Since you were a kid, you and your mom have always talked about taking a trip to Italy together. The two of you imagined staring in awe at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and eating gelato every night. Fast-forward a few decades: The trip hasn’t happened yet, and Mom is now an aging senior. Can you still make your trip happen?
Traveling with seniors definitely comes with a set of challenges. But they’re not insurmountable. Read our eight tips to find out how to travel with your aging parent.
- When choosing your destination, consider Mom’s activity level. Some 75-year-olds run marathons, while others are confined to wheelchairs. Where does your parent fall on this spectrum? If Dad has limited mobility, a trip to New York City, where he’ll have to navigate busy streets and get in and out of taxis, might not be best best choice. Instead, consider a road trip or cruise. On river cruises, unlike ocean cruises, passengers can enjoy looking at towns from the ship, and the ship often docks right in town, making excursions on land easy.
- Think ahead about air travel. Negotiating airports is stressful at the best of times. With an aging parent along, it can be even more so. To make things as easy as possible, prepare ahead of time. Tell Mom to wear loose, layered clothing. Her jacket and shoes should be easy to remove at security, and large jewelry that might set off metal detectors is better packed in the suitcase. Arrive at the airport early; if Mom has had a hip replacement or similar surgery, you’ll need extra time to get through security. Make sure to pack medication and other essentials in a carry-on; that way, if your luggage is lost, it will be an inconvenience rather than a disaster. Finally, if you think Mom might need a wheelchair to negotiate the long trek through the airport, call ahead to secure one.
- Stay in a vacation rental. An apartment or house in which you and Mom can have your own bedrooms, and a kitchen where Mom can have her normal morning cup of tea is ideal. Having the freedom to prepare meals rather than go out, and a little personal space, will make traveling with your aging parent much easier. Certain websites allow locals list their homes for rent and often make for more affordable accommodations. Call to check that the rental won’t be hard for Mom to negotiate–a third-floor walkup could put a damper on your trip.
- Plan activities you and Mom can enjoy together. You may love a vacation day jam-packed with museum visits. But hours of walking might be too much for Mom. Compromise your traveling wish-lists for the most enjoyable experience. Try planning a long, renewing lunch after a museum visit, or plan to spend time at the beach or pool, where Mom can read a novel in the shade while you swim.
- Have several options for each day. You might wake up raring to go every morning, but Mom’s energy level will wax and wane. Have several options for each day that require a range of energy levels, such as trekking to a scenic location, a leisurely walk around the neighborhood, or catching a movie at the local cinema. If Mom can choose from a variety of appealing options, she won’t feel guilty when she’s too tired for a big day.
- Plan for peace of mind. In each location you plan to visit, make sure ahead of time to research the locations of a 24-hour pharmacy and and English-speaking doctor. If mom has a medical emergency arise, you won’t have to worry about how to handle it. Also, do your best to make sure Mom feels confident: she should carry her own cash in the local currency, and tote a phrase dictionary so that she can get around on her own. Consider getting her a calling card or an international cell phone, so that she don’t feel cut off from her life at home.
- Consider bringing a caregiver. Does Mom have a caregiver at home, who cleans up the house and cooks for her? It’s best to provide the same level of care on vacation that Mom is used to at home. If you can afford it, bringing along a private caregiver can make traveling with Mom much easier. If that isn’t feasible, try contacting home care agencies in the area to which you’ll be traveling. They can help you find a temporary caregiver who can help make your trip feel like a real vacation.
- Enjoy the small moments. With Mom in tow, you aren’t likely to be admiring the view at Machu Picchu. But your conversation about your years together over plates of authentic Italian pasta is a memory you’ll treasure for years to come. If you make the focus of your trip enjoying your time together, rather than knocking accomplishments off a checklist, you’ll have more fun and remember your travels more fondly.
Traveling with Mom comes with its own set of challenges, but with the proper planning, the two of you will create memories that will last a lifetime.
Stephanie Warren does online outreach for Griswold Home Care, the nation’s oldest provider of non medical in home care. Griswold Home Care has over 100 locations throughout the country to help you and your loved ones with senior care needs.
Photo by RickC Flickr Creative Commons