10 Tips for Traveling With Senior Family Members
Plan a stress-free family vacation with octengeranians and older travelers with these trip ideas.
Consider Mobility and HealthMany senior citizens don’t need a wheelchair in their everyday lives, but that doesn’t mean they can walk long distances or handle lots of stairs. Val Grubb, the founder of Travel with Aging Parents blog and the author of Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel, has a lot of expertise in this area. For example, she emphasizes the importance of knowing a hotel layout in order to minimize the amount of walking between the room and other hotel amenities. If a wheelchair is required, she suggests arranging a dedicated wheelchair from the hotel beforehand. Otherwise, hotels typically provide a wheelchair to get to the room, but it’s not for exclusive use. Additionally, airlines and tourist attractions, such as museums and zoos, should also provide loaner or rental wheelchairs.
Be sensitive to any medical conditions, such as diabetes, since it involves its own set of procedures while traveling. Also remember that many seniors take medication with food, so a set meal schedule may be necessary. 960 1280
Make Sure Travel Insurance Includes MedicalSome travel insurance plans only cover financial losses, and Medicare doesn’t cover overseas travel. Check the U.S. Department of State for a list of recommended medical providers. Be sure to choose one that includes medical evacuation, or medevac, in case of an emergency; that option could be cost-prohibitive if insurance doesn’t cover it. If traveling abroad, it’s also important to learn the generic name for any prescription medicines. Grubb says don’t assume other countries will know the U.S. brand name.
The U.S. Department of State is also a good reference for general travel tips for seniors. 960 1280
Ask for AssistanceAmtrak offers a Red Cap service where agents will carry luggage onto the train before everyone else boards. You can request wheelchair assistance when booking a flight reservation, and airlines will provide a wheelchair for use to the gate. Even if a wheelchair isn’t needed, consider requesting preboarding if extra assistance is needed getting to a seat.
Hotels will also provide special accommodations, from wheelchairs to ADA-compliant rooms. Grubb says hotels can even meet other needs, such as providing rubber sheets for those who are incontinent. Be sure to research and request as far in advance as possible. 960 1280
Take Advantage of Senior DiscountsAARP members can receive discounts on cruises, hotels, flights, and more. Even if you’re not a member, seniors are still eligible for discounts on Amtrak and Southwest Airlines, and at Marriott hotels; be sure to research ahead. 960 1280
Choose Accessible Hotels Near the Action“Look for hotels that are close to where you want to be,” says Grubb. “Don’t fall under the allure of staying at cheap hotels, since they may not be in the center of the action, and you make up for it by taking cabs everywhere.” She also suggests booking American hotels abroad, such as Marriott, to ensure they’ll have ADA-compliant features like grab bars in the shower and elevators.
Grubb stresses the importance of speaking with a front desk manager before booking a non-ADA-compliant hotel in order to discuss whatever accommodations need to be met, such as needing a room close to the lobby. Grubb also advises asking if the hotel has a doctor on-site 24/7 for seniors with medical conditions. 960 1280
Schedule Enough DowntimeTraveling is exhausting even if you’re young and fit. Allow for at least a day or two of downtime upon reaching your destination, especially when traveling long distances. However, downtime doesn’t end there. When sightseeing, Grubb advises to consider everyone’s pace. “We’re used to giving young children breaks, but we’re far less tolerant when our aging parents have the same needs.” As a rule of thumb, she suggests visiting a major site, then having a meal before visiting another site.
Frequent bathroom stops, such as every two hours, are also important for some seniors. Finally, Grubb says it’s ok to plan some activities to do on your own, as long as seniors are occupied—even if that's simply relaxing by the hotel pool. Arrange for staff to check on them if left alone for more than a short period. 960 1280
Allow Enough Time at the AirportGrubb recommends getting to the airport at least two hours before domestic flights to allow for check-in, luggage, security, and getting to the gate. Take advantage of wheelchair assistance and preboarding. Familiarize yourself with TSA procedures and requirements. For example, those 75 and older aren’t required to remove shoes and light jackets. However, additional screening may be required for those with medical devices or implants.
Medications are another realm; while liquids must meet the 3-1-1 rule, exceptions are made for prescription liquids and creams. Medications should include the prescription and be in their original, labeled containers. 960 1280
Arrange for ChildcareGrubb says to discuss childcare in advance if you’re traveling with young children and elderly parents, instead of assuming that your parents will babysit. “It’s your parents vacation as well,” she says. Instead, research childcare options at the destination. 960 1280
Pick a Destination with Activities for all AgesGrubb recommends cruises, all-inclusive resorts, or theme parks like Disney World for those who don’t have the time to research accessible options. For example, Disney World has electric wheelchairs, and it’s easy to get around if you stay on site. 960 1280
Don’t Feel Limited to Specific LocationsOn the other hand, cruises, resorts, and theme parks aren’t the only option, and not everyone’s idea of a vacation. Grubb says she chooses a location based on where she and her mom want to visit, and then Googles accessibility options. For example, for an upcoming vacation in Florida, she’s researching beaches and resorts that offer beach wheelchairs. Grubb also arranges private car service in foreign cities that lack accessible public transportation or walkable streets.
“It isn’t as much hassle as you think and it’s well worth it,” says Grubb. 960 1280
Get Buy-InInclude your children–even toddlers–in the trip planning and countdown so they have something to look forward to and aren’t completely surprised by a drastic change in their schedule. Even if kiddoes can’t understand the full concept of the trip, they can share in the excitement of an upcoming airplane ride or swimming pool. For teens, ask them to research the destination for attractions and activities they’d like to see and do, and incorporate these into your itinerary. Teens will begin to learn the art of travel planning, and often find items that you’ll love, too. 960 1280
Plan a Vacation Within Your VacationIf you’re traveling with a teen who can babysit younger children, ask them before the trip if they’d like to make some cash by babysitting the hotel room while the adults go out for dinner and drinks in the hotel restaurant. Most teens are happy to make some money while they enjoy room service and surf the web as their siblings watch cartoons and make cushion forts, and you’ll get 2 hours to yourselves. And you’ll only be 5 minutes away if anyone needs you. Make sure and arrange this before you leave, so the teen doesn’t feel ambushed during the trip and can look forward to the extra spending cash. 960 1280
Newsflash: Teens Want MoneyTeens want cash and time to spend it. Have them start saving for their trip in advance, but giving them a daily allowance while traveling and opportunities to shop gives them a sense of freedom, and teaches them about budgeting. They’ll gladly agree to every t-shirt you offer to buy them (then never wear), but when they’re spending their own money, a lot more critical thinking goes into play. 960 1280
Let Your Teens GoYour teens love you, but they want to go off by themselves, at least for a little bit. If they’re capable and you feel safe about your location, offering to let them have some alone time will score big points, and allow parents to do things with younger sibling that would bore teens to no end. Give teens a couple of hours to shop the area you’re in, or do activities by themselves such as surfing lessons or just hanging out by the pool. Agree on an easily found meeting place and time, and have your teen set an alarm for 30 minutes prior in case they lose track of time. Make sure they can recite where you’re staying, just in case. Online maps are great, but also provide them with a paper map from the front desk with your hotel circled as a backup. Letting your teen go off on their own in a new place is scary for parents but thrilling for teens, and the show of trust won’t go unappreciated. 960 1280
Less is MoreKids – and adults – often over pack as a sort of security blanket to overcome the anxiety of leaving home. A favorite toy or other item is fine, but too many things only cause problems later on, and can get lost. Toddlers and younger kids should be able to carry their own backpacks, and parents need to think about what happens if they wind up having to carry the kiddoes and their luggage, especially through airports. If kids start packing their rock collection, explain to them that their things will be happier at home, and that extra space can be filled with souvenirs. For older kids who aren’t used to traveling, make sure they don’t try to pack hairdryers and the like if the hotel will have them. 960 1280
Divide and ConquerWhen traveling with young children, parents are never off the clock. But that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy time at the spa or playing golf while their partner spends time with the kids. Adults should figure out before hand if there’s something special they’d like to do, in addition to activities for the whole family. Having this set and priced before arrival makes sure everyone has something to look forward to. 960 1280
Keep ‘em FedArmies travel on their stomachs, and so do families. Be preemptive about hanger and keep snacks readily available in-between scheduled meals. Also, eating before the dinner rush will help ensure choice seating and faster service, and provide thinner crowds at attractions afterward. Getting dinner out of the way gets toddlers into bed at a decent hour, lets teens have down time, and may even give parents a few quiet moments.
Nap TimeIt’s tempting to cram as much as possible into a trip, but notch out some down time for the little ones back in the hotel room, if possible. It’ll let them recharge their small batteries while parents do the same, or enjoy some quiet together time enjoying the room and balcony they’re paying for. It also makes sense during the heat of the day. Teens, with their boundless energy, can use this time to explore on their own or hang out at the pool without their lame parents (we know you’re cool). 960 1280
Let Teens Ride ShotgunOffering to let teens sit in the passenger seat while an adult sits in the back shows the teen the respect they want, and is fun for the little guys in back as they don’t often get to sit next to Mom or Dad. Having your teen ride up front is a great way to get their nose out of their phone and start a conversation, and they can learn the art of navigation as well. If your teen has their driver's license and you feel it’s safe, having them drive for a spell on a new road begins their vacation before you reach the hotel. 960 1280
Anytime You’re All Together, Savor ItA few years ago my parents and my and my brother’s young families went to Disneyland. Between different nap schedules, melt downs and the laser focus of counting noses to make sure we didn’t lose anyone, little time was actually spent as a group. Our favorite photos were taken on the concierge lounge couch, when we could all be together, the kids were happily snacking, and the adults could actually have a conversation. Not that the park wasn’t fun and worthwhile, but just that down time of hanging out all together would have made the entire trip worthwhile. Anytime your whole family is together, make sure to enjoy it. 960 1280
On the BeachYou’re at the beach and the public bathrooms are not as close as you’d like them to be, so you opt to change your baby’s diaper right there on your beach towel. You’re dealing with sand, ocean water and an extra wet swim diaper. This is where baby powder is an absolute must or the sand will never come off your baby, says Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids. Another option is called Sand Gone, a fine powder that removes sand that gets stuck to your body when you’re at the beach. 960 1280
While HikingYou’re out on a hike, carrying your baby in a baby carrier and your baby is not happy. He needs a diaper change. First, make sure your baby is wearing a clean, dry diaper before you begin a hike and keep changing supplies in your backpack (but still try to pack light). As Rebecca Walsh of JustTrails says, start “every hike with full bellies and empty diapers.” Find a flat, grassy area to lay down a changing pad, then pack out the dirty diaper and wipes in a sealable plastic bag to take home with you. Never leave anything behind when enjoying the outdoors. 960 1280
While Standing UpChanging a diaper while standing up is never optimal, but it can be done, especially if you’re only dealing with a wet diaper. This is best accomplished when one parent can hold the baby up while the other switches out the wet diaper for a dry diaper, according to Jessica Bowers of Suitcases & Sippy Cups. However, if you’re on your own, this is where a pull-up style diaper could work best for you, especially if your child can stand on his own and even help you pull up the diaper. 960 1280
On a PlaneSome airplanes, particularly larger, two-aisle planes, have changing tables inside the restrooms. Hoorah. JetBlue even has changing tables inside every single lavatory, according to Leslie Harvey of Trips with Tykes. This is ideal, but if you simply cannot wait until you land, ask the flight attendant to direct you to the best spot on the plane for a quick change, which may be the floor of the galley or the top of the toilet seat. Bring a sealable plastic bag for the dirty diaper, then work quickly to get your baby cleaned up. 960 1280
On a BoatIf you head out for a day on the water, whether aboard a catamaran or a sail boat, you’ll eventually find yourself needing to change a wet diaper. Head below deck for privacy and to keep your baby from staring into the sun while on her back as you change her. Says Aimee Lynch of The Everyday Journey, “We had to move all the snorkels and fishing gear out of the way, check for hooks before we laid her down, but it worked.” One parent changed the diaper while one kept her steady as the boat swayed back and forth. 960 1280
In a CarWhen given the choice between a gas station and the back of a car, many parents will opt to change a diaper when traveling from their own car, even if it means putting baby in the trunk (obviously, do not close the trunk). Look for a flat area, which is often the trunk or the back of an SUV, then lay down a changing pad. Matt Villano of Wandering Pod considers changing diapers in the car to be one of the most important skills for a family road trip. 960 1280
Public Restroom (Without a Table)While many public restrooms have changing tables, more than a few do not, making a quick diaper change a challenge. If there is no changing table, head for the largest stall in the restroom. If no stalls are available, use one of the counters. Lay down a changing pad (preferably a disposable one) and key supplies, including wipes, a plastic bag for disposing the diaper, even a toy to entertain your baby. Don’t hesitate to complain to management if the restroom is not clean or there is no space to change your baby. 960 1280
On a TrainMany Amtrak trains have changing tables in the bathrooms, particularly on long-haul routes (some trains on shorter routes may not). Many sleeper cars also have changing tables. However, to be safe, bring a waterproof changing pad to change a diaper on a seat or on the floor of the train. Fortunately, both the seats and aisles are more spacious than on an airplane. Alternatively, if the train has an extended stop at a station, make a beeline for the public restroom in the station. Just know when the train will leave so that you and your baby don’t get left behind. 960 1280
On a BusGiven the jerking motions of a bus (start, stop, start, stop), it’s far from ideal to change a diaper on a bus, but if you must, you must. Try to get a pair of seats to yourselves, then lie your baby down on the seat next to you for a quick change. If the bus makes frequent stops, like a city bus, use this to your advantage and hop off to find a place with a public restroom to change your baby in private. Then wait for the next bus to come along with your clean, dry baby. 960 1280
In a RestaurantMany small restaurants do not have changing tables in their restrooms, so you’re on your own when you need to change your baby’s diaper. Ask the hostess for a suggestion, which may be a bench near the hostess stand or even a private room. Some restaurants only have changing tables in the women’s restrooms, so check both in search of an appropriate place to change your baby. Do not change a diaper on a restaurant table or in a booth in the dining area, even if upset that there are no other changing facilities. If nothing else, it’s a health code violation. 960 1280
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