I returned from a trip to Portugal and England the week that COVID came creeping into the consciousness of travelers in early March of 2020. The day that I was flying home, travelers were furtively edging away from coughers in the waiting areas, people were scrubbing down their seats, and everyone was looking for nonexistent hand sanitizers in the airport shops. The scene at Heathrow cured me of going anywhere for more than 2 years.
And now, as a 74-year-old traveler who is at high risk (and fully vaccinated along with a spanking new knee), I’ve been wondering if I have the physical stamina to return to travel. Like other travelers with whom I’m in contact on social media, I am experiencing valid concerns about everything from crowded airports and canceled flights to being stuck abroad with COVID.
And yet I have scheduled trips to London, India, and Crete over the next year. Why? Because I really, really miss traveling and want to jump in while I still can. I know that many people my age feel the same way, and so I have been compiling some ways to confront the real concerns about physical and emotional challenges that older (and perhaps all) travelers face.
1. Overcome Reentry Anxiety
Feeling uneasy and anxious about returning to travel is normal, especially after 2 years of lockdowns and social isolation. In fact, a study by the American Psychological Association reported that almost half of those surveyed felt nervous about returning to in-person interactions.
I find it helpful to remember that you can ease back into the current. After all, travel has never been easy; going to a different country or exploring a different culture is always facing the unknown, and even more so nowadays.
Pro Tip: After 50 years of solo travel, I have found that anxiety may be lessened with small group travel. I tested group travel out before the pandemic began and liked it, so I am looking forward to being with a small group of women traveling to Rajasthan, India, in the fall. It allays some of my anxiety knowing that I can depend on experienced guides and companies while far from home.
I have also found in the past that actually returning to the road relieves anxieties. Taking action and facing what we fear is a good antidote to spending energy imagining the worst. Besides, who has the time to worry about traveling when you’re actively doing it?
2. Build Physical Stamina
I stopped exercising at my gym and taking group classes during the pandemic. My friends and I often joked about the “extra 15” we gained during the pandemic and some accompanying health problems. But just as traveling helps provide confidence for future travel, physical exercise can help provide the stamina we need to get back on the road.
Pro Tip: There are many ways to get back into shape after the physical isolation of the pandemic. We can all start small and slowly build up walking speed and distance. I recently started a water aerobics class nearby, and friends have told me that they’re joining either virtual or in-person yoga, Zumba, or other classes.
3. Plan For Transportation Chaos
Yes, transportation seems to be more challenging as we return to travel, and we have all seen instances of canceled flights, chaotic airports, and expensive car rentals. But travel does not have to be fraught if you leave lots of time to travel to airports, trains, and ships.
Pro Tip: In order to make flying easier, consider getting a TSA PreCheck for expedited service for flights leaving from the United States and Global Entry for returning to the United States from abroad. Global Entry members receive TSA PreCheck as part of their membership.
Also consider traveling during the off-season. There are fewer crazy crowds, and airports are less chaotic. This may lower your anxiety level considerably. I adored wandering the streets of Venice at Christmastime and loved being in sunny Portugal and Spain in the winter.
4. Rethink Mobility Challenges
For those travelers who have trouble walking or are otherwise health compromised, consider rethinking the kind of travel you will undertake. Independent travelers can make travel easier by researching accessible hotels, restaurants, and transportation. Here are some other ways to face mobility problems.
- Numerous tours offer different levels of activity. Accessible land and sea excursions (on Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean Cruises, among many others) are widely available.
- Travel groups like Road Scholar, Smithsonian Journeys, Intrepid Travel, and many others give travelers choices about the level of activity best for them, some even on a daily basis.
- Especially if you are unsteady on your feet or if you fear dragging heavy luggage from place to place, make sure that your luggage and your load are as light as possible (ebags, Travelpro, Tumi, Delsey, and Samsonite all have light bags available). You might actually go to a store to test the weight of bags and the ease of the wheels. You can still order a suitcase online if you find a less expensive deal.
Pro Tip: I love taking a walking cane/seat combo, and there are many choices available on Amazon. Mine is lightweight and seems sturdy.
5. Slow Down!
Some tours (and individuals) make covering every cultural and shopping hot spot part of their journey. But older travelers, mobility-challenged travelers, and those who prefer to stop and smell the roses along the way may choose to travel at a slower pace.
Pro Tip: If you’re traveling with a group, choose a journey that allows you to remain in one place longer. If you’re on your own (especially in the off-season), you may be able to rearrange your reservations in order to just sit in a café and watch the crowds go by.
You might fly in earlier or stay later on a tour so that you can adjust to jet lag or just be able to relax before and after a trip. Many travel companies will help with reservations if you ask.
6. Share Documents With Travel Mates
Make sure you have all of your documents well in advance of your trip. Gather your passport, tickets, travel insurance, medical insurance, phone numbers, and important websites, for starters.
Pro Tip: Don’t hide your important papers. Learn from me: I had to get a new passport because I couldn’t remember where I hid mine. It is funny only in retrospect. Give copies of your documents to a relative or friend at home. Or if you are traveling with a friend, exchange important information.
Also, remember to carry correct plugs and chargers for the voltage in the countries you visit. You may want to check with your cell phone carrier to ensure that your phone can be used outside the country and to choose a temporary international plan. Or you can purchase or rent an unlocked phone and replace its SIM card either locally or at an airport abroad. I also travel with noise-canceling headphones; many of us have trouble sleeping and a good pair makes it easier to doze off while on transportation or in hotels.
7. Pack Extra Patience
Remember that travel is always a challenge. I’ve felt fear and excitement in equal measure on any trip I’ve taken — because travel is always facing the unknown even if your journey is perfectly planned. You may (eventually) laugh at your travel disasters. And disasters make good subjects for stories for your friends or for your blog or diary.
If your train is a few hours late, you can always choose to perceive it as pleasurable. Your attitude can change your travel experience and perhaps even the way you face life when you return. After all, you may have to change the way you travel as you age, but don’t let it stop you from seeing the glories of the world in your own way, at your own pace.