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Taking Elderly Parents On Vacation

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Although it wasn’t your first choice, it made the most sense for you to bring your elderly parents on vacation with you. Now, you’re worrying about how everyone will coexist during the trip. How can you have a peaceful, restorative vacation with elderly parents in tow?

Here are some tips for taking elderly parents on vacation with you:

  • Choose a destination they’re comfortable with
  • Make sure the vacation has activities for seniors 
  • Don’t create a jam-packed itinerary 
  • Plan to arrive ultra-early at the airport
  • Get travel insurance (with medical) 

In today’s guide to traveling with elderly parents, we’ll tell you where you should and shouldn’t take an elderly travel companion and whether it is safe for older people to fly or go on long road trips.

We’ll also share some tips that will make traveling with senior citizens easier, so make sure you keep reading! 

How Do You Vacation With Elderly Parents?

Many family caregivers want to vacation away from the people they tend to 24/7. While there are ways to get elderly care while you are on vacation, sometimes there are reasons why it makes more sense to bring an aging loved one along on your trip.

Depending on your senior parent’s needs and health problems, vacationing with an elderly family member may not be the easiest thing in the world, but it’s very doable.

The following helpful tips will keep the vacation smooth for you, your partner or spouse, and your children. 

Choose A Destination Everyone Is Comfortable With

When selecting where you’ll go on vacation, you now have more people in your party who will have an opinion: your senior parents. 

It’s a safe bet that you don’t want to choose a destination that requires them to spend a lot of time in the heat or that demands arduous physical activity to get around.

You probably wouldn’t want to vacation somewhere like that with your children either, so that makes it easy enough to rule out those kinds of destinations.

Ultimately, of course, if you’re paying for the vacation, you and your partner or spouse get the final say. However, you do want to take everyone’s feelings and opinions into consideration and factor them into your choice. 

Make Sure The Vacation Has Activities For Seniors 

Just as you wouldn’t take the kids on vacation to a resort for adults, you don’t want to bring elderly people on vacation and leave them with nothing to do. 

Family-friendly destinations are best, as these places usually have activities for people of all ages. Consider places with theme parks, national parks, or certain resorts that have something for everyone.

Cruises are also a great option, especially for a senior with mobility issues because there is wheelchair accessibility, along with on board medical facilities, should they be needed.

That said, you should research the website and the social media accounts of the cruise line or vacation destination just to double-check that your senior parents won’t feel left out.

It’s not fair to leave them in the hotel all day twiddling their thumbs while you and the other younger members of your family have all the fun! 

Don’t Create A Jam-Packed Itinerary

Even if your senior parents are in good health, they don’t move with the same speed and agility that they once did. You must keep this in mind when planning your itinerary.

If you usually like back-to-back-to-back activities, you’re going to have to create more distance in activities when planning your schedule.  

Your senior parents will need more breaks of all varieties – from snack breaks to restroom breaks to breaks just to sit down and catch their breath.

As an example, my 95-year-old father was in great health and got around very well for his age, so he was happy to tag along when my husband and I went to Disney World with my adult daughter and son-in-law.

I made a big point of taking frequent breaks to sit in the shade with him. Dad was too proud to ask to rest and hold everyone up – I knew that he’d wear himself out before saying anything. So, I’d say, “I am tired, Dad, sit and keep me company while they go ride that ride.”

This drove my son-in-law bananas, for some reason. They have no kids, so maybe he just didn’t realize that being with an elderly adult is much like being with a really big toddler. They also need their rest (and often don’t want to stop what they are doing to get it!).

The funny thing was, he complained half the day about his knees. My husband complained about his back. Dad walked the whole of Disney World and never uttered a complaint!

The point is that resting frequently, taking more bathroom breaks, and stopping more often to hydrate is necessary. But it can be a bit boring for the kids (of any age), so remind your children to be patient when traveling with grandma and grandpa. 

Also, keep in mind that cutting down on your itinerary might mean you don’t get to see every last sight or visit every last destination that you wanted to. I’d suggest planning the must-see spots first and then leaving anything else that’s extraneous out of the picture. 

Plan To Arrive Ultra-Early At The Airport

Considering that your senior parents are going to travel a little slower (okay, make that a lot slower) than what you’re used to, your plan of getting to the airport with an hour or two to spare might not cut it anymore.

Dad and I traveled very well together over the several trips I took him on to see relatives in far-off cities. But it took him forever to get through airport security because he moved so slowly.

Emptying his pockets, putting his ID back in his wallet after showing it, producing his boarding pass – he moved like the proverbial molasses in January. I just gritted my teeth and waved at people to go around us. What else could I do?

I also watched the same thing with a senior couple who were ahead of me in line at security in another airport. People move slower at advanced ages, so you have to expect it and pack your patience.

Additionally, remember that you and the whole family might have to awaken earlier than usual so you can accommodate for your senior parents’ reduced mobility when venturing to the airport.

Be sure to do this when you’re getting back too. You don’t want to miss your flight and be stranded! 

Get Travel Insurance (With Medical!)

Travel insurance might be one of those things you usually skip, but when traveling with the elderly, we’d highly recommend it. 

It’s best if your travel insurance plan includes a medical plan so your senior parents can receive affordable care.

If you need the travel insurance, then great – it’s there! If you don’t, then at least you had it and you can be thankful you didn’t have to use it. 

Where Can I Travel With My Aging Parents?

Maybe you’ve never traveled with the elderly before, so you have no idea where you can take your senior parents. Here are some senior-approved locations the whole family will love!

The Caribbean 

The ultimate vacation destination for many, a trip to the Caribbean will put a smile on every family member’s face. Perhaps you take a cruise, which would be a lot less walking-intensive for your senior parents. 

Nevis is an island in the Caribbean that’s a little off the beaten path. It won’t be crowded with tourists. The price to travel to this part of the Caribbean is no different than the other islands, so try going in the winter to save some money. 

Canada

Canada is just a hop, skip, and a jump across the border for Americans. Perhaps you take the whole family to Jasper National Park, which is sure to be memorable. Montreal is a bustling cityscape with plenty of festivals, delicious food, and gorgeous French architecture. 

Italy

A trip to Rome, Italy is a dream vacation for many, so you might as well make your family’s dreams come true! So many must-see destinations are here, from Castel Sant’Angelo to the Forum Romanum, the Vatican, and the Colosseum. 

Greece

Greece is also a place we’re sure your elderly parents have always wanted to visit but never got around to seeing. By taking them to Santorini, they can enjoy exquisite cuisine, go wine-tasting (if they’re into that sort of thing), do some sunbathing, or just drink in the multiple sights. 

Florida

Besides Disney World, Florida has a lot of wonders to behold that make it the perfect destination for a family vacation. St. Augustine is a beautiful spot that’s a little less tourist-heavy than Orlando.

If you don’t mind being in the thick of the tourists, Miami Beach will not disappoint. 

Is It Safe For An Elderly Person To Fly?

Many of these must-see vacation destinations require you to travel by plane. You might worry about how your elderly parents would do on a flight, especially if it’s been a long time since they’ve flown. 

According to the Arizona Center on Aging, the pressurization of commercial flights means that even if a senior has cardiovascular disease, if they’re stable, they can generally fly safely.  

However, if your senior has the following conditions, then it would be a good idea to check with their doctor for travel clearance before they fly:

  • Severe ventricular tachycardia
  • Severe supraventricular tachycardia
  • Severe valvular heart disease
  • Severe compensated heart failure
  • Recent coronary artery bypass surgery (within the past two weeks or earlier)
  • Severe hypertension
  • Severe myocardial infarction within the last two to six weeks
  • Severe angina 

The Arizona Center on Aging also notes that air travel boosts one’s venous thromboembolic disorder (blood clots in the vein). Both pulmonary thrombosis and deep vein thrombosis fall under this term. Flying increases the risk of a blood clot by at least three times. 

The longer the flight, the higher the risk. The risk on a flight that’s longer than four hours is one in 600, and for a flight over 12 hours, it’s one in 500. 

If your senior might be at risk of venous thromboembolic disorder, they should definitely see their doctor to get an opinion on whether it’s safe to fly.

If they do get the green light to go on a plane, the senior should wear graduated compression stockings like these if on a flight that exceeds four hours. 

Also, the Cleveland Clinic recommends, “If you sit a lot for work or travel, make sure to get up and walk or exercise your leg muscles periodically to keep blood from pooling.”

Seniors should take a few extra precautions when flying to ensure a safe and comfortable trip, including:

  • If possible, get a direct flight to the destination. Even though it will be a longer flight, this ultimately makes for the shortest travel times overall, because it eliminates the extra time spent waiting between connecting flights. Additionally, there’s less boarding and deplaning needed on the part of older adults who have mobility issues.
  • If you’ll be occupied wrangling children, the easiest way to get elderly travelers with limited mobility to your flight might be via the airport’s wheelchair services. You’ll need to reserve this service in advance, and there is an extra fee for the service.
  • Select an aisle seat so senior travelers can stand up periodically to stretch and keep their blood circulating, or who might need to use the restroom frequently. One with a moveable armrest is usually the best option.
  • Pack prescription medications and over the counter medications in the senior’s carry-on luggage (in their original bottles, with the original labels on them). Believe me, there is nothing worse than arriving at a great travel destination and realizing your medications are in your checked luggage – and your luggage went to an entirely different city than you did. That actually happened to elderly relatives of mine and we had to scramble to get replacements (it took 24 hours to get them. Meanwhile, her blood pressure went up to dangerous levels!)
  • Bring along an itemized list of medications and what they are treating. Logan Airport’s Park Shuttle & Fly service recommends you “Label any medically necessary liquids to expedite the security process. Medications, creams and medically necessary liquids are allowed in amounts larger than the usual 3.4-ounce limit in your carry-on. You also don’t have to place the liquids in a zip-top bag. Keep in mind, additional screening may be necessary if the liquids set off any security alarms.”
  • Reserve special services in advance, such as wheelchair services, dietary restrictions / meal requirements, and make arrangements for medical equipment you’ll be bringing with you ahead of time.
  • Be aware that the senior may have to undergo wand screening or a pat down to get through security if they cannot walk through the screening machines.

Is It Safe For The Elderly To Travel By Car?

Maybe it’s best for your senior parents to travel by car. You can go at a slower pace, control the length of the drive, and road trips give everyone more quality time together.

Then again, how safe is it for your senior parent to drive long distances like that?

If you’re the one driving, or if it’s you and your partner taking turns driving and neither of your elderly parents get behind the wheel, then it should be safe enough. 

Of course, you’ll want to make sure that you’re feeling alert when you drive and that you take frequent breaks. This will give your senior parents a chance to stretch their legs and you a chance to refuel so you can continue the next leg of the trip.

Know when to call it a night when driving. Even if you arrive at your destination a day later and you have to pay a bit extra for an unplanned night’s stay at a hotel, isn’t it better to get to your vacation destination in one piece than never at all? 

Also, before you hop in the car on a family trip, check with your senior’s doctor to find out any restrictions and needed care if they have health conditions (example: diabetes or hypertension) that might preclude them sitting for hours on end.

And, as with flying, it’s a great idea to keep medications in a small backpack or travel case, within easy access of your parent. Don’t bury them in a suitcase in the trunk, under everyone else’s luggage.

How Can Seniors Travel Easier?

You just want the journey to your vacation destination to be as uneventful as possible, right? The following tips will make traveling with seniors a much smoother process. 

Make It Comfortable

Your senior parents might need a travel pillow or other support for their back when traveling, especially by car. They might request a neck pillow as well.

If you’re riding on a plane, try bringing these pillows in a carry-on bag so your senior can rest easy during the flight. 

If you have control over the temperature, such as when traveling by car, ask your senior parents if they need heating or air conditioning. Adjust the vents so they stay comfortable.  

They should also have plenty of room to stretch out, at least in a car. This isn’t often something you have much control over when traveling by plane. 

Travel Light 

Your senior does not need to bring a whole month’s work of luggage on a week long trip. Since you or your spouse or partner will often be the ones carrying your senior parent’s luggage, encourage them to travel lightly. 

Don’t Bury Medicines In Luggage

Each day, your senior parents take a bevy of medications. Those needs don’t stop just because they’re going on vacation.

If your senior mother needs to take her arthritis medication at noon on the dot, then it shouldn’t be buried six layers deep in a travel bag. That does no one any favors.

Keep the required medication nearer to the top of the bag (and the bag within easy reach)instead. 

Stay Hydrated

Please make sure your senior parents are drinking enough water throughout the day, including while traveling. Airplanes can be dry, and when in the car, you might not come across a drug store or convenience store for miles where you can stop and buy water. 

Keep in mind that drinking more will mean having to take more bathroom breaks. Plan accordingly! 

Limit Nighttime Travel 

Seniors struggle to see clearly in the dark. By no means should your elderly parents venture out at night or drive at night by themselves. Make sure that at least one of you is always with them. 

Consider Separate Rooms

Unless your parent has special needs that require them to be in the same room as you and your family, get them a separate room in the hotel or wherever you’re staying. This will give everyone a break from 24/7 togetherness.

My husband and I took my dad on several trips after my mom passed away and Dad always insisted on a separate room, both for everyone’s privacy and so we had a little down time away from each other. Smart man!

Conclusion 

Even though it may not be the first option you think of, taking elderly parents on vacation can be a chance for the whole family to be together. Sometimes it may even be the last chance for this to happen. 

Although the experience can be somewhat frustrating at times, try to focus more on making family memories and enjoying being together. After all, that’s what matters most of all! 

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