Old age is a gift

Old age is a gift

Last night my son Kenley told me that I was a snob.

“What do you mean, snob?” I asked. “I am not a snob.”

“Yes you are, Mom. You only want to travel with companies like National Geographic or Lindblad.”

Hey, listen here: I want to travel with NG because they travel to unique places, ports with fewer tourists and no shopping areas. There are a lot of companies that say that they go to Antarctica but do they? No! There are rules and regulations about which ships can go into the Southern Ocean safely and be able to get close enough to Antarctic to dock — and yes, you need to take a Zodiac into all Antarctica ports. You can’t just jump into the ocean and walk onto the continent.

As a widowed senior traveling alone, it’s a lot different now than when I was young and married and traveling with a backpack, able to leap tall buildings and control my bladder.

I think I prefer what my girlfriend said: that we are jaded. Well, if jaded means that I want to get something  special for my hard-earned money, then I guess I am jaded. Or maybe even a snob. When we get into our twilight years, time is a very precious. We’ve got a clearly-defined idea of what we want, and we want extraordinary, not the ordinary.

33235085 Bladder Control Cartoon


Traveling as a Senior Can Be Fun!

I looked in the mirror recently and wondered who that grey-haired old lady was looking out at me. When did I grow old? Now that I have the time and the money to travel,  I have other problems. Ladies, you know what I mean: the leakage problem. Yes, laughing used to be a way of enjoying a fun evening. Now, a hilarious evening is fraught with horrors. Certain problems seem to come with being a senior. Our clothes are getting smaller, steps are higher, and walking is becoming a chore. All cruise ships and hotels claim they are “senior friendly” just because they have added a few ramps and a handicap bathroom.

Most of us do not need a handicap bathroom, but bathrooms would be nice — oh, and time to use them.

But there’s good news! Traveling can still be fun if you understand what you need to do to enjoy traveling as a senior.


Things to do to Make Your Cruise Senior Friendly.

  • Keep in mind location, location, location. Mid-ship is best, close to the elevators.
  • Opt for a verandah on port side. You can enjoy the port on your verandah especially if you are in a port that you cannot get off at.   (Not all ships dock on the port side, of course, but if this is an option, by all means, take advantage of it.)
  • Avoid inside cabins — smaller bathrooms, fewer amenities. Remember: you get what you pay for.
  • If you need a wheel chair or scooter or other special needs, this can be arranged by your tour director. Yes, it does cost extra.  For example, a scooter is $275.00 per week. Do not expect a wheel chair to be supplied by the ship. They are only for emergencies and embarkation. They will meet you inside the ship, but you need to get assistance outside with other companies. This is something that your tour director can do for you.
  • When you are disembarking, they will pick you up in your room and take you out through customs and on to the taxi area. Make sure you let them know that you need this service and if you need one of the larger wheelchairs. This can all be arranged by your tour manager.
  • Special Needs at Sea provides wheelchair and scooter rental around the world – find out more by clicking here: SpecialNeedsatSea.com

If you have to wait for any reason, you will need to ask for assistance at the taxi area.

  • Be advised that on the first day of cruising, the elevators are crowded. If you planned on being somewhere  at a special time, I would advise that you leave your room at least an half hour in advance to be able to get an elevator.  You may need someone with you to push the buttons and put your key card in the door. Because of other responsibilities, a tour director cannot do this for you, so plan this in advance.
  • If you need handle bars, high toilet seats, scooters, walkers, or special assistance, please ask for a handicapped room. They are scarce and they are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, unless your travel advisor does the appropriate paperwork and checks to see that you do have a handicapped room, your room may be given to someone else who does have the proper paperwork. Ask to get a copy of this paperwork; this will insure that your agent has taken the time to do this.
  • Please do not expect your steward to be your caretaker. If you need someone to help you on a regular basis, such as meeting you to take you somewhere, you need to make arrangements before you come on ship. (DO NOT EXPECT YOUR TOUR DIRECTOR OR  OTHER PASSENGERS TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR PUSHING YOU FROM ONE PLACE TO ANOTHER.)

My suggestions are:

  • Contact a travel nurse service and hire one to go with you. This of course can be quite expensive; however, it is one of the costs of traveling if you find yourself needing assistance.
  • Bring along a friend or relative. Also, it is important that you and your caregiver have some quiet time, get him/her a private room near you. Make sure that you have discussed in detail what his or her responsibilities are. 
  • If you are overweight, please make sure the person you have helping you is strong enough to help you go from your scooter to a chair.  NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING!
  • Before you leave, get generic prescriptions from your doctor.
  • Provide a copy of your medications to your emergency contact and tour director.
  • Also provide a copy of your passport, emergency contact number, cell phone number and insurance to these same people. Keep a copy of your passport, medicines and insurance on you at all times. VERY Important: Get the right insurance. Just like shoes, one insurance policy does not fit all.  NEVER never  leave the country without the proper insurance.
  • Go over with your agent the floor plans of the ship, so you understand which floors you do not have access to from one end to the other. For instance, on the Navigator of the Seas, you have the ice skating rink in the middle of the ship — which means you need to take the elevator up and cross over and take the elevator down. This is quite a chore if you are on a scooter or wheelchair, especially during busy times.
  • Get out $100.00 in one dollar bills for tips.  Remember, you need more help than an average person.


Tours and Shore Excursions.

DO NOT EXPECT THESE TO BE SENIOR FRIENDLY, EVEN IF THEY SAY SO. REMEMBER THAT MANY AGENTS SEE IT AS THEIR JOB TO SIMPY SELL VACATION PACKAGES. Also remember you are dealing with agents that are much younger than you are. Think about it: when you were younger, did you understand what problems a senior would have?  If you are not dealing with someone you can trust — why should they care if you have a great vacation?  Likely, they are interested in making their quota and commission.

Here are some important things to bear in mind as you travel ashore:

  • Transportation in other countries usually do not think about special needs.  Often there is not handicapped access readily available; steps are higher; and roads and sidewalks are not wheelchair friendly. Remember, we are traveling well into our nineties — but in some other countries, at sixty you are OLD.  Your travel agent might be able to bring a folding stool with her, but if you are robust, this might not work.  Depending on the country and the age of the fleet, the width of the bus aisles can be narrower than US busses.
  • Front seats are usually for handicap — however, this is also first-come, first- served.  Your tour manager might be able to get you a front seat by contacting the driver and greasing his palm.
  • Bathroom/toilet use while traveling can be impossible for needs-accessible people. If you cannot climb a few steps and straddle a toilet, your best bet is to use Poise Pads or another form of protection. As a senior tour director, if I have group, I try to provide as many bathrooms as possible, but sometimes it is impossible. Most busses in other countries do not have toilets on board, and if they do, it is up to the bus driver if he wants to open them. I have many times had to ask the bus driver to open them.
  • My suggestion is to take a private cab or small tour bus. This will allow you to stop a lot easier if needed and go where you want to go. 


The Ship Will Not Wait for You.

Here are some tips to avoid being left behind:

  • Disembark as soon as the ship docks.
  • Have several places in mind for port visits, and keep it simple. DK Eyewitness Travel books are great. Your travel director will be able to help you on this.
  • Most places abroad are not handicap accessible like in the United States.  And even at historical sites in the US, such as the plantations in New Orleans, there will probably be no elevators.
  • Come back at least an hour early. We cannot run as fast as we used to!  Especially if you have anyone in a wheel chair, it takes much longer to get back to the port. Your tour director has to get a wheel chair from the taxi to the ship and from the ship back to your room. You cannot take the ship’s wheelchair off ship; they are used only in an emergency. You must have your agent provide a wheelchair for you at a cost.
  • If you are left behind, you are responsible for all costs getting back to the ship or the US.


This information is not to discourage you from traveling — only to provide information so that you will have an enjoyable vacation for you and your companions.

As a senior and an ITMI Certified Senior Tour Manager/Special Needs Certified, specializing in senior travel, I can offer you service and benefits that other Travel Advisors do not offer.