- Know — and respect — your body's changing ability.
- Just because you're not 20 anymore doesn't mean you need to stay home.
- Six tips for healthy traveling
The closest I've come to an overseas trip of late was a visit to London-based Travelturtle.com, which identifies itself as "the travel health advice site." The warnings for elderly tourists seemed quite reasonable, but a bit too late for this old guy (I'm 81).
Item: "Poor balance and slow reaction time can increase the risk of falls."
Been there, done that.
Not too many years ago, my wife, Caryl, and I had rented a cottage in Siasconset, a charming village on Nantucket island. The cottage was perfect, a century-old shingled relic with roses climbing the walls and an ocean view. We needed to load up on food, and I had a bright idea. I hadn't been on a bicycle for decades, but I borrowed one with a big basket up front. I'd fill the basket with groceries and pedal it the short distance to the cottage. No problem.
The groceries included bottles of water and wine, and they were heavy. I managed to travel about five feet before I lost control and crashed to the pavement. Damages: Three bottles of wine, bruises and a sprained ankle.
Score one for "poor balance."
Another Travelturtle warning: "Decreased lung capacity" can make it difficult for older folks to handle high altitudes. Right.
Caryl and I visited her brother and his family in Aspen, Colo. At 8,000 feet or so, Aspen is hardly the Alps. That was what I told my in-laws when they warned that it might take awhile to adjust to the height. Within a few hours of landing there, I played tennis, and that night I drank my usual martini. I spent the next few days in a fog with symptoms that were all too similar to those of the flu.
Was "decreased lung capacity" the villain, or was it simple pigheadedness? I took that question to Norman Abeles, retired professor of psychology at Michigan State University and a former president of the American Psychological Association. He didn't argue with my own diagnosis, but he also suggested that I might be suffering from a case of denial.
"There's an expectation," Abeles said, "that things are the same as they were 10 years ago. Changes do happen with aging." In other words, I was refusing to accept reality.
That is not to say, he cautioned, that some numerical age automatically equates with diminished mental and physical capacity. And even for those who experience some such loss, he added, there are "compensation strategies" that can keep them going.
"It's a common misperception that once you get old you should turn in your keys. But if you have a night vision problem, you can simply drive in the daytime."
His expansive view of elders' travel prospects is mine, as well. Caryl and I have toured Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe in the last decade, with nary a mishap. Of course, there was that visit to a beach in the Caribbean where I managed to step on a sea urchin.