9 rules for very senior travelers planning vacations

Written by admin on May 5, 2009 – 5:51 pm -

Just because you may not be running as fast as you used to, or possibly never did, that’s no reason not to travel. Here are nine rules for travelers who might need more time or assistance when traveling.

Check with your doctor
Before booking your trip, sit down with your doctor and discuss what you should and shouldn’t be doing. In addition, you may need extra inoculations plus copies of your prescriptions (generic please) and a summary of your medical records. He or she can contribute valuable advice as to where you should and shouldn’t go.

Use a travel agent
Many people opt to use travel agents whose specialty is planning trips for very senior citizens and those with disabilities. They know which places are more appropriate than others and have the contacts to make your trip less fraught with anxiety.

For example, there are numerous cruise companies that have boats with rooms specifically designed to accommodate people who are less mobile. More than likely, they offer land excursions where the disabled traveler will be able to participate.

If you’re making your own plans, make advanced preparations and think out every possible contingency. Leave as little as possible to chance.

Depending on your situation, there are some countries where you’ll do better than others in the event you encounter problems. There are some cities that are more senior-citizen-friendly than others. Even Paris is trying to retrofit many of its ancient buildings and public spaces to accommodate wheelchairs and those with mobility problems.

You aren’t going to want to book biking, hiking or a trip that’s physically taxing. But there are many other places to go and things to do. Don’t confine your travels to sitting on a porch in a rocking chair.

Inform your airline
If flying, inform the airline of wheelchair needs for departing and upon arrival. Some people don’t think they need this service but airline terminals and connecting ramps feel as if they are expanding every year. Don’t let a false sense of pride cause you to board the plane tired and frazzled.

And there’s a plus. You’ll be ferried through security and if you’re traveling internationally, you won’t have to wait forever to clear customs because the escort will take you to the front of the line. I realized this one time when I was accompanying a friend who had a broken leg. That’s when the bonus of being expedited through the security process dawned on me. I considered faking an infirmity the next time I was traveling alone. How I hate waiting in lines. But, who doesn’t?

Use a porter
When traveling by train, always reserve a porter. For the few extra dollars (and do tip), he can make your life easier by escorting you to your seat and doing battle with your luggage. Do not expect to necessarily find roving porters in the station. In many European cities (and elsewhere to be sure) they must be reserved in advance.

Request accessible rooms at hotels
When making hotel reservations, specify you need a room that’s easily accessible from the main floor and if there are stairs, there’s an alternative way of getting from here to there. Not every facility has elevators (or big enough ones to accommodate a wheelchair) and it’s up to the traveler to do the homework. Many older properties don’t have ramps or places without stairs. Better to know before you arrive than find yourself trapped. It’s no sin to decide to stay at a different hotel because of its layout. If you use a wheelchair, make sure the doorways are wide enough to accommodate it and there are appropriate bathing facilities

Think before you dine
Restaurants may or may not present a challenge. In Europe, it’s amazing how many of them have restroom facilities on another floor. As they’re renovated, restaurants are required in many places to install WCs on the main floor — but it’s prudent to check before sitting down to eat.

Carefully plan public transportation
Check your destination’s public transportation system. In some cities such as Washington, D.C., the subways are required to have elevators so seniors and the disabled may may more easily use the metro trains.

In Paris, it’s illegal for taxis not to stop for a passenger who is wheelchair bound. Not only that, the driver is responsible for folding up the wheelchair and not charging to transport it in the cab’s trunk without charging a supplement.

Many cities have buses with ramps that can be lowered or that “kneel” to make entry easier. They many not be on every route but are being added as vehicles are being replaced.

Bring an special items
Pack needed items such as special pillows, bandages and anything that will make you more comfortable during your trip. You may need to check and pay for an extra suitcase. But the additional cost is comparatively nothing compared to searching for something specific in a foreign place — even if it’s a two-hour flight away from you live. Don’t expect drug stores to have what you need or necessarily even be open.

Buy travel insurance
Travel insurance is generally a good investment, especially if you have any type of disability. Better to spend the extra money and be able to be repatriated to the medical facility of your choice. You’ll travel with increased peace of mind as will family members left behind.

Other considerations: Are you comfortable traveling to a destination where you don’t speak the language? Some people are, while others aren’t. Know your limitations and comfort level.

These are a few suggestions and certainly the tip of the iceberg. Please add yours. People learn from each others experiences, mistakes and oversights.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Do You Think You’re Skinny or Fat?

Written by admin on May 1, 2009 – 12:10 pm -

If you’re an American woman, chances are you think you’re fat – and possibly (probably) carrying a few extra pounds around your middle. Unless you’re a gym addict, it’s so easy to gain surplus weight from eating between meals and not walking as much as most French people do – especially if they’re city dwellers. For that matter, even the French who live in small towns generally walk in order to accomplish the essentials of everyday life, such as going to the baker and the butcher. Driving from one shopping center to the next does not make for skinny.

Even though many French people are eating an increasing amount of junk food and eating on the run, quantities aren’t the same. It’s rare when you see a French diner chowing down a side of beef. It’s an enigma for many Americans, after moving to France, how much less meat they consume. Portion control is a way of life and not part of a weight loss diet.

Ironically, American women aren’t the only ones who tote the “fat” self- image. According to a recent study, France has the highest proportion of clinically underweight women in Europe. But, only fifty percent perceive themselves as being too thin. Hello, anorexia and perhaps that’s why you rarely see French (and most especially Parisian) women do much more than pick at the food on their plates.

The adage, “You can never be too rich or too thin,” has been attributed to Dorothy Parker, Joan Rivers, Rose Kennedy, Diana Vreeland, and more frequently, either the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson) or Babe Paley, the wife of CBS’s founder William Paley, who was known for her acid tongue.

In all probability, the person who originated the comment was author Truman Capote, when he appeared on the David Susskind Show in the late 1950s. What’s amazing is how memorable the phrase has remained throughout the years.

Interestingly enough, the opposite is true in other European countries, including the U.K., Portugal and Spain. Women tend to perceive themselves as being underweight when they’re anything but.

Thibaut de Saint Pol, a researcher at France’s National Institute of Demographic studies, recently published a study documenting that the French consider the ideal weight to be less than people living in other EU countries. France is the one country in which both sexes are statistically categorized as being in the “normal” weight bracket. While particularly dramatic in France, this hypothesis holds true in fifteen European countries.

The study demonstrates an objective and subjective gap between how men and women perceive weight. According to the World Health Organization, with the exception of Frenchmen and Dutchmen, men from Western Europe are overweight. Holland is the only country in the study where women are comparatively heavier than men.

Men and women perceive their body weights differently. Men denigrate their bodies when underweight but don’t perceive being overweight a problem unless they fall into the obese category. For men, however, carrying weight is felt by some — consciously or not — as projecting strength.

Conversely, women value being underweight and equate it with elegance and beauty. As soon as they gain weight, they find it unacceptable and it can cause them to ricochet into depression.

There’s a definite correlation between economic affluence and weight. In the US and in the EU, wealthier people tend to be thinner. De Saint Pol notes that cultural symbols reinforce different attitudes, even though it’s hard to tell whether they are more cause or effect.

Obese people are ostracized and tend not to be able climb as high on the corporate ladder as their thinner colleagues. Who says appearance and not sheer competence aren’t factors when it comes to success?

De Saint Pol says, “If a French person who feels fat goes to the United States,” — which has much higher rate of obesity — “he or she probably won’t feel fat.” That’s a sad commentary but unfortunately, based on metric studies, true.

Time will tell whether or not Europeans will become heavier or if Americans will adopt some French standards. It’s a toss-up considering the preponderance of fast food restaurants mushrooming up everywhere. But in France, McDonalds advertises that people confine eating there to once a week. However, the chain is aggressively adding salads and lower calorie items to the menus – as a marketing tool. So perhaps, people will become McDo addicts and not feel as guilty since they’ll be eating healthy.


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Posted in Around the World |