By: Virginia Morey for A Place for Mom
The busy summer vacation travel season is well underway, as families and friends gather for special occasions, trips of a lifetime, and everything in between. Whatever means of transportation is required, traveling with an older parent or loved one can add layers of complexity to a journey – not to mention assistive equipment such as walkers and wheelchairs – but sometimes a necessarily leisurely pace can allow everybody involved to relax and truly enjoy themselves, no matter what time of year you and your elderly companion hit the road.
Flying With a Senior Companion
Unpredictable delays notwithstanding, flying usually gets you to a destination faster, but it requires more organization and patience than other modes of transportation. Even though TSA regulations in the United States seem to be a moving target, concessions have been made to seniors (75-plus) and their companions that expedite getting through security checkpoints. Here are a few additional tips to ensure safe and healthy travel with seniors:
- First, confirm with your loved one’s physician that he or she is cleared to fly, and has had current flu and pneumonia vaccines. Request a doctor’s note explaining any surgical implants or paraphernalia, such as needles. If applicable, a TSA disability notification card can make it more expedient to get through security.
- At the time of booking, request any desired assistance (wheelchair, electric cart, pre-boarding privileges), and reconfirm a day or two before departure.
- Select seats in advance, when allowed. An aisle seat toward the front of the plane offers easier boarding and deplaning, but being near the toilets may be desirable for long-haul flights. Compression socks are recommended on flights longer than a few hours, even for travelers without risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
- Check in for the flight online 24 hours in advance, or call customer service for help choosing an optimal seat.
- Pack light, but plan to check bags if an aircraft change is part of the itinerary.
- Get to the airport a full hour earlier than suggested for your departure time.
- Keep your older traveler’s prescription medications separate from other belongings for easy screening. On-board baggage limits don’t apply to medical supplies, equipment, mobility aids and assistive devices. Liquids exceeding 3.4 oz/100 ml are permitted. (Visit www.tsa.gov for further details regarding U.S. departures.)
- If your travel companion has dietary restrictions, order a special meal in advance, when offered, or bring his or her food on board.
- Apply hand sanitizer liberally, and use antibacterial wipes to disinfect hard surfaces around his or her seat.
Tips for Traveling Abroad with Seniors
International travel with a senior may seem especially daunting, but once you dive into the planning process you may find the prospect isn’t as scary as you think. Many nations show great respect to older people, and as world populations age, it has become easier than ever for seniors to travel the globe.
Expert Valerie Grubb, author of Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting With Your Aging Parents Through Travel and the popular blog Travel With Aging Parents, has traveled extensively with her own mother. “Narrow sidewalks and ancient tourist sites can make some destinations in Europe tricky when vacationing with a parent in a wheelchair,” says Grubb, “so I strongly suggest doing a little research on accessibility before just showing up. That said, Mom and I particularly enjoy Paris and London, and have found local businesses and people to be incredibly helpful as we navigate around the city.”
Here are a few more tips to keep in mind:
- Several weeks in advance, make sure any vaccines recommended for the destination are up to date.
- Ensure passports are valid for at least six months after the return date and request any necessary visa(s) well ahead of time.
- Have a doctor provide a list of generic names for prescription drugs, as overseas pharmacists or physicians may not recognize all pharmaceutical brand names.
- Travel insurance for seniors is costly, but it can be a lifesaver. Not only can a senior who takes ill be reimbursed for all or part of a trip, but a policy including evacuation insurance can help get him or her to appropriate medical care in case of an emergency.
- Consider upgrading your cellular service to a roaming plan that provides full use of your phone for the duration of the trip, so you’ll be able to search the internet freely and call a hospital or ambulance immediately should the need arise. (In the European Union, call “112” for a police, fire or medical emergency.)
Traveling With Older People – The Basics
Destination, type of travel, and health and mobility are all mitigating factors that come into play when planning a trip, but a list of tips for traveling with seniorsis a great place to start:
- Do plenty of advance research and don’t hesitate to inquire about senior discounts – for travel, hotels, food, entertainment – both domestically and internationally.
- If he or she wears prescription glasses, bring a backup pair, as well as sunglasses for bright days. (Fitover and clip-on styles are great options.)
- Hearing aids? Don’t forget spare batteries.
- Use a smartphone to photograph all identification, medical cards and prescription bottles in case of loss or theft.
- Keep meds in original packaging, and bring a week’s additional supply.
- Pack a tote with favorite healthy snacks and beverages, and items such as playing cards, a book, travel pillow, and sweater or blanket.
- Even for seniors who don’t have cognitive impairment, a wearable GPS device or ID bracelet bearing your name and contact phone number can bring peace of mind.
- A ground-floor hotel room or one near an elevator may be best for seniors with mobility issues. Confirm that rooms identified as “ADA compliant” include grab bars and space for wheelchair maneuverability, as needed.
- Don’t overschedule, and remain flexible to allow for naps or restroom stops. Whether due to medications, a specific condition, or simply age, older travelers are more likely to tire earlier. Symptoms of Sundowners Syndrome may be more pronounced when seniors with dementia are away from familiar surroundings.
- To take some of the pressure off you and your family, consider hiring a professional caregiver to accompany you on your travels.
If time isn’t an issue, a road trip is the easiest and most straightforward way to travel with seniors. Although protracted hours on the asphalt can be exhausting, driving provides the option to stop anywhere and for as long as desired: unplanned detours to must-see sights (Wall Drug or World’s Largest Ball of Twine, anyone?) require little more than a flexible schedule.
While bus and train journeys offer less spontaneity and little or no privacy, they eliminate driving responsibilities, often provide Wi-Fi connectivity, and a restroom is always nearby.
North American cruises are a popular vacation option for seniors because they take a lot of the preparation and trepidation out of travel: most ships and destinations are well equipped to cater to the social, medical, and mobility needs of older passengers. For people who live near one of the nearly 30 U.S. and Canada departure ports, embarking on a cruise is only slightly more onerous than navigating Costco on a Saturday afternoon.
While getting to overseas points of origination requires more time and effort, international cruises can offer senior travelers and their companions exotic experiences that don’t skimp on safety, comfort, or the convenience of English-speaking staff.
One More Tour, With Honor
Seniors who served in the U.S. military may be eligible for an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the National World War II Memorial and other sites that pay homage to their sacrifice during wartime. Honor Flights are made possible by generous donations from corporations, individuals, volunteers and airlines – including Southwest, the organization’s official carrier.
Since 2005, the non-profit Honor Flight Network (consisting of two groups that joined efforts in 2007) has flown tens of thousands of veterans to one of the three D.C.-metro airports, where arrivals are greeted by representatives from Heroes’ Welcome, an Honor Flight sub-group. A friend, family member or volunteer guardian typically accompanies vets.
As of May 2017, there are 131 hubs in 45 states, making it easier than ever for a veteran to get to an Honor Flight departure point. The program is primarily available to World War II and terminally ill veterans, but is also increasingly open to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars. To donate, apply or learn about self-funded tour participation, visit honorflight.org.
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7 Tips for Safe and Healthy Travel with Seniors
Honor Flights Offer Veterans One More Tour with Honor