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Retirement Weekly: Travel can be a retiree’s ‘fountain of youth’ — how to do it right

Many new retirees can’t wait to travel. As their working life ends, their trip bookings begin.

With all the excitement that surrounds travel planning, it’s easy to overlook what can go wrong. Even the most prudent folks make mistakes that ruin their trips and cause lasting hardship.

Given the sheer numbers of retirees who travel, it’s inevitable that some of them will wind up regretting their decision. Americans in their 60s are the biggest travel spenders, according to AARP. They plan to pay $7,300 on average for their 2023 travel.

Before booking travel, engage in a sober analysis of how much you’re paying and whether you’re comfortable making the commitment months in advance.

“Understand the terms and conditions for payment,” said Matt Faucher, senior director at Road Scholar, a Boston-based nonprofit that offers educational travel programs. Many trip-related purchases are nonrefundable, so know how much money you may or may not get back if your plans change.

If the thought of losing your deposit stings, consider buying travel insurance. It’s a reliably profitable product line for insurers, but don’t let that stop you.

Standard trip cancellation insurance policies vary in scope and only cover you under certain circumstances. Expect to pay roughly 10% of the nonrefundable cost of your trip to secure coverage, although prices fluctuate based on many factors.

Read: Traveling with grandchildren to see the world and ‘dream big’

You can pay even more for a “cancel for any reason” add-on to your policy. This allows you to change your mind at the last minute, perhaps because you fear the spread of the latest Covid variant.

These “cancel for any reason” policies won’t reimburse you in full. Instead of a partial reimbursement, they might issue a credit so that you can use all or part of the funds for a future trip with the same travel company.

The postpandemic rush to travel can lead exuberant retirees into trouble. If you have health problems or physical limitations, proceed with care.

“Understand your own physical ability and what the physical expectations and demands are for your trip,” Faucher said. “Some people underestimate their ability and think they can do it. Then when they get there, it’s too much.”

As long as you’re sufficiently fit to navigate uneven stairs, lug heavy bags and squeeze onto airplanes and buses, that’s a good start. The benefits of entering new worlds can offer enchantments that offset the aggravations of getting there.

“For me, travel is kind of your fountain of youth,” said Rick Steves, 68, a travel writer and television host. “And you become less fearful.”

Author of popular guidebooks to Europe, Steves urges retirees to look past their fears of, say, changing money and communicating where English isn’t the main language. “These are outdated concerns,” he said.

A more pressing concern involves tripping on your trip, he warns. Cobblestone streets pose problems if you’re unsteady on your feet. Sidewalks can be perilous.

“Be careful when you’re walking,” Steves said. “Stop and look around. Don’t look around as you walk.”

With the proliferation of electric bikes and cars in some parts of the world, it’s easy to step into a street and not hear them racing toward you. Slow down and pay attention before attempting to cross.

Steves highlights two trip-ruining threats that are fairly easy for retirees to avoid: heat and crowds. Check weather reports where you’re planning to go and consider how intense heat and humidity might affect you.

“I’d rather bundle up in the cold,” he said. You’re less likely to confront crowds during low season—and you might save money on flights and hotels.

“It can be a rude awakening if it’s hot and crowded,” Steves said. “And air conditioning may not be the norm” where you’re going.

Before heading abroad, check your passport expiration date. Some countries require that your passport remain valid for six months beyond your travel dates.

“We’ve been hearing about delays with the [U.S.] State Department in renewing passports,” Faucher said. Even if you live near a National Passport Center, don’t expect walk-in service to expedite your renewal. You may need to book an appointment weeks in advance.

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