Planning a trip with (or for) an aging parent can be a wonderful way to grant a wish, or give a gift of immeasurable joy. Perhaps you have a parent who is longing to see a special friend or distant relative, or to visit a land that holds special memories or appeal. Whatever the circumstances, here are some tips for planning a trip with a senior.
- Research and plan extensively: Yes this is a given with any travel plans, but when it comes to travelling with a senior, thoughtful organization, careful planning and pre-emptive measures are mandatory. Also, once you have created an itinerary, it’s important to sit and go through it with your parent/s so they can ask questions and mentally prepare for the trip. This can help ease any anxiety and give them a chance to vocalize any concerns that you can help appease.
- Know their limitations: It would not serve you or your parent well to over-estimate their mental, physical or emotional wellness for a travel adventure. For that reason, it’s a good idea to sit down with your parent’s doctor and share your travel plans ahead of the planning. Ask about medical considerations and provisions. Doctors can offer important insights and make helpful suggestions.
- Book the shortest and most direct routes: And if possible choose less busy mid-week travel days. Avoid travelling during major holidays or holidays that follow the school calendar. Families travelling with kids tend to make airports and hotels busy and chaotic!
- Look for destinations with good mobility options: Consider wheelchair accessibility, walkability, public transportation, etc.
- Plan rest points and longer stays for recovery time: Seniors typically don’t do well with consecutive days of movement and activity in unfamiliar environments. Allow lots of rest points – and full resting days where you stay put and rejuvenate!
- Know where hospitals are in every city you are visiting and plan for medical emergencies: The internet is your best resource. A look at medical facilities, and better yet, a list in your possession will make you feel well equipped for any health emergency.
- Opt for travel insurance: This is part of the planning for an emergency. Even if its costly, it’s a good idea. Read the fine print and carry it with you.
- Build in extra time between flight connections: Consider pre-arranging with the airline to have a wheelchair available when you land for shuttling in the airport – even if your senior loved one doesn’t typically require this.
- Carry medications, a list of all meds, medical history and current medical documentation: Keep carry-on medication in a Ziploc bag (consider if any need to be kept refrigerated). Also, carry critical medical documentation and contact information. Having some of this information in your phone works well.
- Pack as lightly as possible and dress comfortably: Have your senior be responsible for few or no items – even if you have to pack purses inside other bags. Ensure cloths are not restrictive and have a change of cloths on the plane in case of an unfortunate accident.
- Follow Airline procedures for seniors: Most airlines have a special section on their website that provides information relevant to seniors. For instance, on Air Canada’s site it is here: https://www.aircanada.com/ca/en/aco/home/plan/medical-mobility.html . Expect to be asked to provided advanced medical approval and to fill in forms such as this: Fitness for Travel form.
- Request special services: Major Airlines are equipped to accommodate many of your special needs, including extra leg room, liftable armrests, dietary considerations, and special proximity to washrooms. Some will even offer a personal care assistant dedicated to your senior loved one. Contact your airline’s reservations for more information on these options.
- Keep diet and activity moderate: Don’t experiment with too many foreign foods – you don’t want to a cause system outage! Also, try to keep activity as close to ‘usual’ as possible. Overdoing it could cause a health dilemma that would ruin the fun.
- ENJOY! Remember to take naps, quiet strolls, and lots of feet up moments. This is a good idea for all travellers!
Pat Fream is a wife, mother and 30-year writer with extensive experience in the human services industry. In all avenues of life, Pat seeks opportunities to hear and tell stories and finds joy in the magic of connecting people with shared experiences. An impassioned fan of seniors, Pat draws wisdom and inspiration from her aging parents and their friends, many of whom are living well in vibrant senior communities.