It’s finally happened! You’ve retired. You’ve saved. And now, you’re thinking about taking that overseas holiday. But what if you’ve never travelled outside of Australia before?
When my Dad took his first trip at age 50, he was pretty nervous and unsure. He kept asking if he’d be safe. What did he need to know before booking anything? And what if he fell ill or chose a bad hotel?
Luckily, some of our friends and family (myself included) weighed in and gave him their best advice for a safe and enjoyable journey. Later, I asked Dad what he found most helpful.
1. Talk to your doctor. Discuss your plans with your doctor before you book anything and get the all clear to travel. Don’t forget about your medications, too. Will you have enough to last your whole trip? When should you take them, given the change in time zones?
Tip: Ask for a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor to take with you as well, just in case authorities ask for it.
2. Take out Seniors Travel Insurance. Shop around for quotes and ensure you’re covered for things like medical, hospital, luggage, activities, delays, cancellations and anything else you need. Don’t forget to ask if your pre-existing medical conditions can be covered as well.
3. Register with Smartraveller. Smartraveller.gov.au allows you to register your travel plans with the government so that if something goes wrong, they’ll be able to contact you. You can also subscribe to official advice and updates for any destinations you’re planning to visit.
4. Copy your documents. Leave a copy of your passport, itinerary, visas and any other travel documents at home with someone you trust, like a family member. If you lose these while travelling, the copy will be a useful backup.
5. Make a list of important numbers. This can include things like emergency numbers, your travel insurer, local police stations and hospitals, and the Australian embassies near your destination/s.
Tip: Writing down the phone numbers of family and friends at home can be a good idea, too.
6. Take a tour. Or three! Tours are a great option if you’ve never been overseas before. They can be easier and safer than travelling around on your own. According to Dad, they’re a wonderful way to see the main sights and meet other travellers, too.
Tip: If you’re unsure about finding a trustworthy tour operator, research reviews online or get a travel agent to do the bookings for you.
7. Ask about hotel safety. If you’re like my Dad, you can’t necessarily afford to stay in 5-star resorts. But things like 24-hour reception/concierge services, fob access for floors, in-room safes and added security can make your stay much safer. Give your desired hotel a call before booking to see what safety measures they offer.
8. Pack light & smart. Packing light used to be a challenge for me, but I’ve realised that you will never need all that stuff and packing light has real advantages. It means you can easily wheel your suitcase around even pick it up without much trouble.
Tip: When it comes to carry-ons, I always make sure I’ve got a spare change of clothes, my medications and anything else I’ll need for the flight.
9. Leave the valuables behind. Valuables can easily get lost, stolen or damaged while on holiday, so leave them at home. If you’re taking something like an iPad or camera, check that it’s covered by your travel insurance.
Tip: When you’re out and about, be careful of flashing your valuables and money around, just as you would at home. Be discreet, and keep your belongings in a fully closable bag that can’t easily be snatched (for example, I always have a cross-body bag; my Dad took a backpack).
10. Research do’s and don’ts at the destination. This can cover anything, like areas to avoid, whether drinking water is safe, foods that shouldn’t be eaten, methods of public transport, potential tourist scams, and what’s considered polite (or rude) in relation to local culture and customs, etc. The more you know, the more prepared you can be! And hopefully this will lead to a safer trip.
11. Stay well on the plane. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, walk around the plane regularly, and talk to your doctor about whether you’re at risk of DVT. Other little things like wearing comfy clothes and stretching while sitting can help, too.
12. Give yourself jet lag recovery time. If you’re going on a long-haul flight, don’t expect to start exploring straight away. No matter what age you are, you’ll need at least a day or two to recover from jet lag and get used to the new time zone, so don’t plan a lot for those first couple of days.
Tip: One trick that worked for my Dad was to book a hotel for that first night near the airport. That way, he could rest shortly after the flight, without having to worry about making it into the city. He then simply moved onto his “real” hotel the following day, after a good night’s sleep!