Aging Parents and Travel: Advice from a 99-year-old Who Plans One More Trip

Travel Guides

Travel Guides (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

TRAVEL: Any vacation that requires little more than a short car ride to a familiar place involves more organization, thought and energy than it did pre-911 in the US. Understandably this can be daunting to old and older travelers when airport navigation and unfamiliar territory are involved, not to mention stress for anyone accompanying an older individual.

Navigating airports is no longer simply remembering to take our plane ticket, checking in, and walking to the gate. Organization and physical stamina are also necessary before ever boarding the plane.

Photo ID. Boarding Pass. Plus small-size liquids in an easy-to-get-to, no-larger-than-1-gallon plastic bag if “we carry on.” All at the ready so we don’t hold up the line…even before we figure out which line we belong in. Then the physical part for those under 75 or without TSA expedited screening–taking off shoes, belts, jackets etc.; putting them and the liquids, and computer in correct bins, and lifting all, plus carry-ons, onto the conveyor belt. (Passengers 75 and over may have “modified screening.”) We must be certain our pockets are completely empty before entering the scanning detectors. Finally a usually long walk to the gate.

If this doesn’t discourage all older travelers and anyone who feels responsibility for them, (exception: ship passengers), I don’t know what does.

Sr. Advisor R, who–at age 98– flew alone cross-country to visit us last year, just said she had one more trip in her (she will be 100 in September); so I asked if she’d share her thoughts about travel and how she does it. R’s words:

1. “Energy level changes. My renewed energy doesn’t renew as it used to…maybe because I don’t sleep as well. You have to think about everything–it isn’t that one doesn’t want to travel but you’re not as confident when you’re old. That’s what age is. For old people it’s not the world we knew….we don’t know what to depend on.

2.  “Look in the closet at least 2 weeks ahead. Make a list of the 4-5 outfits you’ll wear–on the plane, and at your destination. Try to mix and match. Think about underwear etc. Then get the clothes in order–it takes the pressure off, especially if you live alone. I leave clothes on wire hangers, slip a plastic bag over, and pack. They arrive in good shape. It’s organization.

3. “I put liquids in plastic bottles in a separate little case that I send as luggage–putting a zip lock bag over things that could leak. I think TSA always looks through it, because things are messed up when I get it back. But that’s OK.

4. “I use a practical purse and pack another purse. An older person needs to do what’s comfortable and not care what others think. For example, I’ve shrunk and now take a cushion to sit on. I have fat ones, thin ones–there’s a wonderful mid-size one that isn’t  heavy and has a little strap you put your hand through so it travels well.

5. “I put my boarding pass where it’s protected in the zipper compartment of my purse. I get needed cash ahead of time. My house key is with my change–so I always know where my key is. My photo ID and emergency numbers are in one place in my wallet. And I remember to put 3 Kleenexes in, should I need them. Older people need them. It’s a rude awakening, for example, to realize a muscle on the side of the mouth can weaken in some older people and saliva can drip unexpectedly. Usually old people don’t talk about this.

6. “I order a wheel chair when I make my reservation. It’s important. Airports are so large; the walks so long. I immediately tell the man who takes my luggage (curbside)–I’ve ordered a wheel chair. I allow extra time for this.  And have the tip ready and give it a minute or two after they begin pushing my wheel chair. Makes them happier at the beginning and I get a better ride from them,” R says laughingly. “It makes it a little friendlier–then you have someone who wants to do for you.”

Is there any more to say? R has figured it out. With no kids (only us-2,000 away) to help–or hinder, her independence and abilities are affirmed again and again. Yet R has said– many times this past year–“Getting Old is Hard.” When it gets too hard, she says she’ll ask us for help. That said, the thought of travel for old people can still be enticing– and isn’t it a wonderful gift if we can help make that happen for those who are able.

Related: “Aging Parents and Airports: Happy Landings or Headache-Producing

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