Your kids are grown. Your career is winding down. It’s time to live life to its fullest in new ways. For many, that means connecting with people and cultures while traveling the world. Whether it’s hiking in the Himalayas, taking cooking classes in Tuscany, joining a motorcoach tour of Chile, or tutoring orphans in Tanzania, global adventures during our golden years can be beautiful, cathartic, and life-changing.

However, traveling can be risky, more now than ever, it seems with world reports of terrorism hitting our favorite places like Paris, Brussels, and London. It’s easy to say “It won’t happen to me,” but we see and hear on the news how traumatic travel can be because of hurricanes, earthquakes, political unrest, diseases and medical emergencies. If you found yourself in the midst of chaos in a foreign country, would you know what to do?

“Most people do not know what they do not know to prepare for safe travels and rewarding journeys,” says Sheryl Hill, founder of Depart Smart, the only nonprofit working to reach, teach, and engage travelers as active participants in their health and safety abroad. How travel safety savvy are you? Find out with Depart Smart’s quick, eye-opening free travel safety quiz.

A little planning will help you avoid many risks, give you peace of mind, and prepare you to get help and home if needed. What’s your action plan?

Retired Man enjoys a vacation to Lake Lucerne

Photo by Aaron Ang


How Senior Citizens Can Avoid Risks, Get Help and Home

Depart Smart’s premiere Travel HEROES Safety Certification Course helps you create, forward and print a customized Travel Safety Plan, customized to your world travels. In about an hour, you’ll be transformed into a well-prepared traveler with cutting-edge resources to map out your destination with US Department of State country-specific alerts and warnings, budget your foreign currency and insurance needs, create an archive of important documents, and much more.


Recognized as a study abroad safety expert and advocate, Hill and Depart Smart developed the only consumer-driven, standardized travel safety certification emphasizing the following top seven priorities for senior citizens going abroad, based on ten years of survivor investigation and support:

  • Know How to Get Help in an Emergency.

    • Save Emergency numbers for fire, police, and ambulance at your destination onto your cell phone. It’s surprising, but emergency numbers are not 911 in most of the world. You’ll also need to know a few key phrases to ask for help and identify where you are.
    • Add the US Embassy consulate name, address, 24-hour telephone numbers and emails into your address book and cellphone.
    • Map out your destination using Google My Maps so you know where you are in proximity to the US Embassy, hospitals, police stations, airport, etc. Your map auto-downloads onto the Google Map app of smartphones.


  • Duplicate and Secure Health Records, Travel Documents, and Prescriptions Online.

    • Deposit copies of your passport, bank card, insurance cards, driver’s license emergency contacts and other important information in an online repository like Dropbox or iCloud so you can replace a lost passport quickly, or cancel lost or stolen credit cards.
    • Create a digital copy of your personal health record. If you have an iPhone, a free app that is autoloaded onto your iPhone is the “Health”  app. It is a convenient way to log your important health information so your caregivers can make informed decisions. Include the most vital information such as allergies, medications, recent surgeries, resting heart rate, blood pressure, medical conditions, emergency contacts, insurance and any other important details specific to you.
    • Take that extra step and get critical health information transcribed into the local language(s). A good place to begin your search for an accredited translation service is the International Medical Interpreters Association.
    • Visit a travel clinic for vaccinations and preventive medicines. You can learn what preventive healthcare is recommended at the Centers for Disease Control.
      • Carry your medications in original containers with your physician’s prescription on your person.
      • Bring an ample supply to cover you for longer than necessary. Learn generic names for your medications as those will be more readily recognized in foreign countries.
      • Simple things like over the counter meds containing pseudoephedrine, such as Actifed, Sudafed, and Vicks inhalers are illegal in other countries.  A specialized travel medicine provider can help you identify what you should not carry with you.   


  • Stay Connected.

    • Check the US State Department’s website for the latest country-specific travel alerts and warnings, laws, and customs, and transportation safety.
    • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Your US embassy will send you emergency notices. They can only help you if they know where you are and how to reach you. Family staying at home can follow alerts by registering themselves.
    • Check your cell phone coverage before you travel. Unlocking your cellphone so you can repurpose it with a SIM card at your destination is a good idea. You can save lots of money over international dialing plans with secure WiFi and apps like Facetime, Google Hangout, and Skype when you want to communicate back home. If you’ll be in a remote area, a GPS satellite tracker enables you to text and share your location anywhere, anytime. Be aware satellite phones are illegal in India.
    • Use Google Translate to help you if you’re at a loss for words in the local language.
    • Your emergency contacts should have a way to see your face and hear your voice. Make a date to stay in touch.
      • They will also need passports to get to you and help in case you become hurt or ill. Their passports need to pass the validity rule. This means they need to be good for six months beyond the date of your return.


  • Get Proper Trip and Travel Insurance.

    • Most people ‘think’ their health insurance covers them in another country. That’s rarely the case. Medicare typically is not valid outside of the United States. Check your supplemental insurance coverage for exceptions.
    • Trip insurance generally covers your purchases and offers some rebooking privileges if your flight is delayed or canceled. Travel insurance protects YOU!  Did you know that it can cost $50K-300K or more for medical evacuation? Seniors with pre-existing conditions need a special rider; they may have to pay more for travel insurance.
    • Your travel insurance company should offer a toll-free, 24-hour, international hotline with translation and referral services.
    • Ask whether or not the country you are visiting has a problem with express kidnapping where they hold you for ransom until money is paid. You can purchase a rider for express kidnap and ransom. Surprisingly, Mexico is a world leader in express, also called petty kidnapping. Don’t let anyone know you have this coverage or it might increase the threat.
    • You may have to prepay for health care in some countries. A reputable travel insurance company will prepay for you.  
    • Only purchase travel insurance from licensed agents. In many cases, this is not your travel agent.
    • Read the fine print! You may be shocked to discover your travel insurance is null and void if you consume too much alcohol.
    • Make sure your emergency contacts have your policy information.
    • Depart Smart Travel HEROES Safety Training is made possible by generous sponsorship from AIG Travel. The #1 customer service travel insurance company.



  • Learn How to Avoid Theft.

    • Keep a low-profile. Do not pull out maps, guidebooks, or money on a street corner. Avoid dressing like an American tourist (leave the bling, designer handbag, and white tennis shoes at home) by researching local clothing trends.
    • Wear clothing with zippered pockets and slash-resistant, over-the-shoulder bags to keep pickpockets away from valuables.
    • If you see a warning “Pickpocket Area,” do not touch your money. It’s like showing pickpockets where it is.  
    • Only use ATMs in a group, with friends or family nearby. They should be in safe, secure locations, such as a bank or financial institution. Shield the keyboard with your hand when entering your PIN.
    • Don’t keep all of your credit cards in the same place. Split them up.
    • If you are taking a snooze on a bus or a train, your backpack or satchel should be between your feet so it doesn’t get lifted from the seat, or overhead, while you are asleep.
    • Do not leave a credit card or ATM receipts behind anywhere. This includes paying for meals in restaurants. Stay with and keep your eyes on your credit card at all times. Otherwise, you might find a shopping spree on your statement.
    • Notify your bank and credit card companies that you will be out of the country. This way they won’t block your credit because of unusual charges.



  • Stay Hydrated and Watch What You Eat.

    • If you’re going to a hot or arid climate, make staying hydrated a priority. Keep in mind, drinking too much water is not a good thing either, because of water intoxication. On average, drinking less than .8-1 liter per hour is good.
    • Pay close attention to your hydration if you experience vomiting or diarrhea. If symptoms are violent or severe, or you notice blood in your stool, seek medical attention right away.
    • Eat steaming hot food so any bacteria are destroyed during the cooking process. Avoid tap water, including ice cubes and when rinsing fruits, vegetables, or even your toothbrush. Eating fruits you have to peel is a safer bet.
    • Carry a LifeStraw. It’s easy to carry a device that removes 99.99% of all waterborne bacteria.
    • Despite your best efforts, you may still experience traveler’s diarrhea. A visit to the travel clinic weeks before your departure would prep you with medications to treat your symptoms.



  • Stay in Secure Housing.

    • Try to stay on the second level up to the fourth floor. Most firetruck ladders can reach this far.
    • Check for smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. You’d be surprised how many rental homes and even hotels are not sufficiently equipped. You can get a battery operated smoke alarm for about twenty bucks or less at your local hardware store to carry along.
    • Check the locks. If your door does not have a keyless bolt lock, anyone with a key can get in while you sleep. You can purchase a portable door jamb or lock to prevent this from happening.
    • Lock up your electronics. Hotel in-room safes are not secure as you may think. A PC lock is a good idea. Keep your valuables with you.



These are TOP 7 safety tips for world traveling senior citizens, but we have more at Depart Smart. Sign up today for the Travel HEROES Safety Certification Course and learn how to travel like a HERO with a safety plan. AARP members can get a senior citizen discount – use the code UHEROU. 

Retired Couple Enjoys View of Mountains

Photo by Matthew Bennett

AUTHOR BIO: Julie Jo Severson is two-time study abroad student, freelance writer, journalist, and co-author of HERE IN THE MIDDLE: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between.