Just before I was to travel to Victoria with my mom and my sister this summer, I received an advance reader copy of a book by Valerie Grubb called Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel. I knew this book was something I had to read before my trip, and I really appreciated many of the lessons Valerie learned through her travels and then passed along to her readers like me!
I reached out to Valerie and asked he if she’d be willing to share some of her insights on our blog. She was gracious enough to do so, and her guest post is below. If you enjoy reading these great travel tips, please check out her book — which will be available for purchase next week. It’s got many more tips in it!
Five Tips for Traveling with Aging Parents, a guest post from author Valerie Grubb
Even better than traveling to a new and exciting destination and immersing yourself in the local culture is sharing that experience with someone you love. I’m delighted to see that more and more people are choosing to hit the road with their parents. According to research by the Preferred Hotel Group, “40% of active leisure travelers” (which correlates to 20.8 million individuals or households in the U.S.) had, in the year prior to the survey, gone on a trip that included three or more generations.
I’ve been traveling with my mom (who’s now in her mid-80s) for over two decades and haven’t once regretted sharing those experiences with her. Through our many trips together, though, I’ve learned a great deal about the many special considerations for traveling with an aging parent. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning a trip with your own parent!
1. Be aware of your parent’s medical issues and pill regimen.
My mom has been on the same 14-pills-a-day regimen for almost 20 years, and as long as she’s at home in her normal day-to-day environment, all is well. The moment we hit the road, though, the change in routine overwhelms Mom to the point that she’s lucky if she remembers to take her pills when she gets up in the morning (let alone throughout an entire day of running around to various sites). Unfortunately, failing to keep up with her regular pill regimen has landed her in the hospital while we were out of the country (which is pretty scary when you don’t speak the local language!)
So, before you go, compile a complete list of your parent’s medical conditions and prescriptions (including the dosage, frequency, generic name, and purpose for each drug). With this information, you can help your parent stay on track with his or her medication schedule—and communicate with medical professionals if your parent has an emergency during your trip.
2. Plan on slowing down. You may be able to tour the Roman Coliseum, hike the Spanish Steps, and take in the Vatican all in one day. But odds are that such a busy schedule will be more than your parent can handle.
No one likes to admit to getting older, so don’t make your parent say out loud “I can’t keep up.” Instead, plan breaks in your schedule (including frequent bathroom stops) so your parent can recharge before tackling the next attraction. A good rule of thumb is to take a break after touring a major site (grab a leisurely lunch, for example, or some time to head back to the hotel so your parent can prop his or her feet up). Also, renting a wheelchair (if Mom or Dad is amenable to using one) and hiring a taxi or private car to take you from location to location are two strategies that can help your parent have enough energy to make it through a long day of being a tourist.
3. Learn to be in the moment. In today’s fast-paced world we’re always looking for what’s next. Our attention spans have shortened to the time it takes to send a text, read a three-bullet-point e-mail, or make a quick phone call before hustling off to a meeting.
Travel gives us an opportunity to step away from that rush, and the point of traveling with a parent is to share your time, which is something your parent values more than anything else. So resolve to be in the moment—and fully focused on being with your parent—during your trip. Talk about the sites you’re seeing, the experiences you’re sharing and the new places you’re exploring (even if you’re traveling domestically, you’ll have plenty to discuss: you don’t have to go far from your hometown to find a place with a different vibe!). These interactions are what you’ll remember long after your parent is no longer with you.
4. Don’t assume the parent role, even if that’s your role on vacation. As my mom has gotten older (she just turned 85 in July), it’s been interesting to see the transition in our relationship. With each passing year, I’ve had to assume more and more of the tasks associated with running her life. That said, no matter how old I get, I’ll always be her “little girl” and she’ll always be my mom.
No matter how involved you are in helping your parent manage his or her day-to-day life, your parent will always be your parent. Remember that particularly when traveling together, because forgetting this important fact can be the quickest way to ruin an otherwise great vacation. Regardless of who’s making all the plans, your parent deserves your respect and should be involved in the decision-making for your trip, so get Mom or Dad’s input (even if you’re paying for the vacation). Your parent will feel good about being part of the planning process, and you’ll both be set up for a great vacation together.
5. Check your emotional baggage before you walk out the door. Being in constant contact with anyone for an extended period of time can start to grate on your nerves. Add in a child-parent relationship and its accompanying emotional baggage, as well as other family history, and you and your parent may find yourselves one comment away from ruining the vacation.
Before you leave home, remind yourself that this trip is an opportunity to connect with your parent on a deeper level (one that no amount of phone calls can match). To help ensure that you’re in the right headspace to enjoy the time together, plan a daily activity on your own—even if it’s just getting a coffee or hitting the gym. A little time apart (and an occasional attitude check) can keep you in the best frame of mind to avoid blow-ups, meltdowns, and other disasters than can wreck your time together.
About the Author
With a pilot as a father, Valerie Grubb began traveling at the age of four. She and her mom took their first overseas vacation together more than 20 years ago, and have logged over 300,000 miles (and counting) since. Throughout the last 20 years, they have visited destinations such as Thailand, France, Australia, China, and Cambodia.
In addition to writing her blog, Travel with Aging Parents, Grubb is the principal of Val Grubb & Associates, Ltd., where she works with mid-range and large companies in the U.S., Asia, Europe, South America, and Central Eastern Europe as an operations and leadership consultant. Prior to launching Val Grubb & Associates, Ltd., she served as the vice president of strategic operations and initiatives for NBC Universal. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Kettering University, and obtained an M.B.A. from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
A true renaissance woman, Grubb is passionate about traveling the world and spending time with her family. Originally from Indiana, Grubb currently lives in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Planes, Canes, and Automobiles is her first book.
Planes, Canes, and Automobiles will be available for purchase on Amazon.com and through other booksellers on October 6, 2015.
Thanks to Val for sharing her insights with us. Leave us a note in the comments if you have any tips for traveling with older parents, and enjoy your next travel adventure with them, whether it’s for a week or a weekend!