10 Tips for Traveling With Senior Family Members

Plan a stress-free family vacation with octengeranians and older travelers with these trip ideas.

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Consider Mobility and Health

Many 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. 

Make Sure Travel Insurance Includes Medical

Some 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.

Ask for Assistance

Amtrak 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.

Take Advantage of Senior Discounts

AARP 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.

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.

Schedule Enough Downtime

Traveling 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.

Allow Enough Time at the Airport

Grubb 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.

Arrange for Childcare

Grubb 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.

Pick a Destination with Activities for all Ages

Grubb 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.

Don’t Feel Limited to Specific Locations

On 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.

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