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Tips before you pack

Preparation is key when traveling

May 22, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • AARP reports that travel is the No. 1 pastime for today's retirees. A safe trip takes a lot of planning before the bags are even packed.
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Like many older Americans, Michael Kobold had a few things he wanted to accomplish when he retired.

Take a bicycle tour of Europe. Check.

Go sea kayaking in Alaska. Check.

Visit ancient ruins in Mexico. Check.

Kobold, 66, said he always wanted to travel. But, because of work, he never had the time.

Since retiring from his college teaching job three years ago, the Hagerstown man is fulfilling his wanderlust.

"My friends and I are always planning our next trip," he said. "It's our version of a bucket list."

Kobold is typical of a growing number of older adults who aren't interested in accumulating hours in front of a television. Instead, they want to accumulate life-changing experiences.

And they are doing it through travel.

Seeing the world

According to AARP, travel is the No. 1 pastime of today's retirees.

The idea of visiting new places and enjoying a different culture is a huge draw for the 60-plus crowd, the senior organization says.

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They're reached the age and earned the right to finally relax and enjoy life, said Judy Hawbecker, a travel agent with Travel Plans Inc. in Hagerstown. They're ready to explore the world.

For some people, traveling is a part of their sense of adventure, Hawbecker said.

"It's in their blood," he said.

Hawbecker said it depends on the individual, but most people older than 60 who come into the travel agency prefer traveling independently, rather than being part of a tour group.

"They want to do their own thing, at their own pace," she said.

"Some tours can be very strenuous, starting the day at 6 or 7 a.m.," she noted. "Often, there's a lot of walking involved. Traveling on your own, you can set your own schedule."

While Travel Plans can arrange trips all over the world, the two most popular destinations with older travelers are Europe and Alaska, Hawbecker said.

Ragina Averella, public and government affairs manager with AAA Mid-Atlantic in Towson, Md., said the typical older traveler is taking longer trips and tends to gravitate toward the more exotic locations.

"Last year, for example, AAA sold out on trips to Antarctica and China," she said.

Cruises, she said, are still incredibly popular with seniors and are a perfect vacation for those individuals who want a more leisurely getaway.

"But the one thing we tell all of our agents," she said, "is don't assume all seniors want the same thing. They're not limited in what they expect from a vacation."

Before you go

Regardless of your destination, both travel experts said preparation is the key to a good experience.

Being knowledgeable about your trip, your mode of transportation and accommodations will give you peace of mind, Averella said. The more research you do before your departure, the better.

If you take medications, be sure you've packed everything you need, plus prescriptions, she said. It's a good idea to carry enough medicine for two to three times the length of the trip "because you never know what will happen."

Averella also suggests packing your medicines in your carry-on luggage in case your other luggage is lost or delayed.

The U.S. Government recommends travelers going abroad with a preexisting medical problem should carry a letter from an attending physician, describing the medical condition and a list of prescription medications.

Both Hawbecker and Averella said some insurance companies won't cover overseas travel, so they suggest being really sure what insurance you will need.

"Purchasing insurance is something we highly recommend, even to younger travelers," said Hawbecker.

Remember the bags

Luggage is another issue to consider, Averella said.

AAA recommends buying middle-of-the-road luggage - not cheap or it will fall apart, but not designer brands because it's the first choice of thieves.

The travel service also suggests personalizing your luggage with a ribbon or tape, anything that will 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, says AAA.

Also, don't use your home address. Place your itinerary, home address and telephone number inside the luggage.

If luggage is lost, airline personnel will look inside for return information.

"Many of the suggestions we offer are common sense," Averella said, including not carrying valuables or wearing expensive jewelry.

Safety first

When it comes to hotel safety, always put a Do Not Disturb sign on your door, even when you're not there, she said. Also, leave the television, radio and/or lights on when you are not in the room.

AAA tells travelers to share their itinerary with family members or friends. Let someone at home know your flight information or driving routes, hotel information and how to contact you in case of an emergency.

By doing your homework, Averella said, you can accomplish what you originally set out to do -- enjoy your trip.

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