Travel Health Management for “Grey Nomads”

There are many different lifestyle approaches older adults can take in retirement – for decades “snowbird seniors” have headed south during the winter months from their northern homes to escape snow and ice, and many retirees dream of packing up a recreational vehicle and travelling cross-country.  During pandemic lockdowns, sales of RVs rose significantly as people itched to get out of their homes while remaining safe and self-contained. 

In Australia, there has been a growing number of “grey nomads” over the past 20 years – a community of older adults who spend extended periods of time travelling by caravan or motor home seeking adventure and an active lifestyle.  But for seniors with chronic health conditions like diabetes, the RV lifestyle can present challenges.   According to a recent McMaster Optimal Aging Portal blog post, studies have found that about 8 percent of nomads over 55 live with diabetes, and many have at least one chronic disease

Although the perception of a nomadic lifestyle is often one of health, physical activity and adventure, research has shown that many seniors in this community have high rates of obesity and alcohol consumption.    Quality of life may also be lower for grey nomads and without proper health needs planning for medications and emergency services, about 8 percent have to cut their travels short to return home for health care.   Diabetics who are well versed in controlling their condition with diet and medication, and can access telehealth visits with their healthcare providers, are better able to manage their condition on long trips. 

Tips for RV Nomads

  • Plan ahead by talking with your doctor about travel plans – discuss telehealth options
  • Have access to or a printed copy of health records
  • Keep a list of all medications on hand, and enough refills for the trip
  • Pay close attention to diet on long trips, avoiding processed and fast foods and excess alcohol
  • Make time for regular exercise
  • Talk with your pharmacists about travel plans and ask questions about remote care
  • Explore monitoring technologies to manage blood pressure or blood glucose 
  • Check into extended health insurance if travelling outside of your home country