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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Discovering day rooms for long layovers at international airports

Written by admin on December 8, 2008 – 12:48 pm -

How many times have you had six to eight hour connections between planes and wanted to do something other than walk the airport’s corridors? There’s only so much shopping one can do or overpriced airport food a waiting traveler can consume. Many airports’ public spaces are so crowded and noisy that the concept of relaxing is an enigma especially since carry-on bags need watching like a hawk.

For a long layover, day rooms are are wonderful alternatives to simply wandering between Gate A-1 and G152. For intrepid travelers the choices for passing time have long been to leave the airport for a short local tour or meal or settling into one of the airport lounges with magazines, TV, snacks and endless drinks. However, both have their drawbacks.

Leaving the airport is fraught with anxiety and often just not practical. The thought of leaving the airport and missing my flight makes me itchy. Anxiety often overcomes the glory of the Eiffel Tower, the symmetry of Plaza Mayor in Madrid or a walk along the Rhine in Frankfurt.

Legally, I have heard, travelers are not supposed to leave the airport’s premises if they’ve checked bags for an ongoing flight or may need an entry visa during a layover to wander outside the airport corridors. And with airlines requiring passengers to be at the airport two hours before departure, there frequently just isn’t enough time.

Airport lounges are invaluable and some frequent travelers invest in yearly club cards so that if they’re traveling in coach class, they may access the inner sanctum, do some work, eat something or simply relax. But it is rare to find a business class level lounge that is good for catching up on sleep or freshening up.

The day room alternative
Airport day rooms are an alternative that I have just discovered after crossing the Pacific. A few airports have day rooms but finding them isn’t an easy Google search. With flights being cut and more travelers being forced to wait in order to get from here to there, day rooms undoubtedly have a growing future.

Here are a few day rooms or short-stay airport rooms that I have found after speaking with international travelers and browsing the Internet.

Amsterdam Schiphol, London Heathrow and London Gatwick Airports have “YOTEL” based on Japanese Capsule hotel models. Passengers don’t have to exit security to access these rooms. The small cubicles feel more like boat cabins than hotel rooms, but the serve their purpose. Occupants can sleep, read, shower, power up computers and use the free WiFi. No one would want to spend an entire honeymoon in a place like this but Yotels are a boon for tired travelers.

There are day rooms at Narita Airport in Tokyo but they’re rumored to be similar to slightly tacky plastic cubicles and are so small that people with claustrophobia want out as soon as they awaken. Others feel they serve their purpose.

The room was small, but we actually fit on the bed, which is more than we can say for most beds in China, including the one in our apartment. Soap and shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste[1], are all provided. They even do wake-up calls.

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport — Day rooms are available for passengers on the 2nd and 4th floor of Terminal 1 & 2 at reasonable rates for six hours with soft drinks, Tel: 535-3710-24.

The Hong Kong airport has shower rooms for rent as well as rooms where mothers may take their infants to nurse.

Singapore Changi Airport offers 73 transit hotel rooms in Terminal 1 and 73 in Terminal 2. Rentals are in six-hourly blocks ranging between $37 and $42 for single or double occupancy. Showers, gym and sauna facilities are also available at extra cost for non-transit hotel occupants.

The Dubai Airport has 88 rooms in the 5-star Dubai International Hotel, on the arrivals level of Sheikh Rashid Terminal. But don’t they come cheap — expect to pay $41 to $62 an hour!

Travelers wanting to rest and relax between flights will most probably have to exit the customs area and head to hotels adjoining the terminals (such as the Sheridan Hotel at Paris’s CDG Airport or the Hilton or Thistle at London Heathrow) or motels and hotels within the airport complex.

Some will advertise “day rates” while others won’t accord occupancy. Many airports have reasonably priced hotel rooms available, depending on the season and whether or not conventions are taking place in the vicinity.

One suggestion: Access a couple of hotel Internet booking sites if you think you’re going to want a room between flights. Last minute rooms are frequently deep-discounted.

Be certain there’s a shuttle service to and from the property and the airport. If you have to hire a taxi, you may find yourself accumulating hefty bills as there’s a minimum charge for leaving and going to the airport. Plus, if a driver has been waiting in line anticipating a hefty fare, don’t be surprised if he or she is cranky.

If you know of other airports that have day rooms, please add them.

Another question for business and leisure travelers is would you use day rooms? If not, what alternative plans would you make? Very few travelers want to live in an airport. And eight hours in captivity feels as if it’s a life time.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis; and is currently in transit in Asia.


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