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  • Travel safely, and keep smiling

  • I wish you safe travels. If you're planning a holiday excursion, may the experience be a pleasant one and difficulties getting to your destination — and back — held to a minimum.
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  • I wish you safe travels. If you're planning a holiday excursion, may the experience be a pleasant one and difficulties getting to your destination — and back — held to a minimum.
    As I write this column, my husband and I are sitting in a crowded airport awaiting a plane that was supposed to leave yesterday. Or was it the day before? Our issues began on the second leg of our flight home after a Thanksgiving-week getaway. It started when the pilot announced "leaky brake fluid."
    We were returning from a week-long trek to Honduras, a tiny country to which I had not given much previous thought — and which I now think of fondly as a wet nirvana in Central America.
    When we told our children we were traveling to a tropical rain forest over Thanksgiving, the response was, "You're doing what?!" — offered up at a decibel level that's hard to convey with the printed word.
    The decision was reached after my husband was invited to speak at a seafood conference in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, and the hosts encouraged him to bring his wife. It was irresistible. For much of our trip we stayed in an eco-lodge and hiked in jungle-like settings with incredibly colorful birds as close as a pair of binoculars. Families of howler monkeys "entertained" us with their eerie wailing, and we snacked on lychee nuts by plucking them directly off the trees.
    Getting to our destination was uneventful and being there was exquisite, but returning to the States presented issues. In the process of confronting travel challenges I learned more about being part of an aging demographic of travelers. There are lots of us. I saw hundreds of adults in their seventh decade and beyond, often with significant sensory and ambulatory problems but always with great resilience — and no apparent fear of flying. But I've also heard painful stories about older adults and travel nightmares.
    So, I have a few suggestions. If there is a key, it's pre-planning. And traveling as a team, especially internationally, is important. Know your personal hurdles. Our hearing is compromised and airports are noisy places, so we found it essential to repeat aloud any piece of information provided by a gate attendant to ensure accurate understanding. When we got "canceled, canceled, canceled, stranded," we looked for the least-distracted gate agent and smiled a lot. When we found that the plane we thought we were on had left early, and another opportunity was not going to occur until the following day, we asked for hotel and meal vouchers (Keep smiling — it may involve some negotiation) and we requested those "refresh" kits they keep behind the podium.
    If you have a husband like mine, there's an airline plane-tracker app on an iPhone, and the direct line to the airline "Help Desk" is programmed into that same phone. We didn't have — but next time, we will — an emergency kit with disposable underwear and socks. My lightweight backpack should have contained a large, warm scarf to serve as a lap robe when it got chilly. We carried medications in their original containers, of course, as well as high-protein snacks and an up-to-date emergency contact list. My husband, the more veteran traveler, has taught me to be quickly creative in dealing with the unexpected. We actually enjoyed rising to the moment — most of the time.
    Ultimately it's sort of like life. In the end, what we all want to have are safe travels and happy landings. And maybe "… an occasional nirvana.
    Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.
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