Seniors - First Trip

Husband and I are planning our first trip abroad early next year. Will probably fly to Paris then travel to London, tour England by car and also north to Scotland. Would like to head over to Belfast and drive down to Dublin and fly home from there.
My husband and I are both 65. He is in excellent shape... me, not so much. I have some COPD.
What would you suggest for someone in my condition as far as what to try and what not to try. These countries have been on my "bucket list" forever. Just wish I could have gone 10 years ago :). Thanks

Posted by Lo
Tucson
1343 posts

I think your biggest challenge will be the walking -- especially up and down hills and stairs. There are very few accommodations for anyone with mobility or breathing issues in any of the places you list, and virtually no options for the Tube or the Metro except going up and down stairs. Even if you rent a car and take it into any of the cities or bigger towns, you are unlikely to be able to park it very close to where you want to go. The good news is that you have time to work with your doctor about your breathing issues and see if there is anything you can do to improve in anticipation of this trip.

  • One other issue I can see from your question has to do with the timing of your trip. If you go "early next year" it is likely to be nasty weather with short days in all the places you listed. Wet, windy, snow, you name it. If that affects your breathing, it could be a problem. More good news, though. Most places no longer allow smoking inside, so you are unlikely to encounter that because the weather will be too bad to sit outside where smoking is generally allowed.
  • Another issue is the car rental thing. You will find lots of information on renting cars in the questions and answers found in the Transportation section under Tips & Trip Reports, the individual countries you intend to visit, and here under General Europe. As always, my advice about that is to go to Gemut.com (http://www.gemut.com/), explore the website, read the brochure on What You Should Know About Renting a Car in Europe and contact Andy for advice. You may not be able to use the same car in all the places you list. You might not be able to take it on the ferry from Scotland to Belfast. And of course, the Republic of Ireland is not a part of Great Britain. Gemut prides itself on its German/Austrian/Swiss experience, but they are great for all of Europe. They have always found the best option for us at a better price than I could find in any other way.
  • I have knee problems that cause me to be slow. Even with shots, I'm supposed to take the stairs one at a time, both up and down. I'm sure some people behind me get annoyed at having to go around me. Too bad. I don't let them bother me. I just go at my own pace and have a great time doing it. You will too!
Posted by BG
Albany, CA, USA
1545 posts

In Paris, I suggest you forget about taking the Metro (which involves a lot of walking and stair climbing) and prepare to take the bus or a taxi to get around. (buy a book that shows the bus routes, or find online) Book a hotel in a good central location -- on ground floor or with an elevator! Yes, there will be a lot of walking, but it is wonderful in Paris, just stop often and sit in the park or at a cafe. Same with London, forget the Tube, use buses to get around. Taxis in the special zone in center of city are very pricey. So I suggest being prepared to spend what you have to to be able to get around these cities. The Hop on Hop Off buses in both cities are an easy way to get around and see a lot. I think you will be OK once you are able to drive around the countryside.
Be prepared for a lot of walking and standing in museums, parks, stores, etc. But there are so many great things to see, and this being your first trip, I hope you will be inspired and able to do a lot!

Posted by chboro
6 posts

Thanks so much for the tips! Much appreciated.
I am on an exercise regime to build my endurance... If we don't go in the late spring, it will be mid-late September next year, so I have time to improves.

Thanks again!

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
5658 posts

A friend of mine took a folding chair thing that works as a support cane when it's not unfolded into a chair. I've seen them in travel product catalogs.

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
808 posts

You might find the weather a little better in September (mid 60's to high 50's) than even May (low 50's to 60). If you pace yourself and not try and do too much I think you will be fine. You did not mention how much time you will have - that will make a difference in what all you will be able to fit in. We rented a car and drove all over England, Scotland & Wales with no problems. You will probably find it less expensive to return the car and not pay to take it on the ferry. One in Northern Ireland you can either take a train to Dublin or rent another car for that portion of the trip.

Posted by chboro
6 posts

The folding chair/cane idea is good.. thanks. We can certainly take our time, as we are retired.

Posted by Sharon
Santa Rosa, CA, USA
1056 posts

Just wanted to second the folding cane/chair idea. I have one, and it's helped immensely! There have actually been a few times when we've been standing in line, and I've been sitting on it, that they told us to come to the front of the line to go in early!

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
1740 posts

If you do get one of the cane/seat things, I encourage you to practice with it at home first on a variety of surfaces. I was on a Road Scholar trip last Fall where one of the ladies had one and each time she sat on it I thought she was going over. She was quite a large lady and I think her problem was that she never seemed to be able to get herself positioned so her weight was well-centered. If you get one, try it out on grassy surfaces as well as paved or inside surfaces.

Posted by Laura B
San Francisco
778 posts

Health insurance ?? I have a Medicare supplement (F) which covers emergency medical expenses since Medicare covers nothing outside the U.S. -- if I didn't, I would be looking for good travel health insurance.

Posted by chboro
6 posts

Good tips on the chair/cane idea. Practice :) We do have supplemental insurance and will absolutely be sure we are covered.... thanks!!

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8721 posts

I suggest you won't need or want a car in PAris.. so fly into Paris.. take taxi from offical taxi rank into Paris and hotel.. then use buses to get around city, my elderly french relatives used to use the metro but as age and mobility became issues they switched to using buses and taxis too. Then take the Eurostar to London, not flying.. its less stressful really. 2.5 hours direct city center to city center( no worries about commuting to and from airports) ..

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
21439 posts

chboro,

You've received lots of good comments and suggestions on your proposed Itinerary, and I have a few to add.....

  • As this is your first trip abroad, I'd suggest heading to your local Library and check Guidebooks for each of the places you'll be visiting. Having good information at hand will help to plan efficiently and hopefully avoid any problems. With the Guidebooks, you'll be able to plan your sightseeing in accordance with the severity of your COPD (do you require oxygen while walking around?).
  • As pat suggested, it would be a good idea to take the EuroStar from Paris to London. Have a look at the excellent Man in Seat 61 for lots of information on how to book tickets for the train, etc.
  • Regarding driving in the U.K., I'd suggest doing a bit of research on the aspect of driving "on the correct side of the road". Some people from this part of the world have no problems at all with that, while others find it to be a challenge. There's lots of information online with tips and things to watch for. Renting the car outside of London, perhaps somewhere like Bath would be easier. Given the difference in driving direction, you'll also need to be watchful as pedestrians, and get used to looking in the opposite direction when you cross the street (I've almost been nailed by cars on a couple of occasions when I forgot that rule).
  • One other thing to mention is that some car rental agencies have restrictions on "senior" travellers. Be sure to check whether that will be a problem with the agency you deal with.
  • Were you planning to also drive around Scotland? If not I'd suggest dropping the car when you reach Edinburgh. You could also drop it in York and then take the train from there as it's very easy.
  • The easiest way to get from Edinburgh to Belfast will be via a budget flight. As I recall, EasyJet operates on that route. If you decide to book with them, be sure to read their "Terms & Conditions" carefully, especially related to luggage weights.
  • From Belfast to Dublin, using the train will be the quickest and most efficient method. You can take a Taxi from Connolly station to your hotel.
  • When in cities, don't hesitate to use Taxi's if you'd rather not deal with the Tube or Buses. The Taxi drivers in London are exceptionally well trained and regulated, and the classic black Cabs are very roomy inside. However, I'd probably avoid Taxi's during rush hour (the Tube will be crowded then too). Planning travel to avoid peak times is sometimes prudent.

Happy travels!

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
1074 posts

In London, I suggest taking the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus, which takes you on a route past all the major sights. You are seated higher than you would be in a taxi, so you get a great view of Buckingham Palace, Parliament and Big Ben, pass by Trafalgar Square and Picadilly Circus. With a limited amount of strength, a good look from the bus at some of these things may be all you need. Conserve your strength for the sights that really require a visit, rather than a glance. The Tower of London and Westminster Abbey are sights you will want to go into. The British Museum is excellent, and they offer wheelchairs to visitors. Call a day ahead of time to reserve your wheelchair. Even if you do not use one at home, it is a good idea at the British Museum. There are several floors, and a lot to see; it wore me out, so it may wear you out, too. My mother has COPD, and a wheelchair comes in handy where you'd normally be on your feet for three to four hours. The Hop-On-Hop-Off bus ticket is good for 24 hours, so you can just keep circling the city; get off anytime at a sight you want to see, get back on the bus afterwards, continue on to the next sight. Also includes a boat ride on the River Thames. Read more about it in the Rick Steves London book. Also, get a bus map when you get to London, several of the city buses go past most of the sights, the Number 15 bus, for example. Easier in some ways than the tube, and you see more.

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
1074 posts

Remember that small hotels and B&B's in London may have only stairs. Some have elevators, some do not. Make your reservations accordingly. Walking up several flights of stairs can be uncomfortable to impossible for someone with COPD, judging from my mother's experience with this when I have been with her.

Posted by chboro
6 posts

Thanks Rebecca... great advice.

I have been making sure hotels etc. I look at have a lift. :) Thanks.

Posted by ckpatchett
Florida
28 posts

I have a Sport Seat, a very light-weight cane with a folding seat available at www.sportseat.com. So far I have only had to use it as a foot prop following foot surgery, but I have sat on it a few times. My only complaint is that the seat is small---- and apparently shrinking :)

One other thing to be aware of when renting a car in England or Ireland is that if you want an automatic, you have to specifically ask for one. Most European rental cars are stick shift and even if you are comfortable using a stick, remember you will be concentrating on driving in an opposite lane, watching for cars and pedestrians in opposite directions while also shifting with your left hand (as opposed to the more familiar right-hand shift). That's a lot. While we are fine with stick shifts anywhere else, we always order an automatic in the British Isles.

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
1485 posts

I am also less than mobile, and took my 11 year old granddaughter to Paris last summer! At the advice of the Hotel Owner, we bought a three day pass for the RED hop-on-hop off bus, and we could see the city, and get on and off as we liked! Saved tons of $ on taxis. It was also nice because it rained all day one day. I've ridden the Metro before in Paris, and there ARE elevators, but not necessarily enough of them. The Red bus encompassed ALL of Paris including Montmartre. We also took a lovely hop on hop off bus ride down the Seine.

Enjoy your trip. I didn't start going to Europe either until a little late, and now I go every year, damn the old bones, I'm going!

For myself, I'm glad I looked at this thread and am going to buy the chair/cane!

IMPORTANT: Make sure your Credit Card co and Bank know you'll be using the cards in Europe. Give them 3 weeks
notice. Make sure you make 2 copies of your passport. Leave one home with friend/relative, and
each of you carry each other's copy. In case of loss or theft.
Get some euros from the bank or AmEX office before you go. It will make it less
stressful.

I got a note-pad on a "ring" I write the name/address of the hotels on the pages repeatedly, and just tear one
off and give it to the taxi drivers.

I use a "neck pouch" for credit cards/passports/large cash. Keep it under my blouse. Keep my day money in
my purse.

Posted by Thomas
Snyder, Texas
504 posts

Hello!
I am 65 and my wife is 63. We travel a great deal, and I think you are going to have a wonderful time.
How much trouble do you have with your breathing? I assume you do not need oxygen or you wouldn't be trying this trip. I would go to you COPD doctor and tell him/her your plans. I don't have COPD, but I do have asthma (all my life). Before I take off for parts unknown, I go to my doctor. He usually gives me an antibiotic and some other asthma meds that I can take in case I get sick.
I do have a question about the length of your trip. You have a lot planned. We have been to all the places you list, but on multiple trips. Unless you plan to be gone a month or longer, I think you will enjoy yourself more with fewer places.
If your husband enjoys driving here, I think he will be fine in England, even though the driving is on the opposite side. Does he drive a stick shift? If so, your option of cars will be greater. I've driven in the UK several times, and it has never bothered me. Also, I noticed that someone mentioned problems renting a car as an older person. I have never seen any issues for renters in their 60's. I have seen a few limitations for renters over 70, but there are usually ways around that also... usually involving paying more money. If you have too much trouble walking, I think the car portion of your trip will be quite enjoyable for you. We absolutely love rural England and Scotland. The further north you go, the better it gets... in my opinion.
You are going to have a wonderful trip.

Posted by Michelle
Iowa
61 posts

I would like to echo what Thomas said about the number of destinations you have. Planning relaxing type days you could easily spend 2-3 months and not see nearly everything. You mentioned that you are first time travelers abroad. I would suggest possibly starting in London as it is a great place to start your vacation (english speaking, and well laid out with maps since the olympics. I think that there is a map every block). You could certainly travel to Paris from there (use the eurostar) then continue on to wherever you want to go.
Depending on your mobility, consider using a wheelchair for bigger museums. Your hotel might be able to set one up. You could also consider a tour guide who might know some short cuts. Some of the museums are huge so it is good to know what you want to see. Take frequent breaks and make sure not to get overtired. You can always go back to the hotel for a mid afternoon nap. I think someone mentioned having an off day/afternoon every 3-4 days where you relax and don't do anything except laundry, nap, and relax.
I would get medical evacuation insurance in case something catastrophic happens and you need to be flown home, if you are prepared you will not need it. See your regular doctor and a pulmonologist before you go and make sure to take extra inhalers in case yours is lost or runs out. I would find out if you are eligible for pulmonary rehab to get your endurance up.
Have a wonderful trip. I think that once you go once you will return as often as you can. Travel is addicting

Posted by Susan
Marin County/San Francisco
3691 posts

Most museums have wheelchairs available.

At Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte, they have golf carts you can rent to see the gardens.