Posted on June 1, 2018
Our nation recently celebrated the life of former First Lady Barbara Bush and extolled the virtues of a woman who never minced words. Mrs. Bush lived life on her own terms, so it wasn’t a surprise that at the end of it she was still making her own decisions.
Living on our own terms sounds easy enough, but in reality, most of us march to the beat of our own drum when it’s feasible and compromise the rest of the time. I thought of this the other day when I came across a Cornell University study that showed that 20 percent of older Americans say that one of the their biggest regrets is not traveling enough. Many of these people set aside their bucket list to raise families and build careers, and now feel “late-in-life remorse” about lost time.
If you wish you’d traveled more and feel like now it’s too late, there’s good news: It probably isn’t. Even if you aren’t as spry as your younger self, you don’t have to stay home. You can still travel if you define your terms and tailor a suitable plan.
Strategies for Savvy Seniors
- Choose the right destination. Altitude and air pollution can be problematic for travelers of all ages, so, depending on your situation, Machu Picchu and Beijing might not be good choices. New Zealand, on the other hand, is clean and green and much of it’s at sea level.
- Consult with your doctor about immunizations. It’s best to go to developing countries while you’re still in top shape because travelers with compromised immune systems can’t get the recommended vaccinations.
- If you have an ongoing health concern, carry your medical records — list of prescription drugs, latest EKG and other test results, diagnoses, and physician’s notes — on a USB and also upload them to the cloud where they can be accessed from anywhere with Wi-Fi.
- You may also want to ask your doctor to make connections for you. I went to India right after cataract surgery with the name and contact for a doctor in Delhi who interned for my surgeon at UCSD Shiley Eye Institute.
- Consider health and travel insurance. Medicare doesn’t cover expenses in foreign countries, but some supplemental plans such as Anthem Plan F provide worldwide coverage. Travel insurance includes trip cancellation and interruption and sometimes also existing medical conditions. Other companies, such as Medjet, will help you get home if you’re sick or injured.
- When flying, choose class of service and seats carefully. Avoid center seats in economy class at all cost.
- If you have food or drug allergies, you can order a translation card in the language of your destination at selectwisely.com.
- Good travel take-alongs: support socks for long flights, hand sanitizer, a wide-brim hat, lots of sunscreen, and (depending on the destination) insect repellant containing Deet.
March to the Beat of Your Own Drum
- Thinking of cruising? Do your research before making reservations. Luxury ships are chockablock with entertainment and amenities, but aren’t always the healthiest places. They can also be tricky for those with mobility issues. Check on the ship’s sanitation record and, if you have health concerns, inquire about the availability of on-board medical services.
- Weigh the pros and cons of joining a group tour. It’s nice to have someone else be in charge, but the pace might not be suitable. Groups often get an early start, stay busy all day, and have late dinners. If you prefer having more control over your activities, consider traveling solo, with a buddy, or with a group of like-minded friends or family members.
Mrs. Bush was still making her own decisions late in life, and so can the rest of us. If you have an advanced-stage illness, share your bucket list with those closest to you and ask for their support.
I have twice had the honor of traveling with someone dealing with an unfortunate prognosis, and these trips remain some of my most precious memories. Many years ago, I traveled through Europe with a loved one who needed regular chemotherapy treatments and, with his oncologist’s help, we were able to arrange these at American hospitals in Paris and Rome. The medical appointments were just brief blips in a journey full of wonderful adventures.
Then, last year, my former college roommate was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When I asked how I could help, she said, “I really want to go snorkeling in St. John.” We tailored a plan that included time for chasing turtles and time for naps and checked into the best resort on the island a few weeks later.
“Travel is so rewarding that it should take precedence over other things younger people spend money on” was one of the conclusions of the Cornell University study. And if you didn’t travel enough when you were younger? Go now — because it’s never too late to live life on your own terms. Elizabeth Hansen
Photography courtesy of Adams / Hansen Stock Photos