Travelling and Your Knees Part 2 (Trip Intelligence)
“How Will You and Your Knees Travel?”
by Mary A. Harris
Let’s talk about the basics: the where and how of travel. First, the “how”, and we’ll tackle the “where” later. If you have knee problems, or any physical limitations, how you travel – your travel style – is critical to enjoying any trip. Know before you go, otherwise you may end up on an expensive, frustrating, and disastrous trip! I present my second travel blog below: Travelling and Your Knees: Trip Intelligence.
Are cruises your preference?
Cruises are an excellent choice for senior, limited mobility, or wheelchair travelers. No repeated packing and unpacking, and your “hotel” delivers you to the places you want to visit, plus the restaurants are close. No need for hours of research. Just ask your friends what they liked and disliked about specific cruise lines, tour companies, and destinations. And get a variety of opinions. Your style and likes are not exactly the same as your best friend’s.
Plenty of Options for Cruises
There are lots of companies, at varying prices, and destinations are unlimited. I highly recommend making a cruise part of an Alaska trip. Just be prepared. Some cruise lines include all or some onshore tours in the price; for most cruise lines, however, you pay extra for excursions. And these can become quite expensive. The downside to cruising is that you have only a short time in any port to explore and experience the area. And a caution: river cruises are not generally equipped to handle wheelchair or disabled travelers.
The Ocean Cruise
For ocean cruises, ask the cruise line how they handle mobility issues (and, if necessary, food allergies). Always be very specific in describing your limitations and needs. One of our most enjoyable cruises was trans-Atlantic on Cunard’s Queen Mary II. Lots of activities, lectures, entertainment, excellent service, and delightful fellow-passengers. We enjoyed dressing for dinner, but, be aware, this may not be the cruise style for you! Especially if the seas are rough.
All Inclusive Vacations and Tours?
How do you feel about spending time researching hotels, routes, sites, activities, and transportation, and making your own plans? Research takes time, and even deciding on a hotel can sometimes seem daunting. I enjoy research, because it gives me some background on the upcoming destination. But planning all the details of a trip isn’t for everyone.
Maybe yours is a “just sign me up and take me” style. You still have choices. Being pampered at a relaxing resort or spa? Sitting on a beach? Or are you passionate about adventure,activity, or the unique? City or country? Domestic or foreign? There are companies specializing in various tours for seniors, slow walkers, and travelers with limited mobility, or wheelchairs. See the resources box below for some examples. Some destinations are best taken via an organized tour. An example is Costa Rica, where the roads are sometimes tough to follow, or nonexistent. This can find travelling and your knees somewhat of a challenge.
It was a trip where having a knowledgeable tour guide meant that we saw more animals and learned more about the local history and culture. I’d never even heard of the Jesus Christ! lizard, and I would not have located those illusive sloths, or known the beach where turtles were hatching that week. Truly, for us, there are some trips that were best taken with an organized tour.
This type of travel makes planning easy, since arrangements are made by the company and you have a guide and/or a driver. There are tours for groups of various sizes , from one to 41. You just need to decide where you want to go, the company, and the specific tour. Check the internet. Beyond that, your main decision will be what to pack. (More on that in thefuture.).
However, the schedule on a tour is set, with little or no free time, and can be quite strenuous with long days, and climbing on and off a bus repeatedly. Are you up for it? Are you physically prepared? I discuss being physically ready for travel in my first travel blog that you can read here.?
Travelling and Your Knees: Some Resources
If you decide to travel independently, how will you get from place to place? Train, ship, ferry, airplane, bus, or car? Lots of options. Now you will need to research guidebooks, the internet, etc. Try a local travel agent, but be aware that they make money from selling you travel packages. Sometimes you can mix it up, taking a cruise or organized tour, then a train or car for independent travel. For example, one summer we spent four days in Prague, took the train to Vienna then to Budapest, where we boarded a longboat for a Danube River cruise. Our final 10 days on that trip was a road trip around parts of Germany. And having a car gave us freedom to change plans mid-week. Trains are excellent and efficient in many countries, but renting a car may be expensive and difficult in some.
Many cities, such as Singapore, Barcelona, or Vienna, have excellent metro (subway) or bus systems. Singapore’s metro has escalators and air-conditioning. Others are difficult for seniors or the physically-challenged due to long walks and stairs (ex. London and Paris). In some cities, taxis are easy to find and inexpensive (example Abu Dhabi); in others not so. And in Singapore, do not try hailing a taxi on the street, as I did: you and the driver may be fined. There you leave it to the doorman, concierge, or someone with an Uber account. In Africa the bus is usually the way to get from place to place, but the schedule is only a suggestion, and you may find live animals or large items on board. Or, like my then twenty-something son, you may end up holding a seat mate’s child. Ahh, yes; you learn when you travel, and you adapt.
For independent travelers, a good compromise is to hire a local guide, or book a local tour in English. Some local tours are popular and fill up fast, so you need to plan ahead. “Skip the line tours” are wonderful for major sites in high tourist areas, and save your valuable time. Example, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, or the Vatican Museum. You can find a variety of tour companies and local tour options on the internet. I find that researching them gives me good ideas for the upcoming trip. One example was an evening with a delicious gourmet dinner in Vienna, followed by a concert at the beautiful Stadt/State Opera House. Another was “dune bashing” and dinner in the desert of the UAE. I even got to ride a camel, but my husband secretly enjoyed the belly dancers best!
Travelling and Your Knees: My Video
Order tickets well in advance for concerts and theater performances. I didn’t do this early enough, and missed the opportunity to attend the ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Planning was crucial on a recent trip that included Paris on our own, because some sites, like museums, have days they are closed. Still, I left lots of free time, which allowed us to decide on spur-of-the moment explorations, and time to enjoy siting in outdoor cafes, with a glass of wine, people- watching and soaking in the atmosphere.
Take the Bus
Major cities have hop-on-hop-off tour buses, such as The Big Red Bus, with audio in English. This is a best option when your stay is of limited duration. You see these buses in many of the major cities, and we’ve found them to be an excellent, and less expensive way to get a city overview. Usually we take a tour on the first day, and note places to add to our itinerary. A caution here: the steps to the upper deck are steep to negotiate if you have physical limitations, especially when the bus is moving! Here’s a major concern I hear repeatedly: Isn’t language a problem for travelers abroad? Yes, sometimes. If this concern will cause you stress, taking an organized tour may be best for you.
While people speak English in cities and tourist areas, English speakers are harder to find when you get “off the beaten track”. However, even in China, Myanmar, and the interior of Turkey, we have been able to communicate – sometimes through gestures. Still, you need a spirit of adventure to tackle thispossibility.
How far does your courage go before the stress turns to anxiety and frustration? Travel is always stressful, but too much stress can ruin a trip, so know your comfort level and plan accordingly. Or do you like road or theme trips? Two of my baseball-loving grandsons are working on attending a game in every major league stadium by the time they are 20. That includes lots of road trips. Can your knees handle long periods sitting in a car?
If not, maybe a train or plane trip, where you can get up and stretch is a better option. When we take road trips we make sure to limit our daily driving, take stretch breaks for our knees and backs, explore interesting places we come across, and drink lots of water.
Drinking sufficient water is vital no matter how or where you travel! Buy bottled, especially in South America, Africa, India, or third world countries. Buy from a store. Trust me, you don’t want to experience “Montezuma’s Revenge”, and a local hospital is not a place most of us want to visit! Personally, we enjoy all styles of travel. Sometimes I like to research and plan, and sometimes even make a daily itinerary.
Regardless of how you travel, there are a few critical things to remember:
Is your id or passport valid? Remember: passports must be valid for 6 months past your travel dates. Have you made arrangements for airlines, and transport to the airport? Do you have enough of your medications? Pack extra meds, and your medical devices. What about emergency and cancellation insurances? We’ve had to use both insurances in the past; hopefully you won’t. Requesting a wheelchair, even if you are mobile, makes getting around large, complex airports, and through security easier. Check the recent TSA regulations. Have your doctor ok your health for travel and ask about recommended immunizations and medical precautions.
In other words, PLAN AHEAD!
The X10 Meta-Blog
We call it a “Meta-Blog” because we step back and give you a broad perspective on all aspects of knee health. We explore surgery and recovery and such subjects as ‘travelling and your knees’.
In this one-of-a-kind blog we gather together great thinkers, doers, writers related to Knee Surgery, Recovery, Preparation, Care, Success and Failure. Meet physical therapists, coaches, surgeons, patients, and as many smart people as we can gather to create useful articles for you. Whether you have a surgery upcoming, in the rear-view mirror, or just want to take care of your knees to avoid surgery, you should find some value here. Executive Editor: PJ Ewing (firstname.lastname@example.org)