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Planning can add to retirees' travel fun

August 30, 2007|By MARIE GILBERT

Her passport is what gives her away. Page after page is stamped with entry and departure dates from Europe, Russia, India and Japan.

Shirley Allen loves to travel. And just because her body's odometer recently hit 65, she doesn't expect things to change.

"Call me old," the Hagerstown resident said. "But don't call me boring. I have a lot of adventure in me."

Allen isn't alone. According to the American Association of Retired People (AARP), forget gardening and bingo. Travel is the No. 1 pastime of today's retiree.

The idea of visiting new places and seeing new things - on their own schedule - is a huge draw for the 60-plus crowd.

"For many people, they've reached the age and earned the right to finally relax and enjoy life," said Biddi Nixon, an AAA travel specialist for the mid-Atlantic area. "They're ready to fulfill their dreams and explore the world."

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While travel is about seeing, doing and learning, it won't be fun unless you plan ahead, she said.

Nixon recently shared a wide range of travel tips for senior citizens - from how to pack to safety precautions - during a program at the Washington County Free Library.

"The key to a good trip is preparation," she said. "Make sure you have the right documents; do some research about your destination, so you'll know what to bring along; and be aware of the latest travel security regulations, which, these days, seem to change on a daily basis."

Answers and deals

If it's been some time since you traveled, especially overseas, Nixon recommended working with a travel agent.

"There are so many questions facing today's traveler," she said. "Travel agents are paid to know the answers."

Travel agents also can offer deals that lump airfare, hotel and sightseeing adventures into a low-cost package. And, if you're interested, they can sign you up for tours geared exclusively to your age group.

Nixon noted that for those isiting overseas, a valid passport, and sometimes a visa, is required to enter and leave most foreign countries.

U.S. regulations also require that you document both your U.S. citizenship and your identity when you re-enter the United States.

Don't wait until the last minute to get your passport, she said. Because of new regulations, passport processing times have increased.

With security regulations, Nixon said there have been many changes in baggage restrictions.

Expect carry-on baggage to be hand-searched. For easy visibility and removal, place items in plastic zip bags before packing. Check with your travel agent or airline for a list of prohibited items.

For hassle-free security screening, travel light.

"Pack to travel," Nixon said, "not to move. Remember the first three letters of luggage are L-U-G. Keep in mind, at some point you might have to carry your suitcases."

Nixon recommended buying middle-of-the-road luggage - not cheap or it will fall apart; not the designer brands because it's the first choice of thieves.

She suggested personalizing your luggage with ribbon or tape - "something to make it stand out. A thief who might be interested in taking your suitcase doesn't want to be obvious."

When it comes to your luggage's identification tags, don't use titles, such as doctor or senator, which could tell a thief you might have something valuable inside. Also, don't use your home address. Place your itinerary, home address and telephone number inside your luggage. If luggage is lost, airline personnel will look inside for return information.

When claiming your luggage, position yourself close to where the baggage will come onto the belt, Nixon said.

"Some people come to airports just to steal luggage," she noted. "That's the downside of travel."

When traveling, Nixon suggested taking as few things in your wallet as possible.

"Take a credit card, health and travel insurance cards, but leave items you'll have no use for at home, such as grocery cards," she said.

Leave at home any irreplaceable family objects and valuable or expensive-looking jewelry.

Nixon said there are some cruises and tours specifically for handicapped individuals.

But if you are not part of such a group, familiarize yourself with the conditions of your destination and how they could affect your health and well-being.

"Some European cities, for instance, don't have handicapped accessible buildings," she said.

"You might also find their cobblestone streets or sidewalks hard to maneuver. It's best to know ahead of time what you're facing."

According to the U.S. government, a traveler going abroad with a pre-existing medical problem should carry a letter from an attending physician, describing the medical condition and any prescription medications.

Any medicine being carried overseas should be left in the original containers and be clearly labeled.

If you have any questions about medications, Nixon suggested contacting your airline or travel agent.

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