There are many reasons to travel with parents, but the hassle and stress sometimes holds people back.
Whether you’re attending a family graduation; enjoying a multi-generational family vacation; or are splitting the distance to see each other, when you travel with an elderly parent, there are additional logistical considerations to take into account.
Tips for Traveling with an Elderly Parent
Whatever your situation, don’t let the hassle hold you back. Here are some tips to help you get through traveling with an elderly parent:
Before You Travel
Travel insurance with medical coverage is absolutely necessary no matter what type of trip you’re planning, but if your parent has a pre-existing medical condition it could be difficult to get.
See if you can obtain travel insurance before you book your travel.
Though you’re probably going to take on the majority of the planning, it’s also important that your parent is involved in the decisions. They are an adult, after all, not a child – so be patient with them and try not to be patronizing. Incorporating their ideas into the planning and keeping their priorities in mind will help you keep the peace.
Choosing Your Destination
Some trips happen because of circumstances, and the destination is often not your choice. Births, graduations and reunions are examples. However, if you have the luxury to plan your destination vacation, try to choose a location and vacation that suits everyone’s needs.
Cruises and tours are often geared towards guests of all ages. Just remember to plan extra time for excursions and other outings so you’re not rushed.
The activity level and health of your elderly parent should also factor into the destination you choose. If your parent has mobility issues then choose a destination with terrain that is even and flat. The cobblestone streets of Paris may make for a romantic destination, but it won’t be fun for anyone in a wheelchair or for those with hip or knee problems.
It’s important that your trip can also accommodate privacy for your elderly parent and yourself. Try to book private rooms when possible so that you both can have time apart whenever needed. It’s also a good idea to look for destinations where you can pursue your different interests and then come together for meals. You don’t have to do everything together as a group.
Medical and Safety Considerations When Traveling
Your parent may need to get travel clearance from their doctor or have their doctor fill out information for their travel insurance. This is a good time to get a statement from your doctor clarifying any conditions your parent may have that would set off security alarms at airports or travel checkpoints (hip and knee implants are common culprits).
Your parent should plan to have enough medication to last the duration of the trip and have extra prescriptions on hand just in case.
Keeping on schedule with medications can sometimes be difficult when you’re out of routine and traveling. So also plan on keeping an alarm setting on your phone that will help keep dosages consistent.
Finally, pre-plan for any dietary restrictions or health issues that your parent may have, and make sure you know where local hospitals are before you reach your destination — especially if you’re traveling to a foreign country where English isn’t the first language.
Taking Advantage of Amenities
There are many amenities out there, but you usually need to pre-plan in order to take advantage of them.
- Ask for disabled traveler’s rows on airplanes, buses and trains.
- Call ahead for special services like a wheelchair if needed.
- If you need it, ask for assistance from the airline — it’s often a free courtesy, but if the assistance is given by airport personnel, keep in mind that it’s customary to tip.
- Look for hotels that have many amenities and are wheelchair friendly.
- Try to book accessible, ground floor rooms whenever possible.
Use an Elderly Friendly Itinerary and Pack Light When Traveling
It’s usually best to avoid a packed itinerary. Give your parent time to go to bed early and even take naps in the afternoon if that’s their custom. Try to avoid nighttime flights which can be extremely tiring. It’s best to plan for the most direct route with the shortest travel time.
It’s also a good idea to look for senior discount fares whenever possible. Check out:
It’s also best to prepare to be:
- Accommodating: If your parent has mobility issues, is hard of hearing, has vision problems, etc… then it’s you who will need to make adjustments, not them.
- Patient: Your parent may move slower than you and might not be in as much of a rush as you are. Instead of trying to rush them, give yourself plenty of time. Arrive at the airport early to ensure you get through all the lines – you don’t want to be in a position where you have to rush if your elderly parent is slow and simply can’t move quickly.
- Communicative: You want to be clear on expectations up front, including things like who is paying for different parts of the trip. It’s also a good idea to communicate and confirm your parent is clear on the travel itinerary, especially if they’re traveling alone or meeting you at a destination.
Finally, be sure to:
- Keep all emergency contact numbers, insurance and medical information in an accessible spot in your carry on luggage or on your person(s) at all times
- Keep four copies of important documentation (a copy for your carry-on, your checked luggage, to leave at home with a friend or relative, and to send ahead to family you may be visiting)
- Keep necessities like medication in your carry on, in a transparent bag and keep all medication in the original pill bottles as dispensed by your pharmacist
- Pack carry on only (if possible) so you don’t have too much luggage to manage
- Pack light
- Pack a prepaid phone calling card in case you don’t get cell service
Ultimately, traveling with an elderly parent can be a rewarding experience, and the time you’ll spend together will be a gift to you both that you’ll cherish for years to come.
Have you traveled extensively with an elderly parent before? What was your experience like? We’d love to hear your story in the comments below.