Tips for Older Travelers Going Abroad

For the large number of older Americans now traveling abroad after retirement, these general travel and health tips may help to assure a smooth and safe trip:

Protect your health

Travel can be physically strenuous. Build plenty of rest time into your itinerary. A significant change in time zone can result in tiredness for as long as several days to a week, in some people. See your doctor before traveling to get recommendations on how to make allowances for any health problems you may have. Notify your doctor if you plan to take any long flights.

Find out what vaccinations are necessary to protect you at your destination, or are required to re-enter the U.S. Allow plenty of time for your immunity to fully develop before departure.

Inform yourself about physical conditions in your destination country, such as the prevailing climate (wet vs. dry), the severity of pollution, the type and prevalence of natural disasters that you should expect.

Before departure, become fully informed of the possible dangers of contaminated food and water in your destination country. In all but few countries, travelers are at high risk for contracting Hepatitis from contaminated food or drink. Always drink bottled water. For complete information on food safety, contact the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) in advance of your departure. The website of the U.S. State Department provides detailed information on every destination at

Protect your safety

In the same safe place where you store your passport, keep complete information for contacting your family at home. Likewise, your family needs a way to contact you in case of emergency. Before departure, leave them your complete itinerary including how you can be reached at each stage of your travel, a copy of your passport information page.

Consider registering your trip with the U.S. government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This free service for U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad is offered by The Bureau of Consular Affairs. For more information, visit

Never travel overseas without carrying with you the contact numbers for the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest your destination city. If you are carrying a cell phone on your trip, that's an excellent place to store emergency numbers.

If possible, bring a cell phone that works internationally. It will keep you in more immediate touch with family, friends, and your doctor, if necessary. Contact your cell phone provider to find out if your existing phone is already compatible with international calling. If not, you may need to purchase another phone. For more information, see Mobile Phones Abroad: What You Need to Know.

Have all the right documents with you when you depart

Well before departure, contact the embassy for your destination country to find out whether a visa is required and how to apply for one. Check your passport expiration date, it needs to be valid for at least six months after your return. If you don’t yet have a passport, start the application process immediately to allow for delays. This process could take several months.

Take Some Important Photos

Prepare a digital backup in case your identification gets lost or stolen. With your camera phone, take a photo of your passport or driver's license, and email the photo to yourself. You might also want to take a photo of the contents of your checked bag, which may come in handy if the airline loses your luggage. (Use the photo to help document your missing belongings when filling out a claim form.) Throughout your trip, take advantage of the camera on your phone and snap photos of anything that might serve as a helpful reminder, from your airport parking-lot spot to your hotel-room number. But first, you need to ensure that you have space on your phone to store such images.

Dress wisely and pack intelligently

As a visitor overseas, it's safest to dress for invisibility. Colorful or expensive clothing and jewelry will peg you as a tourist and attract the unwanted attentions of opportunistic thieves who prey on travelers.

Pack only about half what you think you need. You'll be very glad you did, as there's nothing more daunting for a traveler than carrying a lot of heavy suitcases from place to place. Be prepared, in case your luggage is lost in transit, by including some toiletries and a change of clothing in your carry-on.

Safeguard your prescription medications while traveling. Bring more medication than you need for the trip, and bring extra prescriptions, in case you need to buy more. Figure out ahead of time how you will need to adjust your pill-taking schedule to the change in time zone. Bring a cheat sheet, if necessary. Include on the cheat sheet both the American name and the generic name for each medication. Foreign pharmacists may not know the American name.

Some prescription medications that are perfectly legal in the U.S. are considered illegal in other countries. Keep all medications in their original containers, to help get them through customs at your destination country. Check with the country's embassy or consulate well before your trip to ask if your medications are legal in that country. In all cases, bring with you a letter from your doctor that describes your medical condition and the medication prescribed for it.

Be prepared in case you need medical attention while traveling

Whenever you travel abroad, always carry with you the contact phone number of the nearest U.S. consular officer for each destination on your itinerary. See or If you are hurt, injured, or become ill, consular officers can help you locate medical facilities and can notify your family back home. And, If you have travel insurance, the 24-hour assistance hotline can help you find a competent local doctor, notify your family and friends, and help with your medical care.