How to Make Traveling Easier with Someone with Mobility Challenges
When I was a kid, my mom picked up my grandmother every Saturday to take her to lunch and shopping. When she lived with my uncle and had an easier time getting around, it wasn’t challenging. Unfortunately, as time passed, my grandmother had more and more mobility challenges and taking her out on outings got harder.
While it can be challenging for caregivers to travel with their carees, there are ways to make it easier. Caregivers are resourceful. You can do it!
Tips for Airplane Travel with Elderly Parents
Until recently, I haven’t had first-hand experience of the challenge of airplane travel when you have physical challenges. My autoimmune condition has been in a flare, so my recent trips to the east coast have been difficult. I flew to the east coast once alone with my children and once alone, during this time.
Airplane travel is stressful and frustrating and difficult. It is so much more of all of these things when you are physically unwell. Standing in line, carrying or pulling bags, walking long distances to your terminal – these are all physically taxing activities.
Here are ways to make it more manageable for your aging parent:
- Get travel approval from their physician: Before even beginning the travel process, check with your parent’s physician to make sure they are physically able to travel.
- Give yourselves extra time: I recently traveled with my brother, who is always late. Before we even set out, I told him that if he is running late, I will leave without him. I’m not physically able to run through an airport with my bags, nor do I have a desire to do so. I prefer arriving early and relaxing at the gate than racing to the finish line. Understand your parent’s limitations and give them ample time to get to the gate without feeling pressure to hurry.
- Get hard copies of difficult to fill prescriptions: If you are traveling before their prescription is up for a refill, request a paper prescription so that you can fill it during your trip.
- Get a wheelchair escort: Did you know you can request a wheelchair at the curbside check-in? You’ll need to allow extra time as they will have to request the service and someone will have to make their way to you with the wheelchair. If you are traveling during the busy holiday season, allow even more time since they may have several requests.
- Travel light: Most people hate checking bags because they fear their bag won’t make it to their destination or they want to save the baggage fee. If the fee is challenging, consider flying an airline that doesn’t charge a baggage fee (Southwest and JetBlue) or packing one bag to check instead of multiple carry-on bags.
- Request special services ahead: My brother recently booked a flight for me so I was unable to book my seat. Due to my condition, I really need an aisle seat so that I am able to get up and stretch frequently. I called the airline ahead and let them know I needed to book an aisle seat in advance because I am disabled. Don’t be embarrassed to make special requests. Contact the airline about disabled seating, meals for special dietary conditions (if they exist) and wheelchair transport if you need to transfer planes. If your airplane doesn’t offer in-flight dining, check the airport website to find out what food is available in the terminal. If there is nothing that meets their needs, pack a meal in advance.
- Pack comfort items: If your elderly parent is frequently cold, consider packing a travel blanket in the carry-on so that they can stay warm on the plane. If your parent has dementia, consider bringing items that reduce their anxiety such as music, photos or activities to keep their hands busy.
- Keep medication and valuables with you: Don’t pack any medication in checked baggage. Pack everything they’ll need, in addition to just-in-case medication, in a Ziplock bag in a carry-on. If they have jewelry that they are traveling with, make sure it is worn or in their carry-on.
- Provide them with emergency contact information: Even if you’re traveling together, make sure that your parent has your cell phone number and another emergency contact in case you get separated. You may also want to have a list with their doctor’s phone number as well.
Travel Tips For When You Arrive At Your Destination
Once you get to your destination, there are still some things you should do to help your aging parents better adjust.
- Stick to routine: If your parent is not physically well, don’t push them too hard. Try to get them on the local time, ensure that they are still getting enough sleep and eating on schedule.
- Eat well: Even if you’re eating all of your meals out, try to eat as healthy as possible. Consider stocking healthy snacks in your hotel room or opt for lighter meal choices when you can. My family never goes out to breakfast. My kids eat early so it just doesn’t fit into our routine. I love eating breakfast out. When we travel, I indulge at breakfast since I don’t ever eat like that at home. I eat the French toast and hash browns and sausage. But, I either skip lunch or have a small salad. I don’t indulge at all three meals. It would throw my body off.
- Schedule downtime: Even though you probably have a lot you want to see or do, or there are a lot of family members to visit, be sure to schedule in downtime. You and your aging parent need a break to just breathe. We recently traveled to the east coast for three weeks. During that time, we went sightseeing and were visiting most days. Towards the end of the trip, I was in so much pain I was actually nauseous. People who aren’t well need to take things slow. While spending time in relative’s homes doesn’t seem taxing, it can be to your parent. Respect that and help carve out downtime.
- Enjoy each other: Spending a lot of time with someone in confined spaces can be challenging. After a while, you may drive each other crazy, particularly if one of you is an introvert. Try to give each other some space, but also enjoy the wonderful opportunity to travel and spend time with each other.
Whether you’re going on a sightseeing trip or visiting family, it can be challenging to travel with an aging parent. I hope that these suggestions make the trip more manageable.