Looking for tips for traveling with your aging parents? I’ve got you covered! Here are 15 tips I’ve learned as an adult “kid” while traveling with my mom, dad and mother-in-law.
Now, doesn’t the feature image just make you chuckle?! Kudos (and credit) to Matthew Bennett from Unsplash for capturing this scene. Although my parents might sit a little closer together, it embodies so much of my parents’ generation. And many of their travel styles.
From week-long house rentals with the family to 1500-mile road trips, touring Europe, and exploring Maui with both my husband’s mom and my parents … The tips below are tried and tested. And I definitely come out on the other side STRONGLY encouraging you to travel with your aging parents.
I realize not everyone has the best relationship with their parents. And concentrated time in close quarters might feel a little risky! BUT there’s something very special about the memories you create during these trips.
So, take a deep breath, read through what I’ve discovered, and then make it happen. The fact that you’re reading this post means that you see how great it can be, too!
But first, CONTEXT: 2 studies on how our aging parents like to travel …
Two studies I came across give us helpful context when preparing to travel with aging parents.
First, what motivates your aging parents to travel? This literature review gives us a solid list of motivators: the need for social interaction, special events, memorable experiences, cultural amenities, educational offerings and a desire for self-fulfilment. How do these motivators match with yours?
And there are other areas where your parents might differ from you … and from each other. Types of destinations. How often and how long they want to travel. Activities they want to do. While some want to organize their own “soft adventure,” others want pre-packaged tours. What sounds more like your parents?
Second, how old or young do your parents feel, and how does this affect their motivation and desire to travel? This study compared Asian and Western seniors. Results showed that seniors from Western cultures were more likely to “feel younger” than their Asian peers; and, the younger a senior perceived himself or herself, the lower their perception of travel risks.
Together, these studies remind us how important it is to TALK about your motivations for traveling together. And they warn us that our parents may underestimate their physical limitations. Prepare for lots of discussion and negotiation in your planning. And to watch for signs of your parents’ limitations while on the trip.
1. Start with your GOAL: Why travel with your aging parents?
My #1 tip for planning any trip is to start with your end goal in mind. What do you hope to say about this trip on the OTHER side? When you’re back at home, which words do you hope you can use to describe it? This becomes your compass as you plan.
Now, think a bit about what this goal looks like. What are you doing together? When you spend time together now, what do you all enjoy? What kinds of experiences bring out the best in you and your parents? Make note of the top two or three things that come to mind.
I would argue that when traveling with your aging parents, your primary goal should be about relationship. Because that’s what it is for your parents. And if anything – a hotel that doesn’t match their vibe, or an activity you’re itching to do that they won’t like – is tested against this compass, you should likely drop it.
2. Note your aging parents’ travel CONSTRAINTS
If you apply the project management constraint triangle, it’ll help you define your trip’s “boundaries.” All of us have three main constraints: time, money and activities (scope). How big or small they are as constraints for this trip will help guide your trip planning process.
When looking at this model for traveling with your aging parents, ask questions like:
- Time: How much time do I and my parents have to travel? Are either of them limited by health or other issues? Are there certain seasons that work best for us to travel? Do we have a span of time before we start getting edgy with each other?
- Money: How much money am I and are they willing to budget for this trip? What types of things am I and are they willing to spend money on, and what are any of us not willing to spend money on? How will we divide up the costs?
- Activities: What types of activities do I and my parents enjoy individually (besides those noted above that we all like to do together)? If each of us could pick one activity, what would it be? Is there the option of splitting up in a way that everyone would be happy with?
3. Consider TRAVEL STYLES of your aging parents
Beyond the practical constraints you and your aging parents face, what are your travel styles? If you haven’t traveled with them before, think about their day-to-day lifestyles. Although this can change a bit when traveling, it’s a great predictor of travel styles.
Consider the questions below about travel styles for each person in your group:
- Preferences: What types of things do we spend extra money on, and what do we cheap out on? How – and where – do we like to spend our time? Do we have favorite activities? For example, walking, driving, shopping or golf.
- Vacation rhythms: Are we early or late risers? Early or late to bed? What are our typical schedules for things like meals, coffee breaks, naps? How similar or different are we?
- Physical limitations: Typical limitations might be car sickness, jet lag or tiring quickly. Fear of flying. But also included here would be things like how often they need to move … like if they’re on a long flight or road trip. And how often (and urgently) they need to use a washroom. What medications do they take, when, and with what side effects?
Depending on your parents’ age and condition, you might want to visit their doctor together before you go. You can make sure their medications are up to date and that the doctor doesn’t have any concerns with the trip.
4. Pick a DESTINATION and TIMING that fits: What do you love doing with your aging parents?
If you don’t already have a destination and timing set for traveling with your aging parents, consider it carefully. Where (and when) you visit should make it as easy as possible to realize your goal. It should work within your time, money and activity constraints. It should fit all of your travel styles.
Ideally, don’t go to a place where you have a super-long bucket list of activities you’re itching to do. You’ll struggle to see and do a few of them, dragging your parents along or leaving them behind. In the end, your experience won’t match up to your original goal for traveling with your parents.
Instead, pick a destination that enhances what you already enjoy doing together. For example, if you love sipping tea and taking walks together, maybe rent a place with expansive views and walking paths nearby.
5. Ideally, balance out personalities
No matter the age or personalities of your travel companions, it’s usually a good idea to balance out different travel styles. If everyone has a pretty similar travel style, you’re probably okay sticking together. So long as everyone is paying attention to each others’ limitations.
To split up and keep everyone happy, you typically need a balanced number with balanced travel styles. In a group of three, someone has to be happy – and even want – solo time … either as the one who stays back to chill or the one who goes off to explore on their own. And everyone needs to be okay with this situation, or you’ll have stress.
But, perhaps you’re looking at traveling in a group of three where the other two don’t want to see and do as much as you. And you don’t really want to see and do them on your own. If possible, I’d encourage you to invite along a fourth person. Maybe an aunt or an uncle, who can balance things out in many ways.
Where you have very different travel styles and strong personalities, it’s a REALLY good idea to even these out among your group. Even if it means increasing your group size.
6. Prepare for strong personalities when traveling with aging parents
While I can definitely think of exceptions, most of us get more set in our ways as we get older. This isn’t a good or bad thing, but something to be aware of. And as ADULT kids, traveling with AGING parents, you’re all bound to be fairly head-strong in what you want and don’t want.
So, have lots of conversations BEFORE the trip. About what you each want to get out of it. Your constraints and travel styles. Destinations, hotels, activities. How you’ll split the costs, and what splitting up might look like.
7. Respectfully take the planning lead
Weigh this point out with your relationship with your parents. And with your lifestyles and skill sets.
Although my parents do pretty great with technology, it’s still less stressful for them if I book flights and hotels for them. Also, my dad isn’t one to book ANY hotels in advance, so it’s less stressful for me if I do it! And while my dad is an experienced driver, it’s much less stressful for everyone if I or my husband do the driving in a foreign land.
A good approach to getting opinions from your travel companions is this: narrow down your top 3, list your pros and cons, and then take votes.
8. Pay your own share
Paying your own share as an adult kid traveling with aging parents might be a tough subject. This point again depends a lot on your specific relationship with your parents. And financial positions, which can be rather tricky to talk about.
But a good rule of thumb is to pay your own share when traveling with your parents. What each person’s “share” means is a little fluid, as someone might decide to pay for the accommodations, for example. Yet, a benefit to everyone paying their share is the equal right to “vote.” For where you stay; what you do. The person who pays kinda has the final say. And you might not like it that much.
9. Book a place without stairs
This one I learned most recently when in Vienna with my mom. Our home rental was in a great location, near the historic city-center and transit to everywhere else. BUT, the only access was up two flights of narrow stairs. In hindsight, we should’ve booked another place.
Even for the most agile of us, having to climb stairs after a long day of walking and touring is a real pain in the butt. So make it easier for everyone by booking a place without stairs.
10. Pack comfort essentials for your aging parents that might not be available
What exactly these comfort essentials are depends on your parents. Don’t expect everything to be easily available at your destination.
Here are some items to get you thinking:
- A flashlight for your parents to use during the night.
- Portable foam raised toilet seat and wipes to keep it clean.
- Non-slip bath mat.
- Continence products.
Also, keep your daypacks stocked with snacks and water.
11. Plan activities around your parents’ schedule
When do your parents take coffee breaks? Nap? If they don’t nap, do they cherish relaxed morning coffees or early evenings in?
Find out what their typical schedule is, and plan your outings around this.
Now, I had a hard time with this (other than the coffee breaks!). I like to see and do as much as possible. So, if you’re a bit like me, remember this tip: Plan more active stuff for when your parents are more active, and more restful stuff for when they’re sleepy. Makes sense, right? But what about in practice?
Here are examples that I’ve used:
- On road trips, plan most of your stops in the morning. Then, plan only a few (if any) stops during the afternoon in case your parents want to nap in the car. (Another reason to assume you’ll be driving.)
- If touring a large site, plan for lots of relaxing breaks. Don’t race through it; stop for lunch and a coffee/dessert break. Savor the moment. And limit your day to one location, with a chill evening back at your place.
- If general sight-seeing, plan the walking for the morning. In the afternoon, do things like people-watching at a cafe, a bus tour, or something near your place. Then, if your parents want to stay back, it’s easy for them to do this.
12. Slow down your pace
Maybe you already like to take it easy on vacation. Even then? Expect to slow your pace even more.
Now, maybe this isn’t that true for your parents. Maybe they’re young aging parents! Super healthy and fit. Fantastic! The main point here is to be sensitive to their physical limitations and let them lead in setting the pace.
Again, I confess that I’m not so good at this. I think I’m slowing things down, but it’s hard to stop the urge to go go go. And my mom is so not a complainer that it’s sometimes all too easy not to see her discomfort.
A good rule of thumb is to only plan one main thing or a few small things per day. And to leave plenty of time at each spot and between spots. Another interesting idea, especially if pride is an issue, is to establish a code phrase like “Wanna people-watch for a while?” Then your parents can gratefully plunk themselves down without feeling like they’re always saying they’re tired.
13. Add in chill days
If you’re traveling with your aging parents longer than a weekend, build low-key days into your schedule.
This is a really good idea if some days are quite heavy. For example, don’t take day trips back-to-back; leave a resting day in between without much planned. If one day has a lot of walking, make the next a sitting day.
This kind of itinerary-building is good for all of us, no matter our age or fitness levels. It adds variety and interest to the trip.
14. Budget more for conveniences when traveling with your aging parents
While you’re saving costs on the zillion things you’re not doing … by slowing things down and adding in chill days … you get to do something a little indulgent!
Budget more for conveniences you typically don’t indulge in while traveling. Taking a cab is much easier on your aging parents than public transit and all those subway stairs. Booking a comfortable bus tour is much more enjoyable than wandering lost through the streets to find that obscure statue.
This goes back to keeping your trip’s goal front and center. And your aging parents’ constraints and travel styles. Plus, it’s fun!
15. Take a lot of pictures and videos
When your trip is done, the pictures and videos you took with your parents will be absolute treasures. So, be sure to take MANY of them. Even when it feels awkward or silly. Even if your dad hates them.
I think it’s pretty common to forget that our parents get old. How time passes, and suddenly the people who seemed so old back in high school don’t seem so old anymore. WE’RE that old.
And I’ve watched best friends lose their parents far too soon. It’s heartbreaking.
So, we’re the lucky ones. We still get to take trips with our parents, and create EPIC memories with them. Make it happen!
RESOURCES for traveling with aging parents
Looking for more information and resources on traveling with your aging parents? I suggest checking out Travelwithagingparents.com. It’s dedicated to traveling with aging parents. And if your parents need specialized care, there’s also a forum to help you figure out logistics.
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