Senior years are a great time to have it.To say Joan Lemire likes to travel is like saying the Cake Boss likes to bake sweets. Alaska. Turkey. Egypt. France. Italy. St. Kitts in January and Australia in February. You name it, Lemire has been there (or is planning on going there presently). Lemire has had the travel bug her whole life, but now that she is 68 and semiretired from her real estate business in Wilton, it has burgeoned into a full-blown case of wanderlust. "I always liked to travel a lot with my family. We'd go two or three times a year," she says.One of the biggest benefits she finds nowadays is that she (like many seniors) has more time, "especially if they're retired or semiretired," she says. "That way they can take advantage of last-minute specials." She throws out the example of the voyage she just returned from, a riverboat cruise on the Rhine and Mosel rivers in Europe with a traveling companion. "The normal price for a two-week tour was originally $4,200 a person, but we got it for $1,800 a person by getting a last-minute special." Booking super far in advance with a promotion to get a good deal also works to her advantage.Linda Bucknam, travel consultant and owner of travLBudi LLC, in Bow, agrees that one of the major advantages seniors have is that their time is generally more flexible. "I have a lot of clients who say 'We really want to go to Barbados, but the date doesn't really matter,'" she says. "And you can tell them the best time to go so there are no spring breakers there, but also when the best rates are."Though not exclusive to seniors, some trips tend to lend themselves to the over-55 crowd more than others. According to Kim O'Hara of Eagle Eye Travel in Merrimack, some of the best bets for seniors are escorted tours, as well as cruising. "Escorted tours - whether it be in the U.S. or Europe - minimize the language barrier, and they're all organized for you with an all-inclusive package," she says. But she does add that escorted tours in Europe tend to be quick paced "so you may want to narrow down what the best options are for you."Cruising is another huge senior draw because everything is taken care of for you, she says. Alaskan and Caribbean cruises are especially popular choices. Each cruise line has a different atmosphere and feel to it, so be sure to pick one that is going to meet your needs. "Any travel agent who has been in the industry will know what's a better fit for their client if they come in and say 'We're looking to cruise and this is what I like,'" adds O'Hara.In fact, using a travel agent can take a lot of stress out of the planning of your trip - and in most cases will cost you no more than doing all the legwork yourself online. "A lot of people might think that if you book it through a travel agent, it will cost you more," says O'Hara, "but anyone booking travel should know that a travel agent is there to provide you with all the information and good service and in most cases do it without a fee."Bucknam agrees. "I'm my clients' eyes and ears and I can set the trip up in a way that they can still enjoy wherever the destination is and have me to call if there is an issue," she says. "I often have tips that they don't always think about. For my service, I'm paid by my supplier, not the client." Travel agents can also make sure that the deal you're getting is really legit. One client of Bucknam's had found a great trip to Italy online that included a stay in a castle. Trouble was, Bucknam had never heard of the company offering the deal and was concerned that it was a bogus front trying to take her clients for a ride. "I told them to send me the information for the package, and I would research it and book it for them. Turns out I booked them the same trip through my contacts but I can assure them that the supplier is reputable."Seniors who travel are often targets for scams or fraud, especially if they are traveling alone, adds Bucknam, so it's important for them to find someone reliable, someone they can ask questions of and who will not take advantage of them. And if something does happen during the trip - a purse is stolen, credit cards misused, passport lost, hotel reservations fall through - then you have someone to call who can help."There's something to be said for deciding 'I'm stuck, I don't know what to do, I'm just going to call my travel agent,'" says O'Hara.Trip insurance can also offer peace of mind not only for traveling seniors but for anyone going on a vacation. "They base it on the age of the person and the cost of the trip," says O'Hara, who adds that the older you are the more expensive it is because of the additional risks. "I calculate the cost of what the insurance would be and the cost of the trip and let them make the decision." But in general she recommends taking it on the off chance you have to cancel your voyage due to illness, an accident or a death in the family. "Seniors may have elderly parents or may have a pre-existing condition that could come back again, and the insurance would cover them and give them a refund," she adds. "It's money well spent."Bucknam points out the recent Icelandic volcano eruption, and how not only seniors - but everyone who was traveling in certain parts of the world - were affected by this occurrence. "The airlines were working to get them home, but for people who don't have insurance, their extra hotel stays are out-of-pocket expenses," she says.Sometimes, it just pays to point out that you belong to the over-55 club. "Seniors tend to get deals wherever they go," says O'Hara. Groups like AARP and AAA offer specific discounts to members, and cruise lines offer senior rates as well.Lemire never misses an opportunity to be proactive and mention that she is a senior when it comes to getting a discount. Because, she says, "the more money you save, the more you can travel." NHStay SafeHere are some tips for seniors to do their globe-trotting safely. For more information visit the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs website at www.travel.state.gov.Get your passport in order three months before traveling and make sure it's valid past the length of your stay. Check whether or not you'll also be needing a visa or other entry requirements. Give a copy of your passport and travel documents, as well as your itinerary, to someone at home, and once you get to your destination never carry passports and other travel docs in your purse or on your person.Use a carry-on bag packed with anything you would need for your flight. Always include your "must haves" like medications that you take in their original labeled containers, along with a letter from your doctor describing your condition and the medications you require.You can register your emergency contact information securely through the State Department at https://travelregistration.state.gov. This enables the government to contact you, family or friends in an emergency situation.While traveling, ask your tour operator or hotel for food and restaurant recommendations that are safe to eat. Drink bottled water instead of tap water. If you become seriously ill or injured during your vacation, the nearest U.S. embassy can help you locate medical facilities and contact your family. The World Health Organization (WHO) website, www.who.int, also contains health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific news on infectious disease outbreaks.Seniors are often targeted while traveling. Be aware of scams by doing some research beforehand, either online or with a travel agent. You can also check out the Fact Sheet on International Financial Scams and country-specific scams particular to certain areas on the U.S. State Department's website.
This article appears in the August 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine