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The Seniors Health & Safety Guide

The ultimate travel guide for senior travellers, filled with great tips to help you stay safe and healthy while travelling overseas.

You’ve worked all your life and you now have time to see the world!

Retirement brings opportunities to enjoy new experiences and meet new people. But even if you’re just taking a short trip or visiting our friendly Kiwi neighbours in New Zealand, there are still some precautions you can take to stay safe and make the most of your holiday.

We’ve compiled this ultimate guide for seniors, filled with tips for staying safe and healthy while travelling overseas.

Health and Safety Essentials to Organise Before You Travel

Organise these essentials before you travel so you arrive at your destination well-prepared.

Check travel advice and warnings

Smartraveller is a great resource for up to date information about potential dangers around the world. They provide up-to-date information on any events which may affect your travel plans such as political turmoil or natural disasters like earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

For more information about the government travel warnings and what they mean, see our guide: What Are Smartraveller Travel Advisories?

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Ensure your passport and visas are up to date

You need to have at least six months validity from the date of travel on your passport.

Remember to also check with the embassy of the country you’re visiting if you need a particular type of visa.

If you’re planning to volunteer, read up on volunteering rules and regulations. Some areas have certain rules you need to adhere to.

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Visit your doctor for a pre-trip medical check-up

Check with your doctor if you’re fit enough to travel as well as do all the activities you plan to do. They may find potential medical problems which may impact your ability to travel, or prescribe medication for you to take on your holiday.

You should disclose any pre-existing medical conditions to your doctor at least six to eight weeks before travel so you can adequately prepare for your trip.

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Top up on vaccinations

Speak with your doctor or visit a travel vaccination clinic for advice on which vaccinations are recommended for your destination.

You may need special vaccinations for particular destinations, or you may need to top up on others. Keep in mind that certain vaccines need to be administered over the course of a few months, so make sure you organise your vaccinations well in advance.

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Compare travel insurance options

Compare different travel insurance policies that will cover your trip, including any activities you want to do, and ensure you’re covered in the event of an unexpected medical emergency.

You may also wish to consider a policy which includes 24 hour assistance should you need advice on things like where the closest medical centre is or what to do if you’ve lost your passport.

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Organise your prescription medications

If you take any prescription medications, check with the embassy of the country you’re visiting before travelling there. Some medications are illegal in certain countries and you may need a letter from your doctor describing the medication you’re taking with you.

Remember you’ll need to carry enough medication for the duration of your trip plus extra in case you’re delayed.

Also consider purchasing a first aid kit. It should include insect repellent, sunscreen, antibacterial hand wipes, Band-Aids, gauze, and a thermometer.

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Reserve assistance in advance if you need it

Special services passengers or those who need assistance with boarding should arrange this in advance from the airline, tour company or transport provider.

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The Reciprocal Health Care Agreement

Australian citizens with a valid Medicare card can receive treatment under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement in countries including:

The Reciprocal Health Care Agreement also offers non-emergency healthcare if you need to delay medical treatment because you’re too ill to travel.

If you need emergency medical care while travelling you’ll need to:

  • Provide your Australian passport or another valid passport which shows you’re a permanent Australian resident, and;
  • Present a valid Australian Medicare card.

Visit the Medicare website for a complete list of what’s covered under the Agreement.

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What are the benefits of travel insurance for senior travellers?

Whether or not you’re travelling to a country with a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement, you should still consider purchasing travel insurance to cover you for the other unexpected things that can happen when you’re away from home.

Your age plays a role in the type of travel insurance you are able to take out. As you get older, you may find the type of cover available varies. Make sure you find a travel insurance policy that’s able to cover you for the things that are important to you.

These may include:

  • Unexpected cancellation expenses
  • Overseas emergency medical assistance and advice
  • Emergency medical evacuation and repatriation
  • Overseas hospital and medical treatment expenses
  • Cover for luggage and personal effects
  • Cover for travel delays and missed connections
5 things to consider when comparing seniors travel insurance
  • Does it cover my pre-existing medical conditions?
  • Does it provide cancellation cover if I have to delay or cancel my trip?
  • Are there any excluded activities?
  • What are the medical limits?
  • How much is the excess?
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Choosing Accommodation

Depending on your preference, hotels, flashpacker hostels and Airbnb properties are all suitable suggestions for senior travellers.

Hotels are usually the safest places to stay, but people with bad intentions are everywhere and unfortunately elderly travellers are often seen as easier targets.

Flashpacking accommodation falls between backpacking and luxury hotels. More seniors are enjoying this type of accommodation because, unlike backpacker hostels with shared facilities, rooms usually have private amenities, but without the price tag of upmarket hotels.

Airbnb is also a popular choice for senior travellers. Locals of all ages offer their homes for rent and some hosts also include meals, internet access and laundry facilities. It's a great way to save money if you're staying in one location for a while, as many places offer discounts for longer bookings. However, you still need to be aware of a few things when staying in a stranger’s home.

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5 Tips to Choose Accommodation for Seniors

No matter what type of accommodation you choose, you can reduce your chances of being robbed by considering important factors which affect the likelihood of a break-in.

Here's five tips to help you choose secure accommodation:

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1) Book a room with sufficient security

If you're concerned about the security of your accommodation, call ahead and ask if there are 24 hour security guards and surveillance cameras in operation and if access to guest room floors is restricted to guests only.

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2) Don’t put the ‘Clean My Room’ sign on the door

Using the sign advertises you aren’t in your hotel room and thieves know you’ve probably left valuables there. Instead, call the front desk before you leave and let them know you’d like the room cleaned.

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3) Book an upstairs room

Ground floor rooms are easier for thieves to enter via the window or balcony. For added security, you may also wish to ask for a room close to the elevator. More foot traffic will deter thieves from breaking into your room. 

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4) Choose a host with a good reputation

If using Airbnb or another shared accommodation website, make use of the rating system to gauge what previous guests thought about the accommodation, surrounding neighbourhood and host.

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5) Choose female only hotels

If you’re a woman travelling alone you may feel more comfortable in a female-only type of hotel or hostel accommodation.

Taking Money Overseas

As a pensioner, one of the safest ways to take money overseas is by using a Multi-Currency Cash Passport Card. It allows you to load a card with foreign currency at a fixed rate and withdraw money from official bank ATMs around the world just like a normal bank card.

The money in the cards isn’t linked to your bank account, so if you do lose the card you won’t put all your savings at risk. Prepaid cards are usually available to purchase from Australia Post or your bank.

If you’re not comfortable with taking a Multi-Currency cash passport card, make sure you take a few sources of money including cash, traveller’s cheques and one or two debit or credit cards. If you lose one of your credit or debit cards, you’ll still have a money source until you get a replacement card.

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Hiring Vehicles Overseas

More seniors are travelling now than ever. However, while most travellers know there’s a minimum age requirement for renting a car, very few know that there’s a maximum age restriction too. Some companies will not accept drivers over 80 years old, and others have an even younger age restriction.

Our best tips for renting a car while on holiday:
  • Check age restrictions from different rental companies - Not all are the same. If it’s not listed on their website, call them directly to find out.
  • Prepare for driving overseas - Apply for an International Driving Permit before you leave and familiarise yourself with the driving rules and road quality. Breaking traffic law voids travel insurance.
  • Buy insurance that provides adequate cover for driving overseas – If your insurance doesn’t, and you meet with an accident or the vehicle is stolen, you could be liable for thousands of dollars in car rental excess fees.
  • Inspect the vehicle before driving off - Take photos and document any damage with the rental company, no matter how minor it is.
  • Ask what will happen if you meet in an accident or the car is stolen - You want to be clear about what you’re liable for.
  • Get copies of all paperwork - If you do have an accident or your vehicle is stolen, you’ll need proof to make an insurance claim.
  • Get the rental company staff to inspect your car immediately upon return – It’ll save you an unpleasant call saying the car was damaged.
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11 Health and Safety Cruise Tips

Cruises are one of the most popular holiday choices for older travellers, and many people enjoy cruising without incident.

However, when sharing a confined space with thousands of people, you should follow these safety tips to make the most of your cruise holiday:

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1) Check the ship’s report card

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention checks ships for water quality, pests, hygiene, cleanliness, and spread of gastrointestinal illnesses. Report cards indicate how well the ship performed. 

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2) Go easy on the alcohol

Drinking alcohol to excess dehydrates you and compromises your judgement and perception, putting you at a greater risk of injury or incident.

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3) Be aware of staircases, slippery surfaces and ladders

Sea spray and water can make manoeuvring onboard dangerous. If you’re travelling with a walking stick, walking frame or wheelchair, seek assistance from staff when moving around onboard.

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4) Don’t flaunt your valuables or cash

Leave any valuables you don’t need at home. If you do bring valuables, lock them in your room when you aren’t using them. A camera or wallet can easily disappear from a sunbed or table when you turn your back for only a second.

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5) Choose a cabin in the middle of the ship

Cabins located further from the centre of the ship may be rockier and heighten the chance of sea sickness, while internal cabins may make you feel claustrophobic. Choose a cabin in the middle section of the ship with a window if possible.

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6) Don’t venture into deserted or dark areas

Even ships have areas that are difficult to monitor if a crime occurs. Stay in well-lit areas where others can see you at night.

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7) Watch what you eat

The incredible buffets are undoubtedly one of the best things about cruising, but try to avoid overeating or consuming what you wouldn’t eat normally.

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8) Keep up your water intake

Ship water is usually suitable for drinking, but bottled water is a must on-shore. 

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9) Don’t lean over railings

Be careful when standing near railings, especially during rough seas. You could be easily swept overboard. Safety is your own responsibility.

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10) Close your cabin door properly

Not all cabin doors automatically close. Keep your belongings safe by making sure your door clicks shut and is securely locked.

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11) Pay attention to the muster drill

All passengers must attend the muster drill after boarding the cruise ship. It’s important to pay attention so you know what to do in an emergency, where your muster station is, and how to put on a lifejacket.

Airport Security

Travellers with metallic implants such as artificial hips and knee joints usually sound the metal detector alarm. Don’t use a metal detector if you have pacemakers or an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD).

If you have any metallic aids or implants:

  • Always carry your pacemaker ID card and tell the airport security you have a metal-coated pacemaker. They’ll take you to a different screening area where a wand will detect hidden metal in your body.
  • If your doctor has told you that even the metal detection wand may affect your implant, show your pacemaker ID card and ask security for a private pat-down instead.

Body scanners screen passengers who can’t walk through the metal detector. They have power levels significantly lower than everyday electronic devices, such as mobile phones. People with electronic implants can safely undergo a body scan.

Walking aids and medical devices such as canes, crutches, wheelchairs, walkers and sleep apnoea machines can be taken on board international and domestic flights after they’re screened. If you can’t get out of your wheelchair, airport security will need to conduct a private frisk search.

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Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Long haul flights can increase the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis.

Our tips to reduce your risks of DVT on flights:

  • Speak with your doctor: They may prescribe aspirin, elasticised stockings or injections of heparin. If you take any blood-thinning medication, even just for flying, check with your travel insurer to make sure this doesn't exclude you from medical cover.
  • Book an aisle seat: It’s easier to get up, move around and stretch your calf muscles. 
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks: Enjoy that cheeky beverage after you arrive at your destination, as alcohol can dehydrate you and increase the risk of DVT.
  • Drink plenty of water: You can become dehydrated on a plane much quicker than normal, so stay hydrated with plenty of non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Wear loose clothing: Choose comfortable clothing and dress in layers. Wearing anything that could restrict circulation when sitting down, such as tight jeans, should be avoided. 
  • Don’t sit with your legs crossed: Doing this could restrict your circulation.
  • Stretch your feet and legs: Move your feet and legs regularly while sitting and also go for regular walks on the plane.
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Avoiding Jet Lag

Jet lag in older people is often accompanied by insomnia, mental fuzziness, indigestion, headaches, swelling of the hands and feet, or disorientation.

Our top tips to reduce the effects of jet lag:

  • Get plenty of sleep before you depart so you’re well rested when you begin your journey.
  • Drink lots of water before and during your flight and decrease your intake of caffeine and fizzy drinks to stay hydrated. Dehydration makes jet lag worse.
  • Eat lightly and avoid fatty and sugary foods.
  • Change the time on your watch at the start of your trip to reflect the time at your destination. It’ll help you to mentally adjust to the new time zone.
  • Take a break when you arrive and plan to allow an extra day to adapt to the new time zone before starting a tour or further travel.
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Health Tips for Travelling Seniors

Falling ill on holiday makes for unpleasant memories. Even if you’re visiting family and friends overseas, there are some precautions you can take to stay healthy on your holiday.

Our top tips to help you stay healthy on holiday:

Consider bringing your own medication

Avoid stress and don’t spend your precious holiday time trying to track down your regular medication in a foreign country!

Some countries sell counterfeit medication which can make you unwell.

Also check in advance if the medication is legal or even available in the country you’re visiting.

If you have dentures also remember to take enough denture adhesive with you. Denture adhesive isn’t easy to find in some countries.

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Make smart food choices

Avoid street vendors, food buffets, undercooked meats, unpasteurised dairy, seafood, and raw fruits and vegetables. Eat only at restaurants with a good reputation among tourists to reduce your risk of food and water poisoning.

Make your food allergies known. Write down or learn how to communicate your food allergy for the countries you’re visiting. Always check that you’ve received the correct meal before eating.

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Drink wisely

Bottle water should be available in most hotels and convenience stores. If purchasing water from a small shop or street vendor, check that the seal hasn’t been tampered with. 

Purchase drinks from reputable bars or restaurants and check the seals on the bottles haven’t been tampered with. Also avoid drinking alcohol to excess as intoxication makes you a greater target for crime and illness.

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Watch your step

Steer clear of waterways, congested roads, and slippery or unsteady surfaces. If you use a walker or wheelchair, avoid uneven roads and paths that could cause you injury.

Wear thongs in public showers and bathrooms. It’ll reduce your risk of slipping and contracting infectious diseases such as warts and tinea.

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Don't overdo it

Reduce your risk of injury by asking for assistance with heavy items and organise a taxi or shuttle that can assist you with heavy luggage.

When choosing activities, keep your fitness level in mind and avoid overexerting yourself, particularly in hot or humid climates.

If you feel unwell take a rest. Don’t power through discomfort, and see a doctor if you’re unsure about your health condition.

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Be wary of the wildlife

Stay away from stray animals as they could have ticks or rabies.

Choose tropical strength insect repellent for adequate protection from insects that could carry diseases like Malaria or Zika virus.

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Watch Out for Scams

Travellers of all ages are at risk of scams. However, many thieves and pickpockets see older people as easier targets.

To minimise your risk of becoming a victim of thieves and pickpockets:

  • Don’t flaunt your money or valuables
  • Don’t carry large sums of money
  • Don’t go walking alone or at night
  • Stay away from rough neighbourhoods

Some cities and regions are more notorious for scamming tourists than others. They have been operating for ages and often target senior travellers.

Common scams to be aware of while on holiday:

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Taxi Scams

Drivers turn their meter off and ask for a ridiculous amount of money once you reach your destination. Ensure the meter is on during the journey, unless it's a fixed price taxi, in which case you should agree on a price with the driver before setting off.

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Fake Tours

Some companies will take your money and never arrive to pick you up! Use reputable tour operators and get a receipt if you’ve paid for anything.

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Pigeon Poo

Ever had a stranger approach you to clean bird poo from your clothing? They’re also cleaning you out of your valuables! Tell them you like the bird poo effect and walk away.

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Fake Hotel

“Oh sorry sir/madam that hotel is closed,” says the taxi driver. “I’ll take you to another one”. They sure will - to one where they get a commission for bringing you to the door! Find another taxi driver.

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Fake Police

Dodgy police will stop travellers to check their passport saying “there is something wrong” then ask for a fee to fix it. Ask for their ID card and use your loudest and clearest voice to tell them you want to go to their police station.

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Baby Catchers

Brazen thieves often throw their ‘baby’ at unsuspecting tourists. While you’re trying to save a small child’s life, his ‘parents’ are rifling your pockets relieving you of your valuables. Keep your hands by your side and walk away. The baby is a doll.

Medical Emergencies

No one likes to think about what could go wrong while on holiday, but unfortunately accidents do happen.

If you’re in need of emergency medical assistance overseas:

  • Contact your travel insurer for directions or help arranging medical treatment.
  • If you’ve already received medical attention from a hospital (or cruise ship hospital), contact your travel insurer as soon as possible.
  • Let hotel reception or your tour operator know you’ve been injured.
  • Keep copies of police or doctor’s reports to make an insurance claim.
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Non-Medical Emergencies

If something happens to you that doesn’t require medical assistance and you need help:

  • Tell your tour guide what’s happened.
  • Report it the police and get a copy of the report.
  • Report a lost or stolen passport to the Australian embassy.
  • Contact your bank to cancel all your cards if your wallet or bag is stolen.
  • If your hotel keys were taken let the hotel know immediately.
  • If you have no access to cash ask a family member to transfer you some money.
  • Call your insurer to let them know what’s happened, and they may be able to advise you on what you need to do.
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Important Contact Information and Resources

Register your trip on Smartraveller. They’ll send you an alert if there’s an imminent threat such as an earthquake, terrorist attack or tsunami. They’ll also let your family know your status overseas.

If there isn’t an Australian Embassy in the city you’re travelling to, go to the nearest consulate which provides help to Australian citizens.

The Australian Government provides 24 hour consular assistance:
Information about vaccinations:
Don’t forget to also keep a copy of the contact details of your:
  • Travel insurer
  • Doctor
  • Travel agent
  • Airline
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