Whether it’s a lodging baggage list flight, Goyer said, “Everyone benefits from multigenerational travel.” “We build relationships through shared experiences.”
Families planning multigenerational travel should consider health and capabilities, not age, when deciding whether someone should travel and what type of trip they should take. With proper planning and flexibility, the trip can enhance communication and broaden everyone’s horizons.
“The first thing to remember is that older adults are not homogeneous,” said Charles Erickson, former president of the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM) and professor of infectious diseases at UT Health McGovern School of Medicine. “Travel decisions should be based on the individual medical evaluation of the traveler, as well as the capabilities of his or her companions.”
A primary care physician’s office can be the first destination for any traveler – especially those with physical or mental health conditions – to confirm a clean bill of health and ensure that any issues are optimally managed, including those that may put them at increased risk of travel-related illnesses . Ericsson encourages family members to attend this visit to support their loved ones and understand their medical needs.
Handling routine vaccinations there can make insurance reimbursement easier, while an extra travel clinic appointment can provide trip-specific tips and any destination-specific immunizations and medications. (ISTM has an online list of travel clinics.) This should be done several weeks before the trip, because some vaccines may take longer to develop an immune response in older adults.
Additionally, confirm health insurance coverage and purchase travel insurance – which can include trip interruption, medical coverage, and/or evacuation. Keep a copy of your family member’s medical history and a list of their medications, supplements, and doses. Bring medicines in their original packaging in carry-on and checked baggage, especially to international destinations, as they can be difficult to replace if lost. Additional packages in case of delay.
With new variables and increasing cases in some destinations, the pandemic is still part of the travel landscape – and the risk of severe illness with coronavirus increases with age and certain medical conditions. According to the AARP, 73 percent of people over 70 are concerned about the coronavirus, even though 78 percent consider travel safe.
How to keep calm and travel with your adult children
“We have to be smart in dealing with the coronavirus. Any elderly person should be fully vaccinated and properly boosted, especially if they are immunocompromised or have underlying disease conditions,” said Erickson. “It may be plausible that the mask could only be revealed in a well-ventilated remote environment.”
In addition, families can design a variety of risk reduction strategies, some of which include testing, participating in outdoor activities, avoiding crowds, monitoring infection rates, and visiting local destinations. Accommodation is another option. AARP research shows that 27 percent of people over 70 will likely take one this year.
Plan ahead, but embrace flexibility
“Advance planning is key to traveling with a mature family member and reducing stress for everyone,” Goyer said.
Think of specific logistics for each day of your trip: What’s your mom’s home routine? When do you sleep, eat and take medicine? How active is it? Do you have any disabilities? If you haven’t seen her in a while, does she have any new needs?
Neither of those factors are deal-breakers, Goyer said, and planning can remedy just about everything. However, although thinking ahead provides a critical framework, flexibility is just as important.
“For caregivers, mindset makes the biggest difference,” Goyer said. “Expect travel to present unexpected delays and challenges, and that’s just part of the adventure.”
Also resist the urge to go overboard. Arrive early for transportation or at your destination, and make extra time to get ready, take medication, travel and sleep, plus enough recuperation for your loved one to rest each day.
“We want to do a lot when we travel, but things may take longer, or you may encounter obstacles. It is better to slow down rather than rush,” Goyer said.
When it comes to transportation planning, go the extra mile. For road trips, consider booking a hotel room halfway during long trips, and allow time for regrouping once you reach your destination. Plan restroom and stretching breaks every two hours.
If you are traveling by plane, try to buy direct flights at a time of day when your loved one has energy and the airports are not as busy. Some requests for assistance may be available upon reservation. Contact airline customer service to make advance arrangements for early boarding, onboard assistance and oxygen. Even if your loved one doesn’t normally use one, a wheelchair can be indispensable for safety, delay, and gate change. At least 72 hours before departure, call or email TSA Cares to ask for help getting safe.
How to plan a family vacation that everyone can enjoy
Whatever the mode of transportation, bring nutritious food, plenty of water, and entertainment. Because travel can cause anxiety for some elderly people, a doctor or therapist can suggest tools to calm the nerves. Refundable or flexible bookings can ease everyone’s worries.
Wherever you are, create a familiar environment for your family members. They took out their luggage and arranged things on their table, clothes in the closet and wardrobe, and toiletries in the bathroom.
Adjoining rooms in hotels or rentals can help you hear your loved one getting out of bed at night – which is important if they are prone to falls or have cognitive impairment. Because an unfamiliar environment can confuse people with dementia, use audio monitors and alarms on the door and floor, which can alert you to their movements.
Also assess in advance any transportation needs for your trip. Can your loved ones climb the ladder to the train? Is your residence ADA compliant? Are your activities within their reach? Can they rent or bring a walker or wheelchair? For international travelers, the US Department of State’s online information for travelers with disabilities can help you navigate other countries’ accessibility laws.
Maximize your time together
Talk to family members in advance about their priorities for the trip. The areas in which they overlap are the perfect place for shared interest and energy for activities.
“Many seniors are quite able to travel independently,” Erickson said, but “tours can be good options for people who have lost some executive function, as a guide can help them navigate unfamiliar situations.” However, don’t expect too much from a guide unless it caters specifically to mature travelers, and they understand any physical requirements beforehand.
Whatever your activities, Goyer said, create opportunities for family interaction. Play a game that everyone will enjoy. Parents, take a break while the grandparents have dinner with the kids. Grandma may want to build sandcastles with the kids but can’t sit on the beach – so step up the fun with some sand at an outdoor table.
“We may need to make adjustments, but what really matters is having fun and creating memories together,” Goyer said. “As people progress through life, that’s what they carry with them.”
Williams is an Oregon-based writer. Her website is erinewilliams.com.
Prospective travelers should take local and national public health guidance regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Health Travel Notice information can be found on the CDC’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s Travel Health Notice web page.