The COVID-19 pandemic has kept a lot of people close to home.
But now, with fewer restrictions and more opportunities for travel, peoples' wanderlust is on its way to being sated.
“We’re swamped,” says Gail Cochran, who has owned Flite2 Travel in Beachwood for 44 years. “All travel agents are.”
Cochran says her business is split just about equally between corporate and leisure travel — a marked change from years past, when corporate travel was 70% of her business.
And a large segment of that change is due to travel by senior citizens. A 2016 Visa study indicated that by 2025, senior citizens will comprise the only growing segment of international travelers. But retirees’ trips can encompass an Alaskan cruise to a day bus trip down to Amish Country.
Travel can seem daunting at any age, especially as a senior, when mobility and memory issues may arise. However, there are steps senior travelers can take to minimize those risks.
Just the act of traveling can provide health benefits. Ursel McElroy emphasizes lifelong learning as director of the Ohio
Department of Aging. She says the experience of going new places is an important part of that.
Also, travel keeps you mentally acute, and the socialization that goes along with it can benefit mental and physical health. Loneliness and isolation have been identified as a public health crisis for senior citizens.
McElroy points to a CDC study that indicates social isolation was associated with about a 50% increase in the risk of dementia, and poor social relationships (a characteristic of social isolation or loneliness) led to a 29% increased risk for heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Loneliness is also associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide, she says.
“Travel may feel like a good time, but it also helps your health,” McElroy says.
John Latkovich, owner of JKL Tours in Willoughby, can see it in the faces of the seniors he takes on bus tours.
“Traveling is a great way to stay young at heart,” he says. “Traveling as part of a group also makes them feel safe and secure. They can share the trip with a friend, make friends on the bus or even feel safe traveling alone knowing they are part of a group.”
Latkovich’s bus tours are almost exclusively for seniors. He says of the 161 trips he has done or planned for this year, 159 are senior trips — and most are day trips, from history tours to wine-tasting events. But some are several-day excursions, to places like Myrtle Beach, New York City and the Canadian Rockies.
The tours try to accommodate travelers' mobility issues. Tour buses feature a wheelchair lift. Riders who may need a walker or scooter can sit in the front of the bus, and the bus stops every few hours to allow riders to stretch their legs – and that’s important, says Dr. John Weigand, a geriatrician who serves as medical director for the Ohio Department of Aging.
Weigand says if you’re driving, try not to overdo it. And if you’re flying, try to get the aisle seat.
“The tendency is not to get up if you’re in the middle or by the window,” he says, "and you really do want to get up occasionally to avoid issues like soreness or potentially blood clots.”
If you’re flying, you can also request a wheelchair for easier mobility at the airport, Cochran says.
“It doesn’t mean you have a broken leg or anything,” she says. “I get one myself. It puts you at the front of the line and saves you some steps.”
It’s free, but the important thing, Cochran says, is to do it beforehand. You can request a wheelchair when you make your airline reservation.
Sherri Gouddou, manager at Kollander World Travel in Cleveland, echoes the advice. She says a wheelchair can be important when you’re navigating an unfamiliar airport and if there’s a language barrier. Also, with TSA check-in times being even longer than expected — sometimes three to four hours — it’s important to have someplace to sit.
Taking daily medication is a routine for many senior citizens. It’s estimated that 40% of those age 65 and older take at least five daily medications a day, and 20% take at least 10. It’s important to keep with you a list of everything you take and why, Weigand says.
“Sometimes people take different medication for different reasons,” he says. “Your list should include dosage and frequency, even for herbal and over-the-counter medicines. A lot of people think those don’t count, but they certainly can, especially if you’re in an emergency room situation.”
Weigand also recommends making sure you’re caught up on your vaccinations. And if you’re flying, make sure your medication is in your carry-on, Cochran says. “Your suitcase can get lost or delayed.”
For that reason, Gouddou says, you should also keep a change of clothes in your carry-on. Also, when scheduling planes, she says, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time if you have a layover.
Also, think about your destination, Weigand says. Particularly, its altitude.
“If you have cardiac or cardiopulmonary issues or sleep apnea, those conditions might be fine in Cleveland, but could be exacerbated in, say, Taos (at an altitude of more than 6,900 feet),” he says.
And remember to stay hydrated, he says.
“Dehydration is one of the leading causes of falls,” he says. “A lot of times, older people might not have the best thirst reflex, and sometimes they don’t want to drink because they’ll have to go to the bathroom frequently.”
The most important thing, McElroy says, is to know your limitations — but also know what you like to do.
“Start with what you love, and align it to what your abilities are,” she says.