Feature Articles - Aging
Traveling with an older relative
Mary Gosche, Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension
Traveling with your parents or an older relative can be a wonderful experience. It might give you a chance to spend quality time with your relative or it might provide a good bonding experience between your children and their grandparents. Use the following tips to plan and prepare ahead of time to ensure that the trip is enjoyable for everyone.
Before you start, think about the reason for the trip
so you can plan accordingly.
Is the older relative going on the trip to help with babysitting or driving, or is the focus on just having fun with the family? Is the goal to have some quiet time away from home, or is this trip for a specific celebration or family reunion? Or is it a situation where it's just better for the older relative to accompany family on a trip as opposed to being in their home without a support system while you are gone? Set some reasonable expectations for the trip and for everyone involved.
The internet is a great resource for planning a trip. You can find hotels, theme parks and many attractions, and get information about accommodations for an older relative. Ask about elevator service and whether the rooms are easily accessible. Ask for a room that isn't a long walk through the hotel or from the parking lot. Find out if there is a shuttle service available.
Book flights by phone
If you plan to fly, you may need to make some special requests so speak with a real live agent by phone. You can request wheelchair service and you can make arrangements to escort your older relative through security. The caretaker must have their own government-issued ID with full name and birth date and must let the airline know that they are accompanying their relative to the gate.
If you are driving
Use automatic locks in your car and have your relative sit in the front seat. Plan for lots of stops for bathroom and stretching breaks.
Prepare for medical needs ahead of time
Make sure your older relative has all the medications he/she needs, and bring extra in case a medication is spilled or in case you get stranded or delayed. All prescriptions and over-the-counter medications should be placed in one-quart zip-lock freezer bags if you are flying. Have an up-to-date list of medications and dosages so other professionals can help with a problem or emergency. Notify the older relative’s doctor of the travel plans. Bring a list of phone numbers of doctors, emergency contacts and a pharmacy.
Take it easy with the activities
Planning is definitely part of the fun so involve your relative in the choices and the activity planning. Identify what your older relative finds enjoyable and comforting and try to include activities geared towards his/her interests. Also keep in mind that the older relative does not have to be included in every activity. Remember that everyone gets cranky when tired, so plan rest periods and naps for the older relative and for children.
Tours and cruises
Maybe the older relative would like to travel alone or with other senior adults. Many travel tours cater to that clientele and some tour operators specialize in accessible vacations. Determine if the older relative can travel alone and investigate the possibilities. The cruise or tour staff are under no obligation to dispense medications, but find out in advance if the staff can remind the older relative to take their medication. If the relative just needs a little assistance with remembering to take medications then a pill box that is set up ahead of time and an alarm watch for medication alerts may be a good travel gift.
Travel tips to share with an older relative
Pack as light as possible. Ladies should not carry purses and men should not carry a wallet in their back pocket. Instead, use a money belt that can be worn under clothing or a hidden wallet that can be tucked into pants and secured to a belt. Extra expense for a competent tour guide company is money well spent.
Taking these steps will help to create a great travel experience and lasting memories for everyone involved.
Work & Family Life newsletter, “If you’re traveling with an old relative.” May 2012, Vol. 25, No. 5, p. 4.
Last update: Monday, July 16, 2012