How to Travel as an Older Adult

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

1. Always ask about senior discounts.

It never hurts to ask, and it could score you some good deals that aren't even advertised. You may also want to think about joining organizations like the AARP, American Seniors Association, or Association of Mature American Citizens, all of which offer travel-related discounts to their members. (But keep in mind that each is a lobbying group that takes specific stands on political issues; if you disagree with a group's viewpoint, you might want to pass on becoming a member.)

2. Go in off-peak seasons.

You probably have the flexibility to travel when it suits you, and avoiding the prime tourist season can help you save money and avoid crowds. But make sure you pack for unpredictable weather and research some indoor activities so that you can stay out of the cold or rain. Also, be aware that some museums and other tourist sites have limited hours or are completely closed in the off season.

3. Get insurance.

If your trip involves a lot of prepaid non-refundable expenses, travel insurance can save you a bundle of money if something goes sideways either before or during your holiday. Travel medical insurance is crucial if you plan on leaving the U.S., since Medicare and most other health insurance plans do not apply outside the country. You might also need medical coverage if you will be traveling domestically but outside of your approved network of healthcare providers. But make sure to study each insurance policy carefully; most do not provide coverage for pre-existing medical conditions.

4. Pack light, but bring the essentials.

Limit the amount of clothes you bring and plan to do laundry frequently. (You can always wash items in a hotel room sink and hang them to dry.) The less you have to lug around, the more mobile you will be.

That said, you should definitely throw in a few items to make your trip easier. If your eyesight isn't what it used to be, bring a magnifying glass to help you read small print. If you use a hearing aid, bring an extra set of batteries. And if you're going abroad, compile a list of the generic names of all your medications in case you need to get a refill from a pharmacist who doesn't recognize American brand names.

5. Think about security.

If possible, arrange to have someone check on your home periodically while you're out of town. And don't tempt burglars by announcing your travel plans on social media. To avoid becoming a target for thieves during your trip, leave the gold watch and fancy jewelry at home and don't flash too much cash around. You might want to wear a money belt under your clothes to help keep your valuables secure.

Here's another tip: Don't hang the "please make up my room" sign on the door of your hotel room, since that signals to potential thieves that you're not there. Instead, inform the front desk that you're going out and that housekeeping is welcome to clean the room.

6. Minimize the moving and unpacking.

The best senior vacations are often those that don't try to cover too many sites in too little time. Think about basing yourself in a central hub and taking short day trips to surrounding areas. Or take a cruise that allows you to explore a variety of destinations without having to change accommodations.

7. Choose centrally located hotels.

Staying near the major attractions (or at least close to public transit options) makes it easier to get back to your room to relax at the end of a long day. If you have mobility issues, ask for a ground-floor room and find out if the hallways or doorways can fit a walker or wheelchair. Also, check whether the hotel is built on top of a steep hill or in an area that might be unsafe at night.

8. Consider staying in hostels.

Did you know that hostels are not just for 20-something backpackers? Independent-minded travelers of all ages can take advantage of cheap, no-frills lodging all over the world. Many hostels offer private rooms with en-suite bathrooms, and there is usually a shared kitchen where you can prepare your own meals. Sometimes a simple breakfast is even included in the rate.

9. Swap houses.

Exchanging houses with other travelers for a few days, weeks, or even months is a great way to save money on accommodations and immerse yourself in the local culture at the same time. Sites like HomeExchange and Home Exchange 50plus can help you arrange the details.

10. Go sightseeing early or late in the day.

Getting to an attraction right at opening or just before closing helps you avoid extreme temperatures and large crowds. If you're in an unfamiliar city, starting with a one- or two-hour bus or boat tour can orient you to the area's attractions and help you determine what you'd like to explore in more depth.

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