As you sit, staring outside, watching the snow ice mix pelt the windows at a rapid rate, you think to yourself, now is the perfect time to start planning that warm weather getaway. However, your planning comes to a screeching halt when you start to think of all the “what if” scenarios when traveling with your aging loved one.
What if they get too tired? What if they have a fall or another medical emergency? You can never fully anticipate and plan for all the “what if” scenarios. If only life were that easy, right? But we can certainly try and address as many what ifs now, so you are not lying awake at night thinking about these possible concerns.
When choosing a destination, keep your aging loved one’s needs and limitations in mind. Consider how much standing and walking they can realistically manage. When planning, be sure to schedule more than enough time for not only the travel, but also for all the activities. Things always take longer than you think, especially if there are mobility issues involved. Vacations become stressful very quickly when you feel like you are rushing from one thing to the next and always running behind. Your loved one will need breaks and downtime.
5 helpful tips for travel with aging loved ones:
1.) Travel Insurance
It is highly encouraged, when traveling outside the U.S., to have comprehensive travel insurance. It usually covers the following: lost bags, a refund if you end up not being able to travel, expenses related to medical emergencies (including pre-existing conditions when obtaining a proper waiver), and medical or disaster evacuation. You can even purchase a policy that comes with a “cancel for any reason” provision. Note that original Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans and some Medigap policies will cover outside the U.S., only under limited and specific circumstances. Please check with your plan for all the stipulations. It is recommended that the travel insurance is purchased through a third party carrier. Some credit cards come with basic travel insurance if that particular card is used to book the travel. Check with your credit card company for details, but know there are typically strict guidelines and varying gaps in coverage. It is worth doing some research to compare all the various policies, as travel insurance can help to avoid large out-of-pocket expenses if something were to happen abroad.
You may need to get travel clearance from your loved one’s doctor prior to traveling. A statement from the doctor will be needed to show to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), if your aging loved one has anything that would set off a metal detector at the airport, such as a knee or hip replacement. Contact airlines prior to your trip to arrange any special accommodations – advance boarding, special seating, a wheelchair, and transportation on a cart from one gate to the next. Older adults are at a higher risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This can occur when sitting for a long period of time, such as on an airplane. Compression stockings can help prevent DVT. Check with your aging loved one’s doctor.
3.) Hotel Safety
Ensure you book a hotel room that is accessible and has safety devices such as grab bars. It is wise to not leave anything of value in your hotel room when leaving for the day. You can always ask hotel management if there is a safe for valuables. Get a room by the elevator, where there is more foot traffic and therefore less likely to get broken into.
Be sure to keep all your medications with you in a carry-on, just in case the luggage gets lost. Leave the medications in their regular containers; this will help if going through customs. It can be challenging to stay on schedule with medications when traveling, so set a reminder on your phone, for when various medications are due. Pack easy on-the-go snacks if food is needed to be taken with medications or to maintain blood sugar levels if necessary. Don’t ever leave medications in your hotel room, as they can be taken. Be sure to bring a couple extra days’ worth of medications, just in case flights get delayed or cancelled. Keep a list of all the medications, the generic name, and dosages with you. If you are traveling to another country, if possible, get the names of the medications in the language of the destination you are traveling to. Sometimes pharmacists in other countries are more so familiar with the generic name. Do some research to make sure that the medications your aging loved one is taking are legal in the countries in which you are traveling.
Keep valuable jewelry and accessories at home. Wearing nice jewelry or carrying fancy cameras can make you and your loved one more of a target for thieves. When traveling with a passport and cash conceal it in a waistband underneath your shirt. Don’t ever keep it in a checked bag. Be sure to make copies of your passport and driver’s license and include them in your carry-on. Leave a copy with a friend or a family member back home. Unfortunately, older adults in general can be singled out, especially since it’s known they are more likely to be carrying cash, and sadly less able to defend themselves. It is prudent to avoid questionable areas at night. If you do go somewhere in the evening, be watchful of your surroundings, and do not go to secluded areas.
It’s important to assess your loved one’s condition prior to traveling. Schedule an appointment with your aging loved one’s doctor right before the trip. The doctor can conduct a physical exam to assess if they are healthy enough for travel.
These tips and suggestions are not to deter you from traveling with your aging loved one if their health is stable. Getting a change of scenery and a change of pace can do a world of good for you and them. These suggestions will help you be prepared and on guard. Will it possibly be challenging at times? Absolutely, but when you find yourself becoming frustrated, as your aging loved one asks you for the 10th time that day if you could find them the nearest restroom, just remember that years from now you’ll be wishing they were here asking you that. I know it can take a great deal of patience when traveling with an aging loved one, but you will create memories with them that you’ll cherish for years to come!