By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent

For seniors of faith, traveling to the Holy Land, Lourdes or the Compostela de Santiago in Spain makes the top “places to go” list, but planning by oneself can be daunting considering the details of lodging, meals, security and air and ground transportation. 

Thank heaven for parish-led pilgrimages that take care of such details – and travel agents like  Bruce Graycar and Kevin Santo.

“[These trips are] a way for them to see places with a local religious leader while building relationships with fellow travelers, not just those in their parish but from other parishes who book the trip,” said Graycar of Graycar Travel.

The agency, as well as Collette Travel, is among those that work with parishes to plan pilgrimages in the Diocese of Trenton. Agents like Graycar and Santo of Collette search itineraries from a number of touring companies and tailor them to meet the pastor’s vision of the trip. The agency serves as a liaison between the parish and touring company while overseeing details and simplifying communications.

 Pilgrimages account for 10 percent of the travel market, with seniors averaging age 68 making up 90 percent of the demand. Based on their experience, Graycar and Santo spoke of issues affecting seniors, starting with money and insurance.

“Be aware of money exchange rates. Don’t exchange your money at the airport. Get to your hotel and find out where the local ATM is. ATMs offer good rates of exchange,” Santo said.

 “Medicare covers 0 percent abroad,” he continued. “Travel insurance costs only $300-$400. We’ve seen that the people who don’t have it wind up needing it.”

Graycar agreed, saying travelers should obtain insurance from their carrier or a private company.

Seniors should also be aware that overseas terrain can be rugged, elevators are often nonexistent and that many hotels are not air-conditioned. Seniors with special needs should inform their travel liaison early in the planning stages.

“If you have dietary restrictions or mobility issues, tell them at the outset,” Santo said. “Two weeks before the trip is not enough to alert hotels about special dietary needs. I once had a guest who used a scooter chair.  When we got to the hotel, the elevator was too narrow for it to fit.”

Graycar emphasized that Europe is not exactly disability-friendly. “They don’t have a lot of ramps. Check in advance if you can manage the physical demands of the tour.”

When it comes to medications, Santo encouraged senior travelers to carry their daily doses on their person. “It’s a good idea to bring several extra days’ worth of meds in case of flight delays or other emergencies,” he said.

Once all the details are considered, it’s time to relax and enjoy time spent with fellow faithful. 

“It’s a great opportunity to build a better bond between a priest and his parishioners,” Graycar said.