We're living longer, healthier lives as a nation. And older Americans are using their leisure time and hefty disposable incomes to see the world. People over 60 now spend more time traveling for pleasure than ever before, according to a study by the CDC in Atlanta.
"We drive so much that it seems like we're always on the road going somewhere or going back home," says Linda Smith, 59, a retired teacher who lives in Cincinnati. "Sometimes I think we try to travel too much, in fact.
Smith and her husband, Chris, 62, spend about a week per month traveling from their home in Ohio to their vacation home in northern Michigan. They also travel frequently by air all over the U.S. -- from New York to Florida to Los Angeles -- to visit their children and their friends.
"More and more older persons are healthier at later ages now," says Robert Butler, MD, president of the International Longevity Center in New York City. "Much of the traveling they do reflects their stage in life. They have the resources and time to pursue interests they've never had time to partake of."
Whether driving, flying, or kicking back on a cruise ship, people over 60 need to take special precautions to make sure the stresses of travel -- both physical and financial -- don't damage their health.
Doctor, Insurance Agent, Travel Agent
Though most travel experts agree that the same travel safety advice that applies to anyone also applies to older Americans, they stress that many seniors have special concerns -- medications, diets, insurance needs, mobility issues -- that can require special planning.
"Older people really need to do three things before they embark on long trips: see a doctor to discuss health concerns and update vaccinations; talk to an insurance agent to get travelers' insurance; and discuss any mobility issues with a travel agent to make sure they will be able to physically reach the specific sites in mind," says Hal Norvell, an expert in travel for people over 50. He works for the AARP in Washington.
"Realistic expectations are important when planning a trip," says Norvell. "You don't want to get to the Mayan ruins at Calakmul in Mexico to find that people with mobility issues can't get to it. That's why consulting with a reputable travel agent is so important. Planning around health issues can make a trip so much more successful."