Essential Checklist for International Trips with Older Folks

1 September 2023
Essential Checklist for International Trips with Older Folks

According to AARP’s 2022 Travel Trends report, there’s a lot of pent-up demand for travelers over 50. Compared to the previous year, a higher percentage of 50-plus Americans plan to take at least four trips this year, and slightly less than half plan to travel internationally.

Recently, a friend mentioned to me that their 80+-year-old parents were planning an international trip, and they haven’t been on a flight since before the pandemic!

My friend is considering traveling with her parents to ensure they stay safe in Italy.

Planning an international trip as an older person isn’t all that different than anyone else, except for a few things. Whether you are traveling with older loved ones or helping them prepare for a trip on their own, here’s a list of things to keep in mind.

Consider the traveler’s health

The first thing to remember is that older folks are not homogeneous, and travel decisions should be made based on the individual traveler. Also, health considerations are a factor no matter the traveler’s age, so this list is pertinent to every traveler:

  1. Determine if any health issues will be affected by the destination. The CDC’s Traveler’s Health site has useful destination-specific information.
  2. Make sure the traveler’s vaccinations are all up-to-date. (Hint: that same CDC site tells you if specific travel vaccinations are required for the location.)
  3. Learn what medical treatment is like at the destination. This step is especially important for trips to underdeveloped countries.
  4. Have a plan for getting medical help while on the trip. The International Society of Travel Medicine has an online medical clinic directory.
  5. Know how to contact the US embassy at the destination. They will have a list of medical facilities and English-speaking medical providers.

If the traveler has any medical concerns, a pre-trip consultation with their personal medical provider will be a helpful step to knowing how to manage their condition while traveling. In addition, a pre-trip doctor visit is a great time to refill any necessary or precautionary prescriptions.

See our 10 Tips for Traveling Seniors with Health Concerns.

Figure out a travel schedule

Travel presents challenges and unpredictability — that’s all part of the adventure. Too much unpredictability, however, can cause stress.

Think through the specific logistics for your travel schedule based on your home schedule. If you’re accustomed to waking early and taking a walk, keep to that schedule while traveling. That includes naps, medication timing, meal times, etc. 

Any traveler can embrace the novelty of a new location, gorgeous sites, and delicious meals. Keeping a familiar framework for each day will keep stress and anxiety from derailing the trip.

Pro tip: Resist the urge to overschedule and build in extra time and ample downtime. Embrace slow travel instead.

Purchase travel insurance

Purchasing a good travel insurance plan is just a good call for any international trip and traveler of any age, but even more essential for older travelers.

See our Guide to Travel Insurance for Seniors for more information.

Get an international phone plan

Staying connected while traveling isn’t a question anymore – it’s an absolute necessity – and of course, no one wants to pay international roaming charges. 

Solving the international plan question is step one and to be honest, every time I’m planning an international trip (which is at least once a year), I have to review the international options because the tech changes so quickly.

On recent international trips, we’ve gone directly from the airport to a local mobile store to switch out the SIM cards on our phones, but there are other options now.

  • eSIM
  • Google Fi
  • Provider’s international plans

The Points Guy’s recent article explains the current options well.

Just for fun: See a story of what it was like to travel before smartphones.

Install all the apps

No matter how tech-savvy your older folks are, there are probably things they just don’t know, especially if they haven’t traveled in a few years. 

To help them stay safe and have what they need, you may want to make sure they:

  1. Install each airline’s app on their phones and tablets so they can access in-flight Wi-Fi and onboard entertainment. (See our recent article on unlocking the secrets of airplane Wi-Fi if you have questions.)
  2. Install WhatsApp and create a family group so they can chat and check in with those at home. See why this app.
  3. Consider creating a WhatsApp group if they’re traveling with family or friends, so they can keep in touch on the trip.
  4. Consider installing a translation app if they’re traveling in or through countries where they don’t speak the language.

Plan for lost luggage

It’s heartening to know that nearly 100% of lost luggage is eventually found and returned to the owner. That said, delayed or temporarily lost luggage can put a traveler at odds with their trip.

See our article on How to Safely Lose Your Luggage for a list of helpful reminders to handling this situation.

And finally …

The following are some additional articles that can be helpful for planning a trip as an older person or with an older person:

Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.