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Seniors Health and Safety Guide

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

Seniors Health and Safety Guide

 

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.

Medical

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’ll be able to provide information on any political turmoil or natural disasters like earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

Top up on vaccinations

Your holiday may include areas that require you to have special vaccinations, or you may need to top up on others.  Certain vaccines need to be done over the course of a few months, so make sure you organise your vaccinations well in advance.

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

Check with your doctor if you’re fit to travel. 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.

Buy travel insurance

Purchase adequate travel insurance for the type of travel you’re doing, to ensure you’re covered in the event of an unexpected medical emergency. Your travel insurer can also provide assistance should you need advice on things like where the closest medical centre is or what to do if you’ve lost your passport.

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. Also check with the embassy of the country you’re visiting if you need a visa.

Carry enough medication

If you take any prescription medications, you’ll need enough for the duration of your trip plus extra in case you’re delayed. Ask your doctor to pack medicines into a blister pack.

Some medications are illegal in certain countries

Check with the embassy of the country you’re visiting before travelling. You may need a letter from your doctor describing the medication you’re taking with you.

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 or transport provider.

Purchase a first aid kit

It should include insect repellent, sunscreen, antibacterial hand wipes, Band-Aids, gauze, and a thermometer.

Read up on volunteering rules and regulations

If you’re planning to volunteer, some areas have certain rules you need to adhere to.

For more information on the things you should do to get ready for your holiday, read Fast Cover’s article on Top 30 Tips To Prepare For Your Trip.

What the Reciprocal Health Agreement means for seniors

Australian citizens with emergency health conditions can receive treatment under the Reciprocal Health Agreement in:

  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Sweden
  • The Netherlands
  • Finland
  • Italy
  • Belgium
  • Malta
  • Slovenia
  • Norway

The Reciprocal Health 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 Medicare card.

The Agreement covers basic emergency cover such as ambulance costs (subsidised in some countries) and emergency medical care, but it doesn’t cover:

  • non-subsidised pharmaceutical medicines
  • daily in-patient care
  • doctor’s fees

Visit Medicare for a complete list of what’s covered.

senior couple waving

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 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.

You should ask about:

What benefits can travel insurance provide for seniors?

The top 5 things to consider when looking for travel insurance for seniors

  1. Does it cover my pre-existing medical conditions?
  2. Does it provide cancellation cover if I have to delay or cancel my trip?
  3. Are there any excluded activities?
  4. What are the medical limits?
  5. How much is the excess?

Read Fast cover’s guide on Travel insurance for Seniors for more detail on buying travel insurance.

Tips to choose the right accommodation for seniors

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

Hotels

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.

First of all, check how easy the hotel is to reach, especially at night. Then reduce your chance of being robbed by considering these important factors that affect the likelihood of a break-in:

  • Book a room with sufficient security: Call ahead and ask if there are security guards and surveillance cameras in operation and if access to guest room floors is restricted to guests only.
  • Don’t put the ‘Clean My Room’ sign on the door: Doing this advertises you aren’t in the 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.
  • Engage the security chain whenever you’re in the room: It makes it difficult for thieves to push doors open.
  • Stay away from rooms on the ground floor: Ground floor rooms are easier for thieves to enter via the window.
  • Ask for a room close to the elevator: More foot traffic will deter thieves from breaking into your room.
  • Choose female only hotels: If you’re a woman travelling alone you may feel more comfortable in one of these types of hotels.

Flash packing

Flash packing accommodation falls between backpacking and luxury hotels. More seniors are enjoying this type of accommodation because, unlike backpacker hostels with shared facilities, they offer a bit more security. Rooms have private amenities but without the price tag of upmarket hotels. Choose one with lockup facilities and a good reputation.

AirBnB

People of all ages offer their homes for rent on Airbnb, but you still need to be aware of a few things when staying in a stranger’s home.

Our top 3 tips for Airbnb:

  1. Read the inclusions carefully: Discuss house rules and included amenities. Clarify check-in and check-out times.
  2. Choose a host with a good reputation: Use the Airbnb rating system to gauge what previous guests thought about the accommodation and host.
  3. Communicate and pay through Airbnb only: Protect your information or you’ll put yourself at risk for fraud and other security issues.
car rental car

What seniors need to know about rental vehicles

More seniors are travelling now than ever. However, while most people 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.
plane

Flight safety tips for seniors

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 - 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.
  • Ask for a private pat-down - 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.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Long haul flights 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.
  • 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.

Older travellers and 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.

Top 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:

  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.
  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.
  3. Be aware of staircases, slippery surfaces and ladders - Sea spray and water can make manoeuvring on-board dangerous. If you’re travelling with a walking stick or wheelchair, seek assistance from staff.
  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 can easily disappear from a sunbed or table when you turn your back for only a second.
  5. Choose a cabin in the middle of the ship - Cabins located further from the centre of the ship may be rockier and heighten sea sickness, while internal cabins may make you feel claustrophobic.
  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.
  7. Watch what you eat - Don’t overeat or consume what you wouldn’t normally.
  8. Keep up your water intake - Ship water is usually suitable for drinking, but bottled water is a must on-shore.
  9. Don’t lean over railings - You could be easily swept overboard. Safety is your own responsibility.
  10. Close your cabin door properly - Not all cabin doors automatically close. Keep your belongings safe by making sure your door clicks shut.
  11. Pay attention to the muster drill - It’s important to know what to do in an emergency, where your muster station is, and how to put on a lifejacket.
cruise ship

Taking money overseas

As a pensioner, the safest way 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 money at risk. They’re 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.

seniors couple on bench

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 stay healthy on holiday:
  1. Consider bringing your own medication: Avoid stress and don’t spend your precious holiday time trying to buy medication in a foreign country! Some countries sell counterfeit medication and also check in advance if the medication is legal or even available in the country you’re visiting.
  2. 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.
  3. Drink only bottled water: It should be available in most hotels and convenience stores. If purchasing from a small shop or street vendor, check that the seal hasn’t been tampered with.
  4. 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.
  5. Don’t drink to excess: Drinking alcohol to excess makes you a target for crime and disease. Purchase drinks from reputable bars or restaurants and check the seals on the bottles haven’t been tampered with.
  6. 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.
  7. Wear thongs in the shower: It’ll reduce your risk of slipping and contracting infectious diseases such as warts and tinea.
  8. Organise a taxi that can assist you with heavy luggage: Reduce your risk of injury by asking for assistance with heavy items. 
  9. Buy an insect repellent: Choose tropical strength insect repellent for adequate protection from insects that could carry diseases like Malaria or Zika virus.
  10. Stay away from stray animals: They could have ticks or rabies.
  11. Choose activities to suit your fitness level: Avoid overexerting yourself, particularly in hot or humid climates.
  12. If you feel unwell take a rest: Don’t power through discomfort, and see a doctor if you’re unsure about your condition.
  13. Keep your prescription glasses close to you: Bring a second pair in case of damage, and bring additional batteries for hearing aids as they may be hard to find.
  14. Take enough denture adhesive with you: Denture adhesive isn’t easy to find in some countries. 
Thief

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:

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

Scams

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
doctor
What to do in a medical emergency

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

If you’re in hospital and need emergency medical assistance:

  • Contact your travel insurer for 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.
thief pickpocket
What to do in a non-medical emergency

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.

What the Australian Government can and can’t do

The Consular Services Charter offers assistance to Australians travelling overseas.

The consulate CAN assist with
  • Replacement passports
  • Details of local doctors and hospitals in a medical emergency
  • Details of local lawyers and details of interpreters if you’re the victim of a serious assault or other crime
  • Visiting or contacting you if you’ve been arrested to check on your welfare
  • Providing advice in a wide range of other cases including the death of relatives
  • Contacting friends or family on your behalf
  • Making special arrangements in cases of terrorism, civil disturbances and natural disasters
  • Providing small emergency loans in exceptional situations
The Consulate CANNOT assist with
  • Guaranteeing your safety in another country
  • Giving you legal advice, interpreting or translating documents
  • Intervening in another country's legal matters
  • Searching for missing people
  • Investigating crimes or deaths overseas
  • Getting you out of prison or preventing you from being deported
  • Posting bail or paying your fines or legal expenses
  • Paying for medical or psychiatric services or medications
contact phone
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

Age is no barrier to travel. The world is alive and in motion! Absorb, learn and experience as much as you can. But make sure you’re adequately covered for travel. Remember to take precautions, look after yourself and follow local rules when overseas so that you can enjoy your holiday without fuss, and return home with many happy memories to share. And then do it all over again!

 

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