Everyone needs a vacation now and then, even senior citizens
living at home, in an assisted living facility or in a nursing home. Interest
in traveling seems to increase with age, and today’s technology makes it easy
to travel with older individuals. With a bit of preparation and planning,
vacationing with seniors is easy and highly rewarding.
Mobility, medications, and documentation are the largest
obstacles when vacationing with seniors. To make travel easier, plan to meet
these challenges before you embark on your vacation.
Pack wisely. Make sure to bring enough medication to last
for two to three weeks longer than you plan to be away, just in case something
delays your return. Pack a small bag to use as carry-on luggage or to place
within reach inside your car. Inside that bag, place one day’s worth of
medication, copies of prescriptions, tickets, visas and passports, extra
eyeglasses and copy of prescription, a snack, a change of clothing, and a
Make sure you have plenty of available funds in your credit
cards and ATM bank cards; traveler’s checks are not as widely accepted as they
used to be.
Take advantage of existing senior travel programs.
Associations like Elderhostel, a non-profit organization devoted to life-long
learning, promote and facilitate travel among older individuals. Established in
1975, Elderhostel now offers accommodations for seniors in hostels, inns, and
other luxurious-but-affordable establishments. Elderhostel can help you with
everything from booking tickets to reserving a room.
RoadScholar, created by Elderhostel, categorizes trips and
tours by activity level, ranging from easy to challenging. Easy adventures
entail minimal walking and very few stairs, for example, while moderate
programs require the ability to walk up to one mile in a single day or stand in
a museum for a few hours. Easy activities might include a short drive or train
trip to watch a play, attend a film festival, or just to take in the sights. A
car trip through Arizona punctuated with short walking tours around monuments
would constitute a moderate vacation on that website.
Preparing to Travel with a Senior
Before you leave, make sure you have gathered all of the
senior’s contact information, such as physician’s name and phone number,
emergency contact other than yourself, and telephone number of the person
taking care of the senior’s affairs while they are gone. Make sure passports
are valid for at least three to six months after you plan to return, just in
case you run into some sort of trouble that prevents your prompt return. Review
all travel advisories and make sure you have put passports and other important
documents in a secure place.
If you are leaving the country with a senior citizen,
consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan. The U.S. Department
of State provides this program, known as STEP, to assist travelers in an
emergency. The program is free and voluntary.
Contact the airline or train depot to check for delays.
Check in using the airline website at least two hours before departure for
domestic flights and at least three hours before leaving on an international
flight. Some airlines allow you to use your cell phone for a boarding pass, a
process known as e-boarding, rather than using time-consuming paper passes.
Senior citizens may qualify for a simplified security
process at airline gates. For example, a person over the age of 75 may not have
to take off their shoes, may be able to leave on lightweight outerwear and
sweaters, and may be able to pass through a metal detector a second time rather
than submitting to a pat down if the alarm is set off. The Transportation
Security Administration may allow you to use their TSA Pre-Check to avoid
security lines at the airport.
Contact the airline at least 72 hours in advance to find out
if it assists passengers with special needs. Some airlines offer wheelchair
assistance. Most allow a caretaker to pass through security and the gates to
help a passenger as long as the caretaker has made a request at least a day in
advance and can produce proper identification and paperwork.
Opt for upgrade seating whenever possible. Sitting for long
periods, especially onboard a pressurized airline cabin in coach class, in a
small economy car, or bumpy train car, can be very hard on an older body.
Once you are at your destination, plan on moving slowly and
taking plenty of rest stops. If a museum tour typically takes one hour, for
example, plan to take two to three hours. Watch for signs of fatigue.
Ask the hotel if a house doctor is on-call and request the
telephone number. Also, write down the location and telephone number of the
Do your best to stay on schedule for medications. This can
be challenging, especially when you travel through different time zones.
Try to maintain a normal diet to avoid stomach upset. An
abrupt change in diet can cause unpleasant effects that interfere with vacation
Most of all: enjoy your time. Traveling with a senior citizen can be a deeply enriching and rewarding experience.