Super-senior travel tips

This item appears on page 19 of the August 2020 issue.

The article “Travel Tips for the Less Able” by Paula Prindle (Jan. ’20, pg. 40) spurred another ITN subscriber, Bobbi Benson, to share her own tips in the letter “Super-senior’s Travel Adaptations” (March ’20, pg. 28). Bobbi also asked readers to tell us how they’ve learned to manage their own travels as time goes on and one’s physical stamina abates somewhat. She wrote, “I would like to hear from super-seniors on how they adapt their travel, making it more physically comfortable and doable. I’d also like to know of any companies that offer tours geared toward super-seniors.”

Here, we are presenting responses received.

Paula Prindle’s excellent article has led me to recount my personal “less able” experiences of traveling with my husband in Europe.

I cannot walk unassisted or climb steps; I use a walker and a mobility scooter. Before traveling, I call my airline’s special services department to tell them I need an escort at the airport and a wheelchair to my seat in the plane.

I also tell them I will be bringing my mobility scooter, a Go-Go Elite Traveller from Pride Mobility ( I ride the scooter to the plane, where it is put in the hold, and take a cabin chair — a small, low-to-the-ground chair that two attendants pull up and down the aisle — to my seat.

It is amazing how supportive airline personnel are. They congratulate our efforts, saying even many 30-year-olds won’t venture out beyond their comfort zones.

Upon arriving at our destination, my husband and I pick up our rental car at the airport, making sure it is high enough for me to get in and out of easily and that there is enough space for the walker and scooter. We had traveled for 30 years with just carry-ons, renting the smallest, cheapest cars available, so it is a bit more challenging now, but so is life in general to us octogenarians.

As for extra luggage, while I keep the amount of clothes to a minimum, I do carry, in a small separate duffle bag, a piece of foam that I put on top of the mattress on those hard European beds so my spine can get a good night’s sleep.

I carry a 4-inch wheelchair pad (soft top, solid bottom) that I use on the scooter, then transfer it to the airplane seat to make it easier to get up. This is also helpful in getting myself off those low European beds.

I no longer pack a 4-inch solid toilet seat extender but do keep a yogurt container handy in case it seems risky to try to reach the bathroom with the walker at night. (If you were an 82-year-old in a foreign country, you would know how worrisome those trips can be.) I also carry a collapsible cup in my purse for bathrooms on the road that are not accessible.

When making hotel reservations, I first check with, as they are the most comprehensive at describing room features such as “accessible path of travel” and “roll-in shower.” I then call a hotel, or write them directly, to find out if they have ground-floor rooms for folks like me (and at rates less than the booking sites list). I also ask about half-board and have been surprised how often hotels offer it (and at reasonable prices).

We have been visiting Italy for 35 years and now go every year. We’ve found that it’s almost impossible to fly nonstop into Rome on American Airlines frequent-flyer tickets, so, whether we’re heading to Italy’s north or south, we arrive and return via Milan in the north, whose airport we prefer anyway. Besides, Italy’s not that big, we have the time, and my husband is a terrific driver.

At one point, we discovered airport day rooms. In November 2019, upon arriving at Milan’s Malpensa Airport, we stayed at the airport’s Sheraton for a few hours before driving to Genoa. The Sheraton is where you want to overnight before flying home, as you can drop your car in the terminal and walk to the hotel, then walk to the departure gate in the morning. An attendant came to the hotel with a wheelchair to get me. Piece of cake!

If you have a physical disability, I advise you to take your US handicapped placard to use in your rental car to park in spaces for the disabled.

After returning from a driving trip to Italy in 2014, we were mailed three tickets for having driven into a ZTL, or Zona Traffico Limitato (Limited Traffic Zone), in Barberino val d’Elsa, between Florence and Siena. During our visit to Barberino Val d’Elsa just a few months later the following year, we took a picture of one of the ZTL signs and the vehicles it listed as exempted from receiving tickets, which included those driven by disabled people. (The sign showed the handicapped symbol, but we had learned the hard way that the electronic cameras can’t pick up the handicapped placard on the front windshield.) We mailed a copy of the sign and a photocopy of my handicapped placard to the Italian police but never heard back about them.

During our first 2019 trip to Italy we stayed in Nembro, a tiny town near Bergamo. We inadvertently drove through a ZTL in Bergamo and were mailed a citation by that town. I replied with my disability information and, again, heard nothing further.

Now, either before or after we arrive at our hotel, we ask the hotelier to call the police and inform them of our license plate number and our handicapped placard so we can drive in the ZTLs. We did this successfully in Rome in June 2019 and in Matera in November. (Of course, this does not apply to other traffic violations.) In Segesta, Sicily, we were able to drive right next to the incredible temple. We had ZTL access in Agrigento as well. (When we stay in hotels off the beaten path, where there are no ZTLs, the police do not need to be notified.)

Museums and historical sites are free to the disabled in Italy, as are some in Paris. I carry a photocopy of my handicapped driver’s placard to get into museums more easily and safely. However, once the ticket person sees me in a scooter or with a walker, a pass isn’t necessary, but it might be for a person with a less obvious challenge. The caretaker (my wonderful husband) also is admitted without charge.

You would be amazed how many out-of-the-way accessible entrances and elevators there are in places.

In the Orvieto Cathedral, the priest in charge, seeing my scooter, immediately placed a sturdy ramp over the step into the church and another one to the main exhibit.

In Padua’s museum complex, a bell near a large elevator summons an escort, who will accompany you up to the galleries, then take you back down whenever you like.

Angel Tours (Via Vittorio Veneto, 150, Rome; phone +39 348 734 1850, has a great city tour of Rome by golf carts that seat at least four each. We have taken this twice, and it keeps getting better. They also do the Colosseum and Sistine Chapel. Highly recommended!

We have been members of MASA Assist (800/643-9023, for their emergency-medical-evacuation insurance policy for years; knock wood we have not had to take advantage of its services.

Traveling is an exciting hobby we have enjoyed for many years.

Dorothy DeVoti
Sheffield, MA

I am 88 and hope to get in a few more trips.

Number one for me is to keep moving. On a cruise, on sea days when it’s too windy to walk on deck, I don’t think of it as a take-it-easy day. I use the gym’s treadmill, even if only for 10 minutes. Weights are good too. I climb at least one flight of stairs a day in order to keep my knees as flexible as they can be (having had two knee replacements over a decade ago).

Keep your mind agile. I learned a new card game, Hand & Foot, that really tests my recall. It takes five full card decks! Card and board games are great for keeping minds active. (I will go back to mahjong when four people are allowed to sit together here again.)

Of course, on any trip, I must include the “Betty James Travel Insurance Strategy,” which ITN Contributing Editor Wayne Wirtanen has mentioned often (Feb. ’20, pg. 46). My husband and I have used it on at least five cruises with Oceania Cruises.

Wanda Walker
Kihei, HI

I am turning 81 in a few weeks (written Feb. 16, 2020) and still am mad about traveling but have had to craft alternative methodologies. I, like Bobbi Benson, am not decrepit, just at a different energy level and with different body mechanics than at 70 and earlier.

No more commercial bird-watching tours — up at 5, out by 6, back by 6, dinner, bed and then up the next morning to begin again. Rain, humidity, mud, steep trails — all no more.

Some bird and nature tour companies offer easier tours, including Naturetrek (Mingledown Barn, Wolf’s Lane, Chawton, Alton, Hampshire, England, GU34 3HJ, U.K.; phone 01962 733051, and Greentours (8 Eliot Close, Armitage, Rugeley, England, WS15 4UP, U.K.; phone 01298 83563,

Road Scholar (Boston, MA; 800/454-5768, indicates the activity level for each tour, beginning with “Easy Going.” I find I can do a level-3 tour by just not doing everything. Many of their easy tours have seemed a bit too sedentary for me.

I was amazed how Bobbi covered all the things that I, on my own, have worked out, including booking accommodations with shower stalls instead of tubs (though, alas, a shower stall is not always available). I would only add the following guidelines that I use:

Sign up for TSA Pre√ (Pre-check).

Arrange for airport transfers (pickups and drop-offs).

Plan trips that allow easy flights. Long is OK, even very long, but no early-hour departures and no difficult airport changes. If there is a transfer to a different plane or airline, I make sure there is plenty of time to do it. If it’s an international trip, a wheelchair pickup, if necessary, REALLY helps.

I do not visit high-heat and high-humidity destinations.

I no longer take group walking tours of cities, especially over cobblestones.

If on a tour that will use a bus or vehicle, I carefully check how much room there will be in the vehicle. It’s important that not every seat is filled and that there is space. Also, no long drives over unpaved and bumpy roads (ouch, the back!).

I now prefer one-site tours but will still do multisite tours if we are at each site for multiple days. I don’t want to change hotels every day.

If I am on a tour, I don’t feel that I have to take all of the excursions. I readily skip an afternoon here and there or an evening lecture.

If I want to visit someplace and, as I am planning, I see that something doesn’t work for a super-senior, I find an alternative. For example, I wanted to go to Egypt, and I saw that all the tour companies did Cairo/Giza and Luxor, but, in Cairo and Giza, on each tour there was monument after monument and museums all thrown into one morning.

Then a friend told me that there was a direct flight from London to Luxor (I was going to be in England), where riverboat cruises were available going up the Nile for eight days, with an optional trip to Abu Simbel. (I will do the flight but not the 4-hour coach trip each way.) Problem solved — a super-senior accommodation!

Edna R.S. Alvarez
Los Angeles, CA

Am I a super-senior? I’m only 91 years of age and don’t feel old. I live alone and still travel frequently, by myself.

In 2019 I did a double cruise (in the Caribbean and on to Rio, Brazil), attended a family reunion in the US, flew to Scotland for 10 days with my son and his family, went to Rome for a double cruise (around the Mediterranean, then transatlantic to Florida) and flew to Scotland for Christmas with family.

In 2020, a planned lengthy cruise in April-May had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 “shelter in place.”

On my last land tour, by private auto with a driver/guide in Uganda in June 2013, at age 84, I fell. The pathway we were on was so rough, I had to lift my walker with each step instead of being able to roll it. The guide suggested I just hold his hands and leave the walker behind to be collected later. I started holding his hands, but when I overbalanced, he was unable to keep me from falling. I only had a bruise, but it was careless of me, and I decided to no longer do land tours.

I book all my cruises through a travel agent by phone. I arrange the other trips, flights, hotels, etc., on the internet myself. After the flights are confirmed, I phone the airline to ask for wheelchair assistance at all airports and for handicapped aisle seating on the planes, as I wear braces on both legs because of neuropathies.

From and to airports, I use taxis.

Since sometimes I have to handle luggage myself, I limit it to what I can manage alone: one 28-inch hard-sided suitcase, one 22-inch carry-on, a walker (taped flat), a quad cane and a small cloth carry-on to hold my coat, book, lunch, etc.

As a clotheshorse, I “dress” for dinner and pack a different dress for each evening plus assorted mix-and-match for daytime wear and usually 10 pairs of shoes, four pairs of which fold flat.

On the ITN Official List of Independent Sovereign Nations, I’ve been to 135. (On the Traveler’s Century Club list, I have 191.) When it is safe to do so, I plan to enjoy more cruises.

Rosemary Stafford
Pleasant Hill, CA

I enjoyed reading Bobbi Benson’s letter, “Super-senior’s Travel Adaptions.” I can’t agree with Bobbi more when she points to two adaptions that have also made my trips less stressful the past few years: business class and packing light.

I am not yet prepared for shortening my stays or joining the cruise circuit, but I have those adaptations in mind for a time when I am faced with staying home or adapting my mode of travel.

One adaptation I have made over the last few years is to build a stopover city into my overall itinerary, booking a convenient airport hotel near public transportation. I can stay one or two days before continuing to my final destination. It also is a pleasant way to avoid the stress of close connections.

I search for free city walking tours and have enjoyed each that I have taken.

I find that, while I was driven to see as much as possible when I was 10 years younger, now, at 75, I like the intermittent stops at street cafés to enjoy refreshment, people-watching and relaxing.

I don’t want to give up exploring the world, and with a few “senior” adaptations, I shouldn’t have to do so.

Pat Bunyard
Cambria, CA