Spending your vacation and traveling with the senior citizens (Mom – Dad – Mother in law – Father in law – aunt – uncle- grandfather – grandmother etc…. in your family may be one of the greatest gifts you can give to them.
The trip may be to visit another country or within your country. It may be an adventure to a destination, aboard by car, bus, plan, or a cruise ship or even a return to a home of long ago.
You may accompany them all or one of them; or, if he or she can maintain some independence, the trip may be solo. Either way, there are some important steps to take:
- Research and Plan Ahead
Whether you will all travel together or they will be solo, planning, reserving and confirming must be accomplished sooner rather than later. When the destination is resolved with target dates, research airlines, Amtrak, buses, cruise lines. For air and land transportation, seek the most direct and shortest travel times.
If there is a choice of three airlines, for example, enroll them in the no-cost frequent flier program for each. This should give you access to the lowest fares and possible benefits at the airport and aboard the flight, as well as for requesting special services. Also try to book on direct non-stop flights.
- Request and Reserve Special Services
Request seat assignment in the rows designated for disabled travelers. And, importantly, request cost-free wheelchair service at every airport origination, connection and arrival location. If there is meal service aboard, advise the reservation system of any dietary needs.
If traveling alone, ensure your parent will have human assistance from the counter, through security, to the gate and then to aboard the aircraft. If staffed by an airline employee, there is no cost for wheelchair or assistance. If staffed by Red Cap-type personnel, you or your parent will be expected to tip for that assist. If you are traveling together, you can offer to handle the wheelchair.
If you don’t make and confirm all of these requests at the time of reservation, the airline, train or bus line has no obligation to make them available on check-in or while en route.
- Prepare Documentation
A government passport is accepted as the highest level of identification by federal security officers. If you or your senior citizens do not already have a passport, consider applying for such months prior to your travel.
Request copies of prescriptions and/or statements of medical conditions from each physician and medical treatment center.
Make photocopies of all official documents plus any physician prescriptions and/or statements. One complete set is placed in senior hand-carry bag, another in his or her roll-aboard luggage. One set is forwarded to family at the arrival destination, and one is left at home.
Provide a telephone calling card so that he or she can maintain contact. An alternative is to provide a cell phone, perhaps one with a predetermined number of minutes. Program in your telephone number as the first emergency number.
- Be Practical When Packing
Pack light. For a person traveling with at least some limitation, aim to pack everything necessary in a roll-aboard suitcase plus a medium-size over-the-shoulder carry-on. Do not check the roll-aboard as luggage, as in-cabin flight staff will gladly stash it in the overhead rack. Such will save a lot of time at the final destination airport.
All prescription and over-the-counter medications should be placed in a one quart zip-lock freezer bag, including also copies of any prescriptions and/or physician statements in the hand-carry bag. Do not place the pill combinations separately into a separate plastic box as “the next combined dosage.” Such will never get through security. Enclose also any medical appliances such as extra braces or first-aid needs.
If they are toting gifts , do not wrap them. Place the items in the roll-aboard luggage.
If they are traveling alone, before you close up her or his carry-aboard bag, prepare and slip in at the top a note stating “I love you” and “I delight in your new adventure.”
- Think about Safety, Security and Comfort
There are thieves everywhere and, particularly, in high-traffic travel centers. Don’t give the scalawags any opportunity to steal from the senior citizens.
Women should not carry a purse but, instead a money belt worn under a blouse or a neat Passage Wallet hidden under her coat by a neck cord. Men should not carry a wallet in his back pocket but, instead, the same Passage Wallet from the neck cord or as a hidden wallet tucked into his pants and secured by a cord to his belt.
Advise them, if traveling alone, always to keep their carry-on between their feet when standing, or with the shoulder strap looped around the leg of a chair when seated.
For comfort, consider the purchase of a travel pillow, a c-shaped balloon that supports the neck and head when resting aboard transportation.
- Arrange Medication Management
Before traveling the travel insurance is imperative for senior citizens, safeguard them against any financial hassles in a foreign country by buying a comprehensive Travel Insurance Policy.
Most mature adults take five or more medications once or even several times a day. The transportation staff has no obligation regarding the medical dosing of them. But you can ask in advance that at a specified time (stated in local time), the staff remind them to take the medication. The alternative is to provide them with an alarm watch.
Carrying additional medicines will eliminate the risk of several health hazards, avoid finding your medicines in an unknown region. Better to bulk up on your medical supplies.
- Plan for Security Checkpoints
If the senior member/s is/are in a wheelchair at transportation centers, access to and through TSA (transportation security administration) security may actually be quicker than through the long line of other travelers.
Brief them (or state to the TSA, if you are traveling together) about any medical condition that would set off alarms, such as surgical hip and knee implants. To avoid unwanted delays, get a physician’s statement about the implanted steel and make sure the senior has that documentation with them. Oftentimes, personnel will ask the elder to step aside and perform a wand screening, rather than passing through the sensors. If they are in a wheelchair, security will use a wand while he or she is seated.
Dress them in easily-removed (but safe) walking shoes. Security will probably want them removed. Present, if pertinent, any physician statement regarding their medical condition or limitation.
Before traveling, explain to them that the security process is vital to her or his safety.
- Consider Destination and Travel Options
The world of travel is open to just about everyone, even those elderly people receiving care. Start a discussion with them to learn her or his travel wishes. Determine if they can travel solo, or if you want or need to share in the adventure. Start with the mission of fulfilling their dream; don’t just go online to find cheap air tickets. But you have to take in consideration the comfortable and suitable flight, hotel accommodation, transportation, senior citizens friendly places etc..
- Consider Tours and Cruises
There are thousands of tour and cruise possibilities. Tours and cruises offer a unique service, in that they are totally planned, operated and staffed to deliver the promised program and destination discovery. Several tours operators, including Accessible Journeys and Flying Wheels, specialize in “accessible lifestyle vacations,” which cater to those with special needs and disabilities.
Cruise and tour accommodations are priced on a per-person basis based on double-occupancy. Therefore, if choosing a tour or cruise, travel with them to provide care giving assistance while in the room and during non-programmed times. A cruise or tour may be the ultimate escape and very civilized adventure.
- Ensure Those at The Destination are Prepared
If they are flying solo, schedule a telephone conference with the concerned in the other destination to go over the care giving support your elder needs. Advise of your approach in assisting them, so that they do not assume to take the domineering and dictating role. Advise of your senior’s favorite foods and activities so that they can try to be accommodating during the visit, making it all the more “like home” for them. And, importantly, advise of the medical and medication regimen that must be followed. Also make sure that they have all important legal documents with them should an emergency arise (for example, if you are listed as their agent for the Advance Directive, be certain this information is with them should something happen).
On the day of travel, arrive at the airport or other transportation two hours early, share a meal or snack, review the travel plan and itinerary and, importantly, to use the wheelchair-capable restroom shortly before heading to the gate. The latter should reduce the need them to access the small restroom during travel.
If you will fly and travel with them so you have to do the same too and come early in order to check up all necessary preparation from the departure destination up to the hotel accommodation preparation.
Travel with a senior citizen. You may find it to be one of the best experiences of your life. Yes, you continue to be a caregiver, but your travel and destination will probably prove to be an escape, a freedom because of the new setting, environment and opportunity.