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The NSPA Blog

Holiday Season – Travel Season

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Posted on December 10th, 2019 by Bettina Carlson, under Take Charge, Tips & Resources

The Holiday Season has arrived. Some of you may have made travel plans already, some of you may be looking into last minute travel arrangements. Whichever the scenario, we think it is a timely opportunity to repost a previous blog post on traveling with seniors. May it be helpful to you. 

As much as we look forward to our vacations, we all know it can be a quite stressful time of planning for our trips. And if we are traveling with a Senior, we have even more detailed planning to do and we need to be realistic about travel expectations – how much walking can our Senior do, will they need a wheelchair, will they need nap times, are they on a specific diet, what medical devices are needed, are there medical care resources at the destination if needed, and more. But if we plan carefully and make preparations well in advance it can save us a lot of stress while on vacation and it can be the key to creating good times and fond memories. 

How to do that? Here are some travel tips for seniors for successful planning and travel:

Planning Ahead

A good set of travel tips for seniors means starting before the vacation, when you’re planning. Involve your Senior in choosing the destination and activities. 

Consider their health and mobility. While many seniors don’t need a wheelchair, they may not be able to walk long distances or do a lot of stairs.

Get medical clearance that your Senior is capable of handling the type of trip you chose and the mode of transportation. 

Make sure your Senior’s Health Insurance plan covers travel, including international travel and medical evacuation if necessary. For example, Medicare doesn’t cover oversea travel. You can check the U.S. Department of State for a list of recommended medical providers. 

When traveling internationally, check the CDC website for possible recommended vaccinations. 

If traveling by airplane, book non-stop flights if possible. No worries about rushing a Senior to or missing a connecting flight. 

Pick a time of day to travel when your Senior has the most energy; a day of travel can be strenuous enough. 

Check with the hotels on what services they provide for Seniors. They may offer ADA-compliant bathrooms with grab bars in the shower. Or they might offer sheet guards for guests with incontinence. Check that the hotel has an elevator. Check if they provide wheelchairs for their guests to use during their trip, or if they have recommendations for rentals.

Check with AARP for Senior discounts on cruises, hotels, flights, etc. 

Bring all medical information, i.e., list of medications; advance directives and medical records. Possibly translated if traveling internationally. Know the generic name for important prescription medications, foreign countries may not know the U.S. brand names.

Make a list of all the necessary items your Senior needs: e.g., medications, hearing aids, cane, chargers for medical devices, if batteries are needed, etc.

Research and request your needs far in advance.

Be realistic and know that despite your best planning, plans can change.

If you haven’t picked a destination yet, the following tips might be helpful to you: 

Cruises are very popular with Seniors and multigenerational families because once you are on board, the daily schedule is pretty routine for the rest of the trip. There are a wide variety of activities appealing to different age groups. Most cruises are all inclusive (meals are taken care of and more). They all have a doctor on board.

Renting a house at the beach or a lake is another popular choice for vacationing with Seniors and multigenerational family members. Everyone is in one place, and your Senior can participate in activities according to their routine.

If the city is your destination, pick a hotel close to activities and shows. It saves costs in cab fares and allows for a quick trip back to the hotel if needed for a nap or other need.

Travel Day

Travel tips for seniors continue on travel day. Carry all medications on board with you, in case your suitcase gets delayed or lost, so that your Senior is not without them. 

Keep the medications in their original containers with the labels on them. Possibly bring copies of the prescriptions in case questions should come up during TSA checking. 

When traveling internationally, you may want to include a translation (e.g., if traveling to the Netherlands translate into Dutch) for the medications, so that in case of an emergency a health care provider knows what your Senior takes; it could save your Senior’s life.

If your Senior has implants or other medical devices (e.g., oxygen tank), TSA checking may take a little longer. It might also be helpful to bring a doctor’s note documenting the necessity for the device. 

Check here for more TSA information on Senior travelers.

Bring a copy of your Senior’s travel insurance. As well as a list of local hospitals at your destination. 

Arrive early and be prepared to move more slowly. Allow ample time at the airport or train station to account for your Senior’s need to possibly rest more often, eat a meal, take their medications, go to the restroom, etc. 

Bring foods for your Senior in case of delays or to meet dietary restrictions (e.g., such as a healthy snack, food appropriate for a soft food diet, etc ).

Make use of wheelchair assistance and pre-boarding. 

The Vacation

As best as possible, stick to your Senior’s normal routines, particularly their eating and sleeping schedules. Especially if your Senior lives with dementia. The change in location and routines can often be confusing and overwhelming to them. Adhering to a regular routine gives your Senior a familiar grounding. If they watch a particular TV show every day, you can even have them watch that show while on vacation.  

Above all, be sure to adhere to their regular medication schedule. 

If you want to participate in an activity without your Senior, for your peace of mind and for your Senior’s safety if needed, make sure they can reach you, call 911 if necessary, or have assistance with them. Consider not all Seniors are adept at using a cell phone. 

Be patient if things don’t go as expected. And be flexible to make adjustments to your schedule of activities if needed.

Now, that you are at your destination, thanks to your careful planning, you have the best chance of enjoying a good time with your Senior and create new fond memories, that will be yours forever. And if anything doesn’t go according to plan, as life has a tendency to do, don’t be hard on yourself. You did the best!

Enjoy all that life and your trip has to offer! You get to do it together as a family!

We hope these travel tips for seniors have helped. Bon Voyage! And Happy Holidays!


Read more detailed information here:

Val Grubb’s website: https://travelwithagingparents.com

Heidi Raschke in Next Avenue, How to Plan a Vacation With Your Aging Parent, Val Grubb, Traveling with Aging Parents,   The National Institutes on Health, TSA, U.S. Department of Health, and AARP

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