BY RICK STEVES
More people than ever are hocking their rockers and buying plane tickets. Many senior adventurers are proclaiming, “Age matters only if you’re a cheese.” Travel is their fountain of youth. I’m not a senior — yet — so I polled my readers via my Travel Forums, asking seniors to share their advice. Thanks to the many who responded, here’s a summary of top tips from seniors who believe it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
If you’re retired and can travel whenever you want, it’s smart to aim for shoulder season (April through mid-June, or September and October). This allows you to avoid the most exhausting things about European travel: crowds and the heat of summer.
Seniors pay more for travel insurance — but are also more likely to need it. Find out exactly whether and how your medical insurance works overseas. (Medicare is not valid outside the US except in very limited circumstances; check your supplemental insurance coverage for exclusions.) Pre-existing conditions are a problem, especially if you are over 70, but some plans will waive those exclusions. When considering additional travel insurance, pay close attention to evacuation insurance, which covers the substantial expense of getting you to adequate medical care in case of an emergency — especially if you are too ill to fly commercially.
Packing light is especially important for seniors — when you pack light, you’re younger. To lighten your load, take fewer clothing items and do laundry more often. Fit it all in a roll-aboard suitcase — don’t try to haul a big bag. Figure out ways to smoothly carry your luggage, so you’re not wrestling with several bulky items. For example, if you bring a second bag, make it a small one that stacks neatly (or even attaches) on top of your wheeled bag.
Carry an extra pair of eyeglasses if you wear them and bring along a magnifying glass if it’ll help you read detailed maps and small-print schedules. A small notebook is handy for jotting down facts and reminders, such as your hotel-room number or Metro stop. Doing so will lessen your anxiety about forgetting these details, keeping your mind clear and uncluttered.
It’s best to take a full supply of any medications with you and leave them in their original containers. Finding a pharmacy and filling a prescription in Europe isn’t necessarily difficult, but it can be time-consuming. Plus, nonprescription medications (such as vitamins or supplements) may not be available abroad in the same form you’re used to. Pharmacists overseas are often unfamiliar with American brand names, so you may have to use the generic name instead (for example, atorvastatin instead of Lipitor). Before you leave, ask your doctor for a list of the precise generic names of your medications, and the names of equivalent medications. See my general advice on getting medical help in Europe.
If you wear hearing aids, be sure to bring spare batteries — it can be difficult to find a specific size in Europe. If your mobility is limited, see my tips and resources for travelers with disabilities.
If you’re not flying direct, check your bag — because if you have to transfer to a connecting flight at a huge, busy airport, your carry-on bag will become a lug-around drag. If you’re a slow walker, request a wheelchair or an electric cart when you book your seat so you can easily make any connecting flights. Since cramped legroom can be a concern for seniors, book early to reserve aisle seats (or splurge on roomier “economy plus,” or first class). Stay hydrated during long flights and take short walks hourly to minimize the slight chance of getting a blood clot.
If stairs are a problem, request a ground-floor room. Think about the pros and cons of where you sleep: If you stay near the train station at the edge of town, you’ll minimize carrying your bag on arrival; on the other hand, staying in the city center gives you a convenient place to take a break between sights (and you can take a taxi on arrival to reduce lugging your bags). No matter where you stay, ask about your accommodation’s accessibility quirks before you book — find out whether it’s at the top of a steep hill, has an elevator or stairs to upper floors, and so on.
Subways involve a lot of walking and stairs (and are a pain with luggage). Consider using city buses or taxis instead, and when out and about with your luggage, take a taxi. If you’re renting a car, be warned that some countries and some car-rental companies have an upper age limit — to avoid unpleasant surprises, mention your age when you reserve.
Just showing your gray hair or passport can snag you a discount at many sights, and even some events such as concerts. (The British call discounts “concessions”; look also for “pensioner’s rates.”) Always ask about discounts, even if you don’t see posted information about one — you may be surprised. But note that at some sights, US citizens aren’t eligible for senior discounts.
Seniors can get deals on point-to-point rail tickets in Austria, Belgium, Great Britain, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Norway. Qualifying ages range from 60 to 67 years old. To get rail discounts in most countries — including Austria, Britain, Germany, Italy, and Spain, and a second tier of discounts in France — you must purchase a senior card at a local train station (valid for a year, but can be worthwhile even on a short trip if you take several train rides during your stay). Most rail passes don’t offer senior discounts, but passes for Britain (as well as the Balkans) do give seniors a break.
Many museums have elevators, and even if these are freight elevators are not open to the public, the staff might bend the rules for older travelers. Take advantage of the benches in museums; sit down frequently to enjoy the art and rest your feet. Go late in the day for fewer crowds and cooler temperatures. Many museums offer loaner wheelchairs. Take bus tours (usually two hours long) for a painless overview of the highlights. Boat tours — of the harbor, river, lake, or fjord — are a pleasure. Hire an English-speaking cabbie to take you on a tour of a city or region (if it’s hot, spring for an air-conditioned taxi). Or participate in the life of local seniors, such as joining a tea dance at a senior center. If you’re traveling with others but need a rest break, set up a rendezvous point. Some find that one day of active sightseeing needs to be followed by a quiet day to recharge the batteries. For easy sightseeing, grab a table at a sidewalk café for a drink and people-watching.
EDUCATIONAL AND VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
For a more meaningful cross-cultural experience, consider going on an educational tour such as those run by Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel), which offers study programs around the world designed for those over 55 (one to four weeks, call or check online for a free catalog, tel. 800-454-5768).
Becoming a temporary part of the community can be particularly rewarding. Settle down and stay a while, doing side-trips if you choose. You can rent a house or apartment, or go a more affordable route and swap houses for a few weeks with someone in an area you’re interested in. If you’re considering retiring abroad, two good resources are the Living Abroad series (Moon Books), which offers a country-by-country look at the challenges and rewards of life overseas, and Expat Exchange, where you’ll find tips and resources for expatriates.
The AARP (American Association of Retired People) provides an extensive online library of travel-related articles and advice for seniors, including destination guides, budget travel recommendations, and an interactive trip finder. The AARP also offers info on retiring abroad.
ARTICLE SOURCE: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/trip-planning/savvy-senior-travelers
TIPS From “Weed Man”
DO NOT SCALP your North Texas lawn!
A thick lawn creates a canopy over the soil, which helps to prevent weeds from germinating. When you scalp the lawn, you remove this blanket and expose your lawn to severe weed outbreaks. Additionally, scalping the lawn before it has fully come out of dormancy exposes your lawn to weed outbreaks at the most vulnerable time of year for weeds in our region. Pre-emergent applications do not stop all weeds, but a thick lawn along with pre-emergent applications help prevent many weeds.
There are a significant amount of web sites, landscapers, and mowers who insist scalping the lawn is necessary. They are wrong! The trusted resource for lawns in our region is Texas A&M University, and they recommend normal mowing heights at all times of the year (scalping is not a normal mowing height), and do not remove the grass clippings from the lawn.
North Texas lawns should be mowed regularly at their proper heights (see below). This means that your North Texas lawn may require mowing more than once a week during peak growth and only once every two weeks during periods of slow growth.
The root system of a grass plant grows proportionately to the above grounds parts of the plant; therefore, a longer cutting height results in a stronger, deeper root system.
Calculate your mower blade height by measuring the distance between the concrete surface and the base of your lawn mower at the sides, front and back.
Lawn mower blades should be kept razor sharp. A sharp blade makes a clean, precise cut of each grass blade. This clean cut allows the grass blade to heal quickly and keeps the lawn looking tidy.
A dull blade chews and frays grass blades. This messy chopping results in straggly, rough tips which give the lawn an ugly, gray appearance and expose wounded tissue to disease attacks.To maintain a razor-sharp blade throughout the mowing season, sharpen the blade 2-3 times each year. Remember that few new lawn mowers are sold with a pre-sharpened blade. A sharp blade results in longer blade life and less wear and tear on your lawnmower’s engine.
Please mow frequently. No more than 1/3 of a grass plant should be removed with each mowing.
It is only necessary to remove lawn clippings if they are long and will smother the lawn. Leaving grass clippings in the lawn when mowing is an environmentally beneficial practice referred to as grass recycling. Leaving grass clippings to decompose on a lawn naturally adds valuable nutrients back into the soil and also helps to conserve valuable landfill space by reducing waste.
The use of a mulching type mower is preferred for this practice since it promotes a more uniform distribution of grass clippings, thus allowing for quicker decomposition of the recycled grass plants.
If the optimum mowing height selected is 2 inches then the lawn should be mowed before the lawn height reaches 3 inches to ensure that only 1/3 of the blade height is removed.
To reduce the chance of frayed grass blades, and slips and falls, lawn mowings should be done when grass blades are dry.
The mowing direction should be altered each mowing. This procedure will keep the grass growing strong and straight while reducing weed grass infestation.
Lawns cut at the proper height are stronger and healthier because the root system is stronger and deeper. Your lawn will require fewer waterings and will be more able to resist insect and diseases attack!
What good is a gutter system if it is always clogged with leaves and other junk? Emptying the gutters, especially this time of year, is important if you want them to perform well during the winter months. Here in North Texas, the leaves change color and fall later in the autumn season, but we still have to deal with them. Make sure that you clear them out, especially at joints or downspouts.