Caring for an aging parent can be stressful. And one thing that could help – a long-needed vacation – sometimes only adds to the stress.
“It’s challenging to go on vacation and leave Mom and Dad at home,” said Val Grubb, who writes the blog Travel With Aging Parents. That’s why she vacations with her octogenarian mother, even to such far-flung places as Cambodia, Hawaii and Spain.
Grubb added that she values this time with her mother all the more since her father died unexpectedly in 2005 – before he ever got around to traveling with her, as they’d been planning to do for years.
“Traveling with a parent, as they get older,” she said, “is so much more special because you just don’t know.”
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Grubb, who gives tips to elderly travelers and their families.
Q. When planning a trip for you and your mother, what do you look for in a destination?
A. One question I ask is how the city can be easily navigated. I do Internet searches of the city’s name and “wheelchair accessibility” or “navigating with special needs.” Let’s look up Prague, for instance. Here’s a site that talks about airport transfers. Here’s an organization that can help you find a taxi. You can also find sites about sidewalk conditions, the quality of public transport and so on.
If the city has dicey public transportation, I’ll need to hire drivers. When we went to Angkor Wat, we used a van, for example. In Battambang, we had drivers take us around on motorcycles, which when you look back is completely frightening but worked out just fine.
Q. What about hotels?
A. I try to find one that is near the sights and that works with me on the things I need. I rent wheelchairs from all of our hotels. They must have elevators, air-conditioning because Mom needs her creature comforts, and a small footprint, because she can’t walk that far. That all helps me dictate where I’m going to stay.
Q. Any tips for flying?
A. Airlines will usually allow you to book wheelchairs with no extra cost. They will meet you as you’re checking in and take you to the gate, and they’ll meet you afterward, even for transfers. And take advantage of preboarding to make things go smoother.
I always carry with me earplugs, a sleep mask and a folded-up blanket because Mom gets cold. With those, you’ve got a shot at getting some sleep. When we get off, after long hauls, I always have a car meet us instead of taking public transport so we can sit and relax.
Q. Any strategies for sightseeing?
A. My rule of thumb is, after one round of sightseeing, we need to eat or relax, and that rejuvenates Mom, so we can do something in the afternoon. If you’re used to hiking up the Colosseum, you’re going to have slow down. And don’t try to do three cities in a week; stay in Rome for the whole time.
Q. What do you pack?
A. I always take out travel insurance for medical emergencies – I use Travel Guard – and so I have that card. I take a folding cane from Elderluxe, and the folding stool I use is the TravelChair Slacker. It’s less than 2 pounds and folds up like a rolled-up newspaper.
I hand-carry her prescriptions – always in their original bottles – and I write down their generic names in case I have to find them in the country. I also write down in the local language her medical conditions. So, in Chinese: “She has high blood pressure, and she’s allergic to these medicines.”
Also: Mom’s doctors’ phone numbers; energy bars and almonds, which give you a quick boost; water (I can’t stress hydration enough); Advil; Neosporin; and anti-diarrhea medication. Because if I have a headache, I can power through, but with an older parent it can bring things to a standstill. And I almost forgot: a magnifying glass with light! Planes and restaurants are notorious for low lighting.