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Healthy Aging: Travel tips for the seniors among us

As I write this column, we are on the final leg of a long-planned holiday.

I refer to it as our European adventure. My husband calls it “the trip.”

If you have a vacation in your sights this year and want a little insurance that your adventures will be numerous (and largely pleasant), I offer “Travel Rules for People Over Age 70.”

Rule No. 1: Plan well. Really well. Start early and consult an expert. Consider giving your final itinerary to your kids or a good friend and ask if they see any scheduled stops that don’t meet the test of common sense for you personally.

Aging adults can become easily distracted when planning travel-related activities. We are also more likely to over-plan — and we get fatigued. You may need an extra set of eyes or a quality check on long-day schedules; ask for creative advice from anyone who will listen. Example: Can I take a wheelchair on a Vaporatto in Venice? (The answer is yes, but look for the accessibility symbol). Example: If I need additional hearing batteries in Germany, will I be able to find them? (The answer is yes, but you may have to do a lot of walking to locate them.)

Walking is great, of course. But older adults are at higher fall risk in unfamiliar environments, especially with cobblestone streets and arched stone bridges. (Holding hands helps).

We did not have many of those problems, but I am extremely fortunate to have a resourceful husband who has traveled extensively and likes to problem-solve. He is just as comfortable mastering an unfamiliar city’s map as he is reading a book.

Which brings me to Rule No. 2. Pack lots of reading material. Almost any multi-week holiday involves long car, train or plane rides, and these are much more enjoyable if you travel with a favorite author. Having your books on a back-lighted Kindle or iPad where you can enlarge the font is a really good idea.

I chose Jodi Picoult as a traveling companion, and on our recent trip I reread several of her books, including “House Rules,” the unsettlingly well described challenges of a single mother with a teenage son who has autism. For those of you not familiar with the book, the house rules are simple: “Clean up your messes” and “tell the truth.”

Which brings me to Rule No. 3. Pack a lot of goodwill. Especially when traveling abroad, as America seems to be increasingly seen as not observing the aforementioned rule.

Rule No. 4: Pack light. Use those AAA zippered bags that squeeze items and preserve space. Re-gift them to another traveling elder upon your return.

Rule No. 5: If you are traveling with your beloved, use the moment to reconnect and rekindle. Back-lighting optional.

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at

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