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Travelling overseas later in life

Many older people love to do international travel especially because they now have the time and money to do so.

Key points:

  • It is better to be over prepared for a big overseas trip, so you are ready for any curveballs that are thrown your way

  • Health is always key for an older person, so you should consider how you will deal with a medical emergency

  • Always research the countries you are intending to visit and compare it to the advice from the Australian Government

Happy older couple overseas
​While there is a lot you need to think about and organise before you start your trip, planning is worth it! [Source: iStock]

It could be anything from a self-drive holiday to New Zealand, cruising around the Caribbean on a cruise liner, hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru, or joining a tour group to explore all Europe has to offer.

Even though traveling overseas is limited at the moment, now is the time to start thinking about and preparing for that next trip, once borders are opening up again.

Here are some things to consider before you hop on the plane to reach your dream destination.

Planning is key

There are travel agents who specialise in developing or organising trips especially for older people. They can make sure the trip is accessible, depending on your level of mobility, or can offer safe and interesting tours that may suit your personal needs.

Planning is really important if you are intending to organise the whole trip yourself. You need to create yourself a budget, book flights and accommodation, and have basic knowledge of how to travel around, and between, the cities and towns you want to visit.

You also need to know what the environment and culture are like in the countries you travel to. Visit the Smart Traveller website for Government information and advice on situations in different countries.

For example, Vietnam is a very cultural country speaking mainly Vietnamese with the second main language English, but there are areas in Vietnam where French, Cantonese, Mandarin or Khmer is spoken. There are also strict Government laws and regulations in Vietnam with militia patrolling streets and protecting monuments. Areas in Vietnam get affected by strong unexpected weather events like monsoons, it is not recommended to travel around in Vietnam during monsoon season.

At most bookstores near you, you should be able to find travel guide books on countries you want to visit which can help with organising your trip, or take your research online. As they say; planning for a trip is half the fun! 

Healthcare overseas

Depending on where you travel, it can be difficult to access medication or health care services. Some countries may not have services that you would normally be able to access in Australia quite easily.

There may even be a difficult language barrier to overcome when talking to a doctor or hospital staff.

The Australian Government has agreements with 11 countries to provide access to some health care services, potentially for free or at a reduced rate, through Medicare. The Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA) is currently available in Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

You can access reduced costs for medical care if it is emergency care or care for an injury or illness that you can't wait until you return to Australia. However, depending on the country you are visiting, that is part of the RHCA, they will decide what will be covered or subsidised. The doctor who treats you will decide if they believe it is a medical necessity to receive subsided or free care.

Before you head overseas, you will need to contact Services Australia to enrol in the program and claim Medicare benefits. 

It's important to have your medication prepared and stored in a safe place when travelling.  This includes enough medication to cover your immediate time overseas and extra medication for basic care, like aspirin or gastro-related tablets.

The medication you are able to get from your pharmacist regularly may not be available in the country you are visiting. You should research this before heading to other countries.

Have a letter from your doctor explaining you need the medication/medical equipment because some countries may be funny about that. Carry additional prescriptions with you in case you need to refill or if your luggage gets lost

Lastly, have all of your medical check-ups done before you travel so you know you are fit to travel. This also allows you to catalogue your doctor's letter of explanation for any medication you need to take while travelling.

Travel insurance

Having some form of travel insurance can be the best way to prepare yourself for the worst case scenario. Depending on the level of insurance you choose it can protect you monetarily, by reimbursing you for last minute tour, flights or accommodation cancellations, or can cover any medical payments if you need health care or have any other type of emergency while overseas.

If you look at what occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, it took the world by storm; the virus spread far and wide quickly and is the first of its kind in over a century. The risk is very much possible that we could see another pandemic like experience in our lifetime again.

People were frantically cutting their trips short, booking planes back home and cancelling their remaining bookings. While some were unable to get refunds back from cancelling, others with travel insurance were mostly protected against the effects of the unexpected natural disasters.

The two most common forms of insurance are vacation plans and travel medical plans. There is also seniors travel insurance, which covers older people while they travel.

When looking into insurance, you should shop around and see what is available and get different quotes. Each plan can differ from company to company, and may exclude things that are important. Make sure to look at what you are being covered for and if you have medical problems, make sure it covers any emergency actions that you may need to take.

You should take out travel insurance as soon as you book flights in case anything happens and you need to change plans unexpectedly.

Laws and restrictions in countries

It can be harder for Australians to keep track of the different laws and regulation in other countries.

Some countries are incredibly strict on what you can bring across their borders. For instance, Indonesia has notoriously strict drug laws.

You should always be prepared before you travel that you have correct documentation for any medication and also be aware if your medication is legal to bring into the countries you are travelling to.

Certain countries in Africa or the Middle East have certain clothing expectations, especially for women. It's important to understand the sensitivities in other countries when travelling and for your own safety.

Before travelling to countries, you should also check it through the Australian Government's Smart Traveller website. You can search the country and view their travel status, which could be "do not travel" advice, or it could highlight that some areas in a country are safer compared to others.

Not only that, there is information about the country, how safe it is, provides information on health directions you should take before heading there, and also makes you aware of relevant laws that may affect you.

Smart Traveller can also update you on visa requirements when entering countries. Certain countries don't require Visas to enter, whereas some countries may demand that you have a pre-approved visa, which could take a month to get approved, to enter the country. There may also be different Visa types you can apply for.

Safety measures

Have your suitcases adequately secured with padlocks or keys, and keep your valuables out of sight.

It's advisable to not wear any expensive jewellery or clothing that could make you a target for pickpockets.

Always watch your bags and backpacks because some places, for example in the main tourist area of Lisbon, Portugal, and Paris, France are known for having very talented pickpockets using all kinds of tricks to try and get to your valuables.

Keep any money or valuables in either a close body bag or "bum bag", and if you have a credit card, it may be a good idea to keep it in a credit card protector wallet. Another tip is to split your valuables and carry money in different spots on you. 

Some travel organisations even suggest having a dummy wallet with a small amount of cash inside so if you are mugged you can provide the fake wallet and can get you out of trouble safely.

Always have copies of your passport or identification on you at all times in case you lose your passport. It is also a good option to have easy access to contact details for the Australian embassy in case of an emergency. Never leave passports or other valuables behind in your hotel.

If you have concerns around travelling at night or going to certain areas in a city your a visiting, talk to your guides or accommodation staff for their opinions on visiting different places.

If you feel uncomfortable or worried in a certain situation when travelling, you should follow your gut and try to get back to the safety of your accommodation or an area of a city you feel comfortable in.

Planning means less stress

While there is a lot you need to think about and organise before you start your trip, planning is worth it!

It can ease your mind that everything is organised and you won't become lost or overwhelmed when travelling the world.

What trips do you intend to take once you retire? Or if you are already retired, where have you visited? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:
Virtual trips from your couch
Living life on the road
How to maintain and improve your mobility and reduce falls

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