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Travelling in your golden years

Dreaming about those far-flung places you’ve always wanted to see? Your age need not stop you from that impulse to travel! With good planning and preparation, older people (and those of any age) with and without health conditions can enjoy safe and healthy travelling.

 

Perfect planning 

Once you’ve thought about the place that you’d like to visit, think about whether it’s likely to suit your health needs. For example:

  • Destination - Whether it’s a city break, a safari or an activity-based holiday, will your health allow you to enjoy the destination?
  • Mode of travel - How will you arrive at your destination? Will the travel involve long periods of being seated on a plane or bus? Will it require a lot of walking? How will all of these suit you?
  • Activities - What activities are available at your destination? If you won’t be able to take part in all activities, what are your alternative options?
  • Eating and drinking - What kind of food and meals will be available? If meals won’t be provided, will you prepare or take your own food? If you have special dietary requirements, how many food items will you need to take along with you? Will it be possible to cater to your particular needs?
  • Medical facilities - What kind of medical facilities are available locally? Do you know how to access and pay for medical care at your destination?

Booking your trip 

Once you’ve decided on your destination and the type of holiday you would like, think ahead and notify those people (such as your travel agent, airline or cruise company) who can help with your specific health needs.

For example, if you have a disability and need special services, including wheelchairs, shuttle services, special dietary concerns, and particular boarding and seating arrangements, notify your airline or cruise company well in advance so they can arrange this for you.

Medicines and vaccinations 

See your GP (and other specialists if needed) at least six weeks before you leave. Your doctor can advise you about vaccinations and any other specific medicines that you may need for your trip well before your departure date.

Vaccinations

Before you travel, talk to your GP, pharmacist or travel doctor about your travel plans to make sure you have the specific vaccinations you need for your trip. Before travelling it’s important to make sure you are up to date with your routine vaccinations such as tetanus, influenza and pneumococcal. The vaccines you need will vary depending on your health and your exact itinerary; for example, where you’re going, how long you’re going for, the season you’re travelling in, what kinds of transportation you’ll be using, where you’re staying and what you’ll be eating.

Some diseases are endemic (always present) in certain areas/countries so the need for vaccinations for these places is routine. Other diseases come and go and this is why the vaccination requirements can vary country to country, season to season, year to year.

You may need to be vaccinated for certain diseases as a condition of entry to some countries so it’s a good idea to check with the embassy or consulate of the countries you’re visiting or travelling through before you go.

If you need vaccinations, it’s a good idea to have them at least 6-8 weeks before departure. This allows time for the vaccination to take effect and for your body to be protected against particular diseases. So it’s important to see your GP or go to a travel clinic for specific advice about vaccinations and any necessary tablets to take before you travel. Once you’ve had your vaccinations, remember to document the details and carry a copy with you when you travel.

More information about common Travel vaccinations

Prescribed medicines

If you need to bring medicines with you when travelling, talk to your doctor about what you need to take, and ask them to write you a letter explaining each medicine, what you need to take it for, and that it’s for your personal use. You can also make sure the medicines are legal in the country you’re visiting by contacting the relevant embassy or consulate in Australia.

Where possible, keep your medicines in their original packets with the pharmacy label attached so it’s clearly labelled with your name and dosing instructions. Carry photocopies of your prescriptions with you.

Take enough medicine to cover the length of your trip plus a little extra in case you’re delayed on your return. Consider doubling up on your medicines for the trip - Pack one set in your luggage and one set in your hand luggage. This way there’s less worry if your baggage goes astray during the journey.

If you need to carry needles and syringes on the plane or in the country of your destination, take a letter from your doctor explaining why you need them, and check with your airline well before you travel about any special precautions or policies they may have. If you’re taking medicines according to a strict timetable such as insulin injections speak with your doctor especially if you’re travelling long distances. Long haul travel means that your body clock can easily become disturbed which makes keeping to a strict regimen difficult. Your doctor can give you specific advice about this.

And if you have a condition that requires an electrical apparatus as part of your treatment, make sure you have the relevant plugs and adaptors for the voltage of the country you’re travelling to.

Over-the-counter medicines

Speak with your GP or pharmacist about whether you might need to take any over-the-counter medicines with you. You may find it handy have a small medical kit with basic items such as painkillers, antacids, medicines to prevent travel sickness, medicines to treat diarrhoea, antiseptic lotion, bandages, disposable gloves, SPF 30 sunscreen and insect repellent.

If you need to buy medicines on your travels, make sure you check with a qualified health professional about its suitability for you. Some medicines may be packaged and labelled similarly to those available in Australia, but can have different active ingredients and be of different strength to the medicines available in Australia.

Other health concerns 

Apart from seeing your GP about vaccinations, it’s also a good idea to have a check-up to make sure there are no serious issues that could affect your travel plans.

If you’re travelling overseas or for a prolonged period of time, you may also want to think about having dental and eye checks before you go.

Certain health conditions can be associated with travelling that you may need to be aware of and guard against:

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) happens when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, most commonly in the deep veins of your lower leg (calf). Large clots can partly or completely block the blood flow in your vein and cause symptoms such as swelling and pain in the affected area. DVTs can lead to serious, even fatal, complications such as pulmonary embolism.

If you are on a long-haul flight (one that lasts more than four hours or over 4000km), research suggests your risk of developing DVT also increases. This risk is mainly the result of sitting down for long periods of time, which can happen during any form of long-distance travel, whether by car, bus, train or air. Generally, your risk of developing DVT when travelling is very small – about one in 4500 people flying longer than four hours will develop a DVT – unless you have at other risk factors for developing DVT such as a history of DVT or cancer. If this is the case, or you believe you may be at risk of developing a DVT, talk to your GP before you travel.

There are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing a DVT. Get up from your seat for short walks up and down the aisle and stretch your legs as often as you can. Drink plenty of fluids but avoid too much alcohol and caffeine-containing drinks like coffee, tea, energy drinks and soft drinks which can be dehydrating.

Some studies suggest that compression stockings can help to ease pain, reduce swelling and reduce the risk of DVT. Some people at higher risk of developing DVT during travel may need to have anticoagulant (blood-thinner) injections. Ask your doctor if you need compression stockings or anticoagulant injections while you are travelling.

More information about Deep vein thrombosis.

Jet lag

We all have an internal body clock that controls when we feel sleepy and when we feel awake. When you travel to a different time zone, your body can readily adjust to a limited amount of difference in time and light. When the difference is greater than this amount there’s a ‘lag’ before your body clock gets in sync with the new local time. The symptoms you experience and the intensity of this jet lag depends on the number of time zones you cross and the direction in which you travel.

To try and minimise the effect of jet lag, consider adjusting for a new time zone by sleeping earlier if you’re travelling east and later if you’re travelling west. Start the journey well rested, and try and get enough sleep during the journey itself. Also, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine as both can affect the quality and quantity of sleep you need.

When you arrive at your destination, try to adjust towards the local routine as soon as possible and spend some time outdoors in the daylight as natural light can help your body clock adjust. You may also want to consider melatonin supplements — melatonin is the “sleep” hormone that helps regulate your body clock and there’s evidence that suggests it helps with jet lag if you are crossing more than five time zones. See your GP or pharmacist for more advice about this treatment.

While you’re away 

  • If you feel ill or an existing medical condition gets worse, seek medical attention straight away.
  • Unless you’re sure that the tap water is safe to drink, stick to bottled water that you open yourself. Make sure you stay well-hydrated.
  • Be careful not to drink too much alcohol – stick to the guidelines of two standard drinks per day.
  • Depending upon where you are going, be careful about eating local foods. Make sure that meat and fish is cooked thoroughly and that salads and fruits are washed well in clean water (which may need to be bottled or you could use boiled and cooled water to clean them) before cooking and/or eating.
  • Wear an identification alert tag if you are allergic to certain medicines or if you have diabetes.

The best policy 

Most of the time, medical costs (the costs of medicines and treatments, for example) incurred overseas will not be covered by Medicare. Taking out travel insurance before you travel is highly recommended to make sure you don’t have to worry about any unexpected healthcare costs should you get sick.

Your travel insurance should cover all medical expenses for injury and illness, as well as non-health issues, and emergency evacuation cover. Read the product disclosure statement carefully to check the policy you’ve chosen suits your needs, especially if you already have a health condition. Check that it’s valid for the whole time you’re travelling, especially if you’re going for a longer period of time. And make sure that everyone in travel party is insured. People with certain pre-existing conditions may need to pay a higher premium for travel insurance, so it is important to include this cost when budgeting for your trip.

Further information 

Smartraveller
www.smarttraveller.gov.au

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
www.dfat.gov.au/embassies.html

Sources 

Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Advice for air travellers: health. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. c2008 [Accessed 29 Jun 2011] Available from: http://www.casa.gov.au/scripts/nc.dll?WCMS:STANDARD::pc=PC_91470

Clinical Knowledge Summaries. Deep vein thrombosis. [online] London: National Institutes for Health and Clinical Excellence. 2008 [last updated Mar 2009, accessed 25 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.cks.nhs.uk

Comcare. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and long distance air travel. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. c2008 [Accessed 5 Dec 2011] Available from: http://www.comcare.gov.au/

Firkin F Nandurkar H. Flying and thromboembolism. Aust Presc. 2009; 32: 148-150. Smarttraveller. Travelling well. [online] Barton, ACT: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. [Accessed 7 Dec 2011] Available from: http://www.smarttraveller.gov.au/tips/travelwell.html

Smarttraveller. Health. [online] Barton, ACT: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. [Accessed 12 Jan 2012] Available from: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/tips/health.html

Last published: 31 January 2012

Disclaimer
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

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