K.I.S.S. is the acronym Joanie Betsinger of Spring Valley uses to describe her approach to traveling as age moves one into the senior category. “Keep It Simple Silly!” says Joanie. “Know from the ‘get go’ that not everything is going to go according to your plan! Relax, be flexible. Take less, leave the worrying to the people you paid to guide you! Take your time, no one will leave you in a foreign country, I promise!”
Readers can trust Joanie because she has been traveling her entire life and continues to travel with her husband of 43 years, Russ, who is “a legally blind, post CVA victim with a memory deficit and sometimes physically challenged 74-year- old.”
As a semi-retired nurse of 47 years, Joanie also is able to share her observations from a professional perspective. “I am an RN who has had the pleasure of working as a Public Health nurse, a baby nurse, a lactation consultant, and now a geriatric nurse,” comments Joanie. “I graduated in 1972 from nurse’s training, so have had lots of great experiences and have worked with and for a multitude of terrific people. I am presently working very part-time at Spring Valley Living and having a blast volunteering in several areas around town.”
Russ and Joanie have done many trips. Their travels have also involved their children, grandchildren, and siblings as well as friends from other cruises. Surprisingly, Joanie’s mother, Delores Kramer-Skalisky, an 86-year-old from Pine Island, is an amazingly fun adventurer.
The Betsingers have journeyed to six of the seven continents with plans to visit Antarctica in the near future. “We started in New Zealand and Australia,” remarks Joanie adding, “a good choice for rookies as they speak English (Queen’s English). We have been in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Italy, Russia, China, Peru and the Amazon, Kenya and Tanzanian Safari, Mexico, and of course, all 50 states.”
Planning ahead encompasses many aspects, from deciding where and when to travel, to logistical matters they consider. In order to be able to “relax, enjoy, create memories, it is beneficial to be prepared before you go, plan well ahead of time,” suggests Joanie. “When traveling internationally, passports must be valid for six months beyond your travel dates. It can take up to ten weeks to get one or renew one and Visas can take three months. Make at least two copies of each, one to pack and one to give to a significant family member or friend. Know your itinerary, read and reread. Make sure you have not only a list of medications, but written prescriptions to take with you. Make copies of your itinerary with hotel names, ship names, and phone numbers and give this list to at least two people who can be easily reached when you are traveling.”
If your vacation extends longer than a week, one needs to consider stopping newspaper, mail, or parcel deliveries. Joanie also reminds readers to “Don’t forget to pay your bills or arrange to have them paid while you are gone.”
Joanie advises, “Be aware of your own limitations. For long hours on a plane, find out what exercises to do to avoid blood clots. Find out where the bathrooms are. Make sure to wear comfortable, somewhat loose clothing so you don’t overheat. Dress in layers. Less is more. Every country in the world will have those extra things you think you need to carry along.”
The motto “Think light, pack light” might be a good one to consider. Deciding what equipment to take is an important consideration. CPAP machines require electricity, as do some shavers, toothbrushes, and mobile devices which may need special plug-ins for different countries. Batteries for flashlights, hearing aids, etc., may also not be easily available, so bringing them along will be helpful. Joanie remembers a gentleman in their group in Russia who had a very difficult time getting batteries until they got into St. Petersburg.
Extra thought is needed if traveling with someone who has special needs. “Check to see if places consider walker or wheelchair compatibility,” says Joanie. “Once we encountered a destination where the doorways in hotels (especially bathrooms) were so small that our standard walker was too wide. Russ had to walk sideways in, which is dangerous for people with poor balance.”
Joanie recommends, “Make sure to read your itinerary thoroughly. Consider how much walking, long lines for standing, a special diet, and how much sleep you require. Remember, many historical buildings are NOT handicapped accessible… even when they say they are!”
Whenever traveling be aware of those around you. “Please remember that many seniors walk slower, think a little slower,” says Joanie. “Some search for words, so speech has pauses. Memory may take a few moments to get all the ideas in a row, so be patient. Sometimes seniors forget their limitations and may need to be gently reminded. Many of us have less balance that we used to, our eyesight isn’t as sharp and it is important to look directly at us when you are speaking, BUT DO NOT ASSUME we can’t do something without asking us.”
A couple highlights from Joanie and Russ’s adventures include: “When we were in Tibet, I lost the group because I was reading about how to make candles from yak butter.” says Joanie. “It was really fascinating and I looked up and saw NO familiar faces (including my husband!). Tibet was one of the countries that did not speak English. I played charades with an older gentleman, asking for help. He held up his hand and left, coming back with in a minute or two with a young girl, a student, who spoke English. She pointed out the direction to our hotel and I found the group in a Buddhist temple on the way.”
Another time Joanie recalls is, “When we were in China, I lost my yarn needle and looked all over for one. In one shop, I asked (as another customer translated for me) if I could purchase one and the shop lady went to the back room, took one out of her own needle work and gave it to me! She said she did not have one in her shop and it was far easier for her to get one at home later than send me all over to find one. She wouldn’t let me pay for it either.”
Some traveling tips which come to mind are: “Save your money and be packed and ready to go at a week’s notice. You can get your best deals this way although you may not get the room or stateroom you want, but you can save a lot of money!” shares Joanie. “When you find a deal, call the company themselves and see if they can beat the deal you found. With just a week until sailing, you might be pleasantly surprised. We have!”
It will take a little more planning so have a written prescription for medications, passport, oxygen, insulin or clinic appointments in order. However, being prepared and flexible can save a great deal of money.
What is next for these senior globe trotters? “This coming year, we will be going to Florida in June for our Jenny’s wedding and bringing all four of our granddaughters back with us.” comments Joanie. The autumn may see this traveling duet in Greece and Turkey or perhaps Egypt since this country is on their bucket list. Antarctica is in the 2021 plan. Maybe they will go back to Rome for a couple of weeks rather than just the three days they were there, or travel to Australia where they have an open invitation to visit from friends. There is no limit to the possible destinations Joanie wishes to travel.
“Anyone and everyone, no matter what age or physical challenges, should go traveling,” concludes Joanie. “People around the world are wonderful! Don’t be afraid to ask questions and/or directions! Take time to prepare and things will go much more smoothly but if they don’t, relax and enjoy your trip!”