what we do and say than how we look.

Buy a pack of cheap washcloths and dispose of them as you go. If you have to take a towel, it can be an old one and dispensable. Pack toiletries that can be thrown away: razors, soap, small bottles of shampoo, lotion, etc. Always take a small flashlight, plenty of new batteries, a small screwdriver and scissors.


Books should be read and tossed wherever you read the last page, or pass them to a fellow traveler. Don’t travel with and worry about your laptop. If you have to have an implement for note taking or journaling, and like me you can no longer function with pencil and paper, consider an AlphaSmart keyboard that runs on AA batteries. It’s very lightweight and not a major financial setback.

Leave the address book at home and pre-type labels for those who will be recipients of post cards. If you send more than one card to a person, number the labels so the recipient will know which was sent first because they don’t always arrive in order.

Traveling By Car

When traveling by car and staying in hotels, try placing the clothes in a clothes basket in the trunk instead of a large suitcase. Carry a rolling backpack into the hotel each night with the necessary items to get on the road the next morning. This will be easy to take into the room whether for one night or a couple. When traveling to a place for an extended stay, have the bellman take the luggage, cooler, etc., to the room. Carry dirty laundry and unneeded items to the car each day leaving less to carry at checkout.

When Flying, Book Into Smaller Airports

When flying, long lines, crowds, full parking lots and holiday travel can all be stressful. Check out some of the smaller airports. It is a lot less stressful to leave from Akron-Canton then to drive to Cleveland, load the luggage onto a shuttle and ride to the airport. At Akron-Canton it is easy to drop other passengers and luggage right in front of the airport and park the car. The same goes for the destination. Instead of Orlando, fly into Sanford Orlando Airport. Consider taking the train or the bus as both offer senior discounts.

Pack Extra Medications

Always pack a couple of extra days of medication in case there is bad weather or some kind of delay. It is always good to leave the itinerary with a relative or friend. Make sure someone knows you are safe. Have a cell phone, know how to use it and leave it turned on and fully charged.

Avoid getting sick. In public make sure your hands are washed with hot soapy water. Carry hand sanitizer, especially on the crowded planes. Ask your doctor about the preventative medications and if they are right for you. There are germs lurking in those planes, trains and hotels but, there is a good time to be had and no matter what limitations there are, travel can be managed and enjoyable.

Safety First

Your safety should be foremost in the planning of a trip and continued day by day as you travel. Tourist safety is an ever-increasing area of concern for law enforcement in all countries. The destination doesn’t have to appear on a restricted list to be dangerous.

Calls to both American and Canadian government agencies who assist their citizens abroad when they are victimized, netted no statistics. Both said that what numbers they have are unreliable and are most certainly understated. There are many reasons for the variables but the most common is that crimes are not reported. The State Department spokesman ventured a guess that as many as half the crimes against American citizens traveling abroad never make it to the stat sheets.

Worldwide, crime is on the rise. There’s no absolute immunity, your own home is not a haven. Planning and thinking ahead, however, is easily accomplished.

Here are eight considerations to assist in traveling safe:

  1. Do not travel to an area that has been placed on a restricted list. In the U.S., the State Department maintains a site with information on countries around the world. Canada also maintains a list of travel warnings. Those from the U.K. and Down Under readers can also check online. Other countries also maintain lists.
  2. Learn before you go about the customs of the country and its culture. For instance, women traveling in a Muslim country must behave much differently than women traveling in Western Europe. It is very much a case of “when in Rome…” whether you’re in Italy or not. Some cultures are offended by body contact–a gesture as seemingly insignificant to us as patting a child on the head might create hostility. Adhere to the country’s dress code–shorts, tank tops, sleeveless garments, plunging necklines may be totally inappropriate. Good sources for detailed information are the Lonely Planet guides.
  3. Don’t flaunt your nationality, political or religious preferences. You may be rightfully proud of your heritage, but the inhabitants of the country you’re visiting may not share your sentiment. You can’t hide your roots–they will be divulged in your speech, dress and mannerisms–but don’t flaunt them. Avoid displays of the Stars and Stripes, the Maple Leaf or other emblems. Political preference isn’t limited to party affiliation–it includes well-known activist groups such as Greenpeace or even the Sierra Club. Leave your membership pins, patches and decals at home. Do not wear religious jewelry, such as crosses, Stars of David, etc. If you don’t like to remove the emblems, wear them under clothing. In some countries, religious materials (jewelry, books, etc.) can be confiscated.
  4.  Don’t dress for success. You’ll be judged by what you wear and could be targeted by criminals if you sport valuable jewelry, designer clothes, expensive luggage, etc. You may be a CEO but keep the knowledge low-key. High-priced cameras add to your exposure.
  5. Utilize the buddy system. Don’t wander on your own. If you travel strictly solo, stay in areas where there are lots of people, preferably tourists. You wouldn’t walk alone on a dark and deserted urban street at home-—practice the same cautions in your travels. Solo travelers are urged to check in with their Embassy on arrival in countries where relationships with your native land may be tense. Always advise your hotel and/or concierge where you’re going and when you plan to return, and that’s best done in writing to avoid any translation problems.
  6. Never flash cash. If you carry it (against recommendation), have only small amounts at the ready in an accessible spot. Use a credit card when possible and keep it with you, not in a purse or backpack. Leave extra money and credit cards, passport, other important documents and jewelry in the hotel safe.
  7. Limit alcohol consumption. Alcoholic content of beverages in foreign countries is not the same as at home. You may become inebriated in a very short period and this leaves you vulnerable. It’s easy to speak out of turn when alcohol lubricates the tongue; things become distorted and you could even get lost or succumb to unconsciousness. Vacations are for fun, and fun you should have, but caution must be practiced.
  8. Back down if there is a confrontation. That may not be your nature and you may be absolutely in the right and the other person in the wrong, but it’s often best to capitulate. This may require that you relinquish your money and your credit card but it’s preferable to injury or death.