The virus that causes COVID-19 may be with us for the foreseeable future. Pandemics often become endemic, “meaning the infection is still present in a region or population but its behavior is predictable and the numbers of cases and deaths no longer spike.”
Infectious-disease specialists broadly agree that while COVID-19 has not been extinguished, it is under control in most parts of the United States. Sensible precautions, beginning with vaccinations and boosters, make it possible for seniors who are not exceptionally vulnerable to resume a modified pre-pandemic lifestyle.
How should seniors use their newfound freedom? After being cooped up by quarantines, the travel bug may be biting. While crowded spaces increase the risk of infection (particularly when most people aren’t wearing masks), visits to the great outdoors minimize that risk. Seniors who prefer the attractions of city life can choose destinations that are relatively free from COVID-19.
State and National Parks
State parks are often less crowded than national parks. Upstate New York’s Adirondack Park is larger than some countries. Oregon’s Smith Rock State Park is a perfect place to watch golden eagles and river otters, while California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park gives visitors a chance to enjoy desert scenery and metal sculptures.
Any of the country’s 63 national parks can provide opportunities for hiking, picnicking, birdwatching, and scenic drives. Many offer easy access to fishing spots. Unfortunately, not all national parks are equally accessible to seniors with impaired mobility. Travel + Leisure recently identified the “best” 7 national parks for seniors based on accessibility, including wheelchair-friendly trails, restaurants, visitor centers, and restrooms:
- Yosemite National Park in California
- Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky
- Acadia National Park in Maine
- Everglades National Park in Florida
- Blue Ridge Parkway National Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee
- Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana
A recent survey suggests that Badlands National Park in South Dakota and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona have the largest number of wheelchair-accessible trails and restaurants.
Senior Passes to national parks are available for everyone who is age 62 or older. An annual pass is $20 while a lifetime pass is $80. The pass covers entrance fees at all national parks and national wildlife refuges, as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands. A free lifetime pass is available to individuals with qualifying disabilities.
Spending time outdoors has demonstrable health benefits for seniors. Urban environments require seniors to cope with traffic and crowds, but visiting a city isn’t necessarily stressful or unhealthy. In fact, the cultural opportunities available in cities may provide relaxing and educational experiences for seniors who are ready to travel.
The Economist examined the safety of cities that are popular tourist destinations. In addition to the usual measures of safety — low crime rate, clean environment, reliable infrastructure — the Economist considered rates of COVID-19 infections and pandemic preparedness. As BBC Travel reports, five international cities ranked as the safest places to visit. Those cities are:
International travelers should take time to understand the entry requirements of the countries they plan to visit. Proof of vaccination, usually in the form of a WHO International Certificate of Vaccination (the “yellow card”), is nearly a universal requirement, although some countries accept a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken within two days of departure in lieu of vaccination. Some countries require medical travel insurance to cover the cost of COVID-19 treatment. Since entry requirements change frequently, travelers should check the country’s travel rules before booking a flight.