Tips for Traveling With an Elderly Family Member

In Health by Companions for Seniors

Every year, millions of Americans travel during the spring and summer months, hoping to take advantage of great vacation deals and wonderful weather.

Whether you’re visiting family, taking a short road trip, or planning a substantial vacation around the globe, it’s important to prepare – especially if you’re traveling with senior family or friends.

It can be stressful to travel even under the best of circumstances. Adding an elderly family member to the mix can make things more complicated. Still, traveling can be a refreshing and invigorating activity. Hitting the road with your elderly loved ones can be a wonderful opportunity to come together and make new memories.

Whether you’re planning a short excursion or a lengthy sabbatical, there are plenty of steps you can take to make traveling with seniors easier, safer, and more accommodating for everyone. Here are a few key things to keep in mind when traveling with seniors:

Gather All Medications and Consult With a Doctor

Before you take your senior loved one on that whirlwind trip, be sure to consult with their doctors to get a sense of their overall health and well-being – including an assessment of whether they’re well enough to travel.

While your loved one may be fine to take day trips or a simple road trip without complications, a cross-country flight or a vigorous expedition could be a different story. Your senior loved one’s care team, including their primary care physician, can help offer pointers and recommendations, including suggestions about what potential health concerns you should watch out for, any vaccinations your loved one should get prior to departure, and guidance on how to travel with medications.

That last point may prove particularly important. Whether this trip is for a day or a few weeks, you’re likely going to need to find a way to accommodate your senior loved one’s medicine regimen. Work with your loved one and their medical professionals to determine what medicines or treatments your loved one is taking, and on what schedule. It may be up to you to help your loved one pack up all of their medications suitably, or to help administer their treatments and watch for side effects during the trip.

Have Important Supplies on Hand

In addition to safely packing and storing your loved one’s routine medications, take some time to plan out a list of everything your senior family member may need during the trip, and how you can take steps to accommodate them. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Traveler’s medications (such as OTC medications for altitude sickness, headaches, or digestive relief)
  • Walker, wheelchair, and other mobility aids
  • Batteries for hearing devices and other health aids
  • Copies of important, up-to-date documents, including passport, photo ID, insurance card, prescription cards, etc.
  • Prescription glasses and/or sunglasses
  • Plenty of changes of clothes
  • Healthy snacks
  • Drinking water

Of course, this list will vary, depending on your senior family member’s unique health needs and preferences, as well as the destination and duration for your trip. The big picture: Make sure you plan ahead and be thorough when helping your elderly family pack and prepare for the big trip.

Traveling By Air

If you and your senior loved one are planning to take to the skies, it’s important to plan ahead. Airports can be tricky to navigate quickly and efficiently in the best of circumstances, especially during busy travel times. Things get even more complicated when you have an elderly family member traveling with you. Courtesy of the travel experts at Orbitz, here are a few things to consider as you plan to fly with senior family:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the airport, check in, make it through security, and board.
  • Plan ahead to arrange TSA pre-check. Seniors and those with limited mobility can often receive expedited security screenings.
  • Look up proper guidelines for packing medications, liquids, and other carry-on items.
  • When you book tickets, make special requests for your senior, such as booking a seat with extra leg-room, requesting a meal to meet the dietary restrictions, or obtaining a pre-boarding pass.
  • Request assistance at the airport. Your loved one might be able to save time and energy by receiving wheelchair service, to help take them all the way through the terminal with ease.

Traveling By Car

Traveling by car or van can be a great way to enjoy the sights and sounds of the open road, while getting from Point A to Point B. Taking a trip by car can be a convenient option for families with seniors, but it’s still important to take steps to keep elderly travelers safe and comfortable for the entire journey. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Make frequent stops to allow for stretching time and bathroom breaks.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of room for the senior’s walker, cane, or wheelchair, if necessary.
  • Have a well-stocked supply of snacks and water available, as well as books and games for the long stretches of the commute.
  • Make sure your senior traveling companion can be comfortable in the vehicle; pack blankets, pillows, and other comforts for the ride.
  • If you’re renting a vehicle, consider requesting a minivan, which can be more accessible than a compact car.

Respect Your Loved One’s Limits and Wishes

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, be sure to routinely check in with your senior loved ones, to make sure they’re safe, healthy, and enjoying themselves. Depending on your senior family member’s health needs and preferences, there are all sorts of steps you can take to make traveling easier and more fun:

  • Request senior-friendly accommodations, such as a ground floor hotel room, or a room near an elevator.
  • Keep a flexible itinerary. Don’t overstuff your “to-do” list, and leave plenty of time for your senior companion to nap, take a break, or use the restroom.
  • Be realistic in your travel plans.
  • In the trip-planning stage, think about ways you can accommodate your senior loved ones. For instance, a trip to a highly walkable city with lots of transit options, or a stay at a one-stop “all-inclusive” resort may be easier than a plan to hike through rugged terrain.
  • Be upfront with your senior family, and check in with them. You may be surprised by how enthusiastic and full of stamina your traveling partner is. As one expert put it in Reader’s Digest: “I have seen over and over in my professional travels—from walking the streets of Cartagena, to dancing salsa in Havana, and trekking Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda—elders showing me up with their physical stamina and prowess!”

Consider Bringing on the Help of a Caregiver

Hiring a full- or part-time caregiver can be a great way to help provide your loved one with the support and attention they need, even during a vacation. During short trips and family events, respite care services can help support your senior family by assisting with routine activities of daily living, such as sitting, standing, grooming, and more. Having a caregiver keep a watchful eye on your loved one can give them the personalized attention they need, while providing them with a friendly, familiar face they know and trust – all while giving you time to rest, relax, and refocus.

Have any more questions about traveling with a senior family member? Curious about how in-home care can fit into your loved one’s daily routine? We’d love to keep the conversation going. Get in touch online or by phone to discuss all things caregiving. Empowering the elderly is our passion, and we’d love to share our experiences and expertise with you.