Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Young at heart

Wise planning makes
travel a breeze

You're retired. Your kids are on their own. You've got money in the bank and time on your hands. Pick a place and pack your bags! The world is beckoning!

More so than any other period in their lives, mature travelers have the flexibility and means to travel, but even a short getaway might require thoughtful preparation. Here are 12 tips that can help make your trip smooth no matter what your destination.

1. Before you go, get a complete physical checkup, particularly if you have a chronic condition such as coronary heart disease and hypertension or if you have recently undergone surgery. If you're headed for a foreign country, ask your doctor about the possible effects being on a different diet might have for a prolonged period.

2. Make sure your supply of medications will last the entire trip. Hand-carry them; don't pack them in your luggage and run the risk that they will not reach your destination the same time you do. Carefully calculate when you should take your medications if you'll be going through different time zones. If you have allergic reactions to certain foods, drugs or insect bites, wear a "medical alert" bracelet.

3. Prepare a medical kit for your carry-on bag. This should contain nonprescription pain relievers, antacids and anti-diarrheal remedies; antibacterial ointments; antiseptics; cotton swabs; Band-Aids; and a spare pair of glasses. Copies of your drug and eyeglass prescriptions as well as statements from your doctor detailing any serious conditions and explaining your need for specific drugs also can be stored in the kit.

4. If you'll be traveling overseas, get the proper immunizations for endemic diseases. Consult your doctor to determine if you need vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, typhoid, flu, pneumonia or hepatitis A. The travelers hot line at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 877-394-8747, is a good resource.

5. Buy a good guidebook or two and learn as much as you can about the destination you'll be visiting, including its climate, which can exacerbate certain medical conditions. Air pollution and high altitudes present serious health risks for seniors and those who suffer from high blood pressure, anemia or respiratory or cardiac problems. Symptoms of high-altitude sickness include fatigue, shortness of breath and, occasionally, dizziness and insomnia. Most people will adjust to changes in altitude within a few days by taking it easy, eating light meals and reducing their intake of alcohol.

6.Review your health insurance policy to find out what is and isn't covered. If your plan doesn't cover treatment outside the United States -- including emergency evacuation by air ambulance to a major medical center -- it's wise to purchase a short-term travel health insurance policy. Your travel agent can recommend reputable companies, or you can request a pamphlet called "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad" by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Room 6831, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC 20520-4818.

7. If you're traveling on a package, familiarize yourself with its cancellation policy. In most cases, hefty penalties will apply if you cancel or postpone your trip, and you could lose a significant amount of money. To ensure this doesn't happen, buy trip insurance. Confirm the plan you choose will cover most reasons for cancellation, including an emergency affecting a family member, not just yourself. Traveling with a reputable firm will lessen the headaches if you need to change your plans. You can check a company's credentials with the Better Business Bureau or the American Society of Travel Agents (703-739-2782).

8. Examine your wardrobe with a critical eye; think about the climate and season in the places you will visit, and pack accordingly. Select comfortable clothing that won't constrict or bind. Sturdy walking shoes and wash-and-wear, mix-and-match outfits are musts. Dress conservatively and leave your expensive jewelry, watches and other accessories at home.

9. Carry prepaid phone cards; they are the easiest, simplest and cheapest way to keep in touch with loved ones when you're traveling. You won't have to scramble for change for pay phones or rack up hotel calling charges. Most cards can be used for national and international calls, and are renewable via charge card payment over the phone.

10. On long flights, those who are obese and have coronary heart disease run the highest risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) -- blood clots in the veins of the legs, which can be life-threatening. To reduce the risk of DVT, your doctor might advise you to take half an aspirin on the day of your flight, wear elasticized stockings and loose clothing, refrain from smoking and alcohol, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, stroll frequently up and down the aisles, avoid sitting with your legs crossed, and perform leg and foot exercises while seated.

11. Not as nimble as you used to be? Not to worry. You can rent walkers, wheelchairs and electric scooters from ScootAround (888-441-7575), which provides convenient drop-off and pickup service at hotels and cruise ships at more than 500 locations worldwide. Similarly, traveling afar is an option nowadays even for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, scleroderma, asbestosis, pulmonary fibrosis, black lung and other breath-limiting conditions. Even if you're dependent on an oxygen tank round the clock, you can go just about anywhere your heart desires thanks to portable oxygen equipment rentals from TravelMed International (888-878-3627). A technician will meet you at the airport gate to hook up enough oxygen to get you through customs, baggage claim, car rental and the trip to your hotel. Additional oxygen supplies can be delivered as needed throughout your visit.

12. Jet lag seems to occur more often when you fly from west to east, because it is more difficult for the body to adjust to "losing time" than to "gaining time." Symptoms include fatigue, insomnia, disorientation, headache, lightheadedness, indigestion and swollen hands and feet.

To prevent jet lag:

>> Change your sleep patterns to match the schedule you will keep at your destination. Before you leave, start adjusting your bedtime by an hour a day.

>> Drink plenty of water before, during and after your flight.

>> Avoid drinking alcohol or anything with caffeine during your flight (soft drinks, coffee and tea also contain caffeine).

>> Sleep during your flight if it is nighttime at your destination.

>> Stay awake if it is daytime at your destination.

>> Stimulate circulation by stretching, walking up and down the aisles, and squeezing a rubber ball or a pair of socks.

>> Eat lightly and make wise selections. High-protein meals tend to keep you awake, while foods high in carbohydrates promote sleep.

>> It usually takes at least a day or two to recover from jet lag. Don't rush into activities when you arrive at your destination; let your body adjust to the time change gradually. Remember, you're on vacation, so relax and enjoy it to the fullest!

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