Recently I met an exuberantly happy lady and her husband, both in their 80s (and both in robust health), who were getting ready to leave on their first-ever trip out of the country. Their plan was to be gone for three months. I could not wish them a better time despite my concerns about those usual away-from-home inconveniences, such as:
• How to figure out the monetary exchange rate in each country
• The different customs of tipping between our country and wherever they were going
• Making sense of electrical current conversion
• What to do if they run out of medication, and
• Whom to call if one of them breaks or loses eyeglasses.
I suppose that most travelers figure out these problems pretty quickly. But I do think there are at least three safety concerns of which all first-time international travelers should be aware, especially first-time older travelers, as they may not be as flexible or as adaptable as are the younger ones. Those concerns are:
1. Please come home in one piece and try not to spend your vacation time in a foreign hospital (or any hospital) if you can avoid it! For example, leave the “good” jewelry and fine clothing at home. There is no sense in tempting someone to knock you down or konk you on the head just to steal your grandmother’s ring or her shawl.
2. Try your very best to stay alert while you are away. Travelers usually spend a lot of time in historical areas, town squares, cathedrals, castles, museums and so on. These areas will be old, sometimes hundreds of years old, and getting from here to there or from here to up there or down there can be a daunting task. Think cobblestones, bricks, and cement squares underfoot (slip and trip hazards). The interiors of buildings and stairways (often windy and steep) will not necessarily be very well lit (or lit at all), nor will stairs always have handrails. And forget about finding elevators in really old buildings. Yes, pack lightweight rain gear, a couple of small umbrellas, gloves, and a hat — but remember ALSO to take a small, very bright flashlight and any walking or balance aids you may have. And while you are wandering around, keep in mind: Traffic! Often swarms of bicycles seem to emerge from who knows where.
3. Don’t let the foreign bathrooms do you in: This is a no-kidding issue. I have seen pay/no pay/separate and joined men’s and women’s/flushing devices that defy logic/ and a host of water faucets that still confuse me. And the problem of how to flush! It takes a few days to overcome any reticence regarding any of these important issues. But come to love the difference between our country and theirs and get bold: Smile and ask for help.
Most of all, have a great time and enjoy the heck out of yourselves and your trip. Your friends and family want you to have a lifetime adventure and to come home safely.
Gloria May is a registered nurse with a master’s degree in health education and a certified health education specialist designation.