Traveling the world, seeing all the exotic and far-flung countries you’ve always dreamed of is one of the most common dreams for retirement. You’ve got more time on your hands, have had a chance to save up your money, your kids have grown out of a desire to go to Disney World, and you really know what you want; there’s nothing holding you back – apart from maybe your health. Your body slows down and becomes more susceptible to problems as you age, but with a healthy diet and active lifestyle to keep you in shape, it’s still more than possible to travel later in life.
Keeping fit and healthy
Traveling can place great stress on your body, even for those who are young and fit. Things like jetlag, early starts, unusual motion on boats and planes, or changes in water and food can make you feel anything from off-color to downright stuck-in-bed sick. Making sure you’re healthy before your trip is a great way to ensure your body can cope more easily with any changes, and you can continue to have an enjoyable time away.
Regular gentle exercise is really beneficial, and is proven to help reduce both common illnesses and the risk of long-term diseases. Try some low-impact and low-intensity sports like swimming, where your muscles and joints are supported by the water.
Get a pedometer and try to gradually increase your daily step count by going for walks or taking the stairs instead of an elevator. It’s a good idea to set fitness goals to help motivate yourself, but remember to start slow and build up gradually to avoid injury.
There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing your trip, from all-out luxury to wilderness getaways, all of which are suitable for seniors. Check out some options offered by companies dedicated to seniors, especially if you have any particular medical or accessibility requirements. Cruises might be a bit of a cliche, but they’re a really flexible and senior-friendly choice and there’s a range of activities to suit everyone on-board. From relaxing in the sun and sand in the Mediterranean or Caribbean, to hopping along the wild coast of northern Norway, you’re taken along for the ride with little effort and can be as active or relaxed as you choose. You can opt to join excursions or head off to seek out adventures on your own, away from the crowds. Often a slower pace is better for appreciating the scenery, so try cycling – another great low-impact exercise – or a steady canoe trip. Other trips with similar flexibility and variety include continental railway journeys – such as the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Beijing, or any number of options across the USA and Canada. Even if you’re not a rail enthusiast, these grand journeys bring out the adventurer in anyone.
Staying Fit while on the road
While you’re away, ensure that you look after yourself. Eat well, drink plenty of water, and make sure to take medication at the right times – an app on your smartphone can help with this, especially if you’re hopping around time zones or getting caught up in the excitement of your trip. Get yourself prepared NOW for traveling later in life, and you’ll be able to make the most of every opportunity and create memories for years to come.
Today’s guest post comes to us from Sally Phillips, who is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and travelling as much as possible.
Everybody loves to travel. Young or old, there’s something that’s just so appealing about exploring the world beyond your home. A great way to see the world is to travel with your aging parents although you may need to adjust your activities depending on your parents’ physical capabilities. While they may have enjoyed strenuous and challenging activities when they were younger, they may be in a different stage of life, and have different needs and desires.
Traveling with your aging parents doesn’t mean that younger folks have to give up interesting, fun activities when traveling with aging loved ones – far from it!
There are plenty of activities that are fun both for younger and older adults, which offer enough interest and fun to satisfy those of any age. Here, we explore 5 travel activities that engage older adults and their younger counterparts alike.
Walking tours are a fantastic way to get active while traveling, and see all of the sights that a new city or town has to offer. In cities, walking tours have the additional benefit of being very safe, and offering plenty of opportunities for rest, relaxation, and refueling with food and drink. Some cities have dedicated self-guided walking tours available – New York and San Francisco, among others.
There are also dedicated walking tours around the world – especially in the UK – that offer safe, enjoyable ways to enjoy the countryside and scenery, while still allowing visitors to eat and drink in restaurants and sleep in hotels every night. Some great resources for finding an appropriate walking tour for you and your aging loved one include Country Walkers, The Wayfarers, and Backroads.
You can’t really get a full perspective of the country that you’re visiting without getting into nature. Just about every city has lush and interesting landscapes, parks, and nature preserves around it, and getting out of the city to enjoy what nature has to offer in your particular vacation spot can be a great change of pace.
Nature hikes aren’t for every aging person – although generally, most state and national parks offer quite a few trails for persons of just about any physical ability.
If you need a change of pace, (or just some air conditioning) museums are fantastic destinations for you and your aging travel companion. Every major city has interesting and varied museums on just about every subject – talk with your loved one and figure out what they’d be interested in.
If you’ve already embarked on your trip and are looking for some great museums in your area, there are plenty of resources to turn to. Great Museums profiles over 15,000 museums in the US, the American Alliance of Museums has a helpful museum finder tool, and Museums USA features lists of museums searchable by ZIP code.
There’s really nothing better than taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of nature in a relaxing nature hike, and if you prepare well with plenty of water, food, and other basic necessities, it’s no more challenging than a simple walk in the park.
Biking is actually very light on the joints – more so than walking. In addition, bicycling is a more efficient way to travel longer distances, so if you’ve made the journey to a big city, renting bicycles or going on a dedicated bike tour can be a fantastic way to see all the sights more quickly.
This is especially helpful if you only have a limited amount of time to see the city – while walking tours are great, they often only cover a few square miles, whereas both professionally-guided and self-guided bike tours can allow you to see just about everything in the city.
Bike tours can vary from day-trips inside cities to extensive, week-long trips around the countryside and through different towns and cities. Biketours offers some good resources for self-guided bike tours, as does Backroads.
Historical Site Visits
Historical site visits are a fantastic way to spend a day, especially if you’re travelling abroad. Cities throughout Europe are laden with historical sites, tracing back to the earliest inhabitation of the regions by humans thousands of years ago.
Exploring historical sites blends the fun, informative experience of visiting a museum with a more active and flexible experience – while many historical sites do have dedicated museum centers, much of the activities you’ll partake in will involve exploring buildings, ruins, and other structures on your own.
Traveling with an aging adult doesn’t have to be a compromise in fun. Healthy, active adults are capable of just about any activity – the sky’s the limit. Just bear in mind the particular needs of your aging loved one, and select activities that are appropriate for their fitness level and interests, and we guarantee you’ll have a fantastic time, no matter where you go.
You stop by your mother’s apartment weekly to fill her pill box because she gets confused so easily. You take your Dad to every medical appointment because he can no longer drive. You receive middle-of-the-night emergency calls regularly from one of your parents who has fallen or doesn’t “feel right.” It’s time to start planning your annual multigenerational vacation and you wonder if traveling with aging parents is the right thing to do. Here are three questions to help you (and them) make the decision:
How will your parent feel about missing out on the trip?
Sometimes aging parents know that a trip is too much for them and they’d rather stay home. For example, if you are going to the mountains to ski and snowboard, maybe Mom resents hanging back at the cabin with a hot chocolate while everyone enjoys the snow. When there are no decent hospitals that can be quickly accessed from your vacation destination, bringing your parent with chronic conditions might not be a great idea. If your parent has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, it’s possible she won’t realize a family vacation is on the horizon. In those cases, it’s often best to travel without the aging parent (as long as adequate care is provided back at home).
On the other hand, maybe there are friends and family that your father sees only when he goes on this annual trip so the idea of skipping it is devastating. If your parents are eagerly looking forward to the vacation or are expressing anxiety about being left out, it may be best to plan a way to include them.
If you bring them, how do you make sure you aren’t caregiving during the entire vacation?
In the case of a multigenerational family week at the beach or mountains, talk to everyone attending ahead of time about what sorts of caregiving activities they’d be comfortable helping with. For example, if you will be in charge of helping Mom in the bathroom, who will volunteer to assist her at mealtimes?
Another option is to pay for help, particularly if others in the family balk at participating in caregiving during vacation. If Mom already has a home health aide, could that person accompany the family on the vacation? Or perhaps you could hire someone local in the vacation vicinity to assist. Contacting your local Area Agency on Aging (www.n4a.org) for a list of individual providers may be helpful. Or if you are already working with a national home care agency like Right At Home, Home Instead, Bright Star or Comfort Keepers, see if there is an affiliated franchise in the resort town that could help. If Mom doesn’t have funds to pay for a professional caregiver, perhaps each family member can chip in what they can afford.
Are you willing to set firm boundaries with your parent about the parameters of the vacation?
Many caregivers are not adept at setting healthy boundaries with their aging parents. Remind your parents that while their needs are important, so are everyone else’s. If you are going to Disney World, remind Dad how long the days are and how much walking there will be. While it’s his prerogative to decline a wheelchair, let him know the family is not going to be stopping every ten minutes so he can take a break. If everyone wants to go to a baseball game but Mom prefers to see a movie, let her know the options. Maybe the two of you will see the movie when you’re back home. She could also can spend those couple hours alone or with her caregiver at the film while everyone else enjoys the game. Or perhaps Mom can simply agree to go along with the “majority rules” theme of a family vacation. While your aging parent’s wishes should be respected on the vacation, caregiving shouldn’t dictate the entire trip.
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In the last chapter of my book Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel, I ask seniors for their advice on managing conflict when traveling with family. The majority of my book is from the perspective of an adult child helping their aging parents, however, a lot can be gained from learning from our elders on how they put up with us…
What advice do you have for managing conflict that arises between you and your adult child when traveling together?
When I asked Mom if she had any concerns about traveling with me, reminding her that I can be in a bad mood at times (particularly when I’m tired!), she replied, “Yes, you do get crabby. But I figure we can work through it, because we both love to travel together and see new things. That’s what we did on our first trip together, and we’ve done it ever since.” When I’m in a foul mood, Mom’s strategy for handling me without making my mood (or the situation) worse is to avoid addressing concerns “in the heat of the moment.” When things have calmed down a bit (perhaps as we’re having a cocktail), she’ll ask if I’m having an issue with her or if there’s something else going on that she can help me resolve. Her “let me help” approach reminds me that there’s not much we can’t figure out together—a team mentality that usually helps us laugh about the situation (and my overreaction).
Mom offers two additional recommendations for avoiding conflict when aging parents and their adult children travel together:
Have some time to yourself, even if it’s just 30 minutes or so a day. That little bit of space will do wonders—particularly if the other person is starting to get on your nerves.
Get a room with a separate seating area. Even if you don’t spend much time in the room, being on top of each other in a small space can cause tension even in the best of relationships. If possible, book a room with enough breathing room for everyone.
Having a little alone time (even just to read) helps keep emotions in check when traveling with family. A bitching view doesn’t hurt either…
Like Mom, most of the survey respondents consider communication the best tool for handling interpersonal conflict, with more than half of them saying they “talk it out” if a problem occurs or if they and their children are getting irritated with one another. Many also recognize the value of taking a break in order to calm down. “Take time outs!” urged Sally (72) from Indiana. Sylvia (57) from Rhode Island offered a similar recommendation: “If [my son] gets me mad, I still tell him off and then take a time out—away from him!” Clearly, travelers of all ages can benefit from a good old-fashioned time out! Respondents shared other thoughts on dealing with interpersonal conflict during trips with their children:
I stay firm on what I feel is best, but try very hard to make a conflict [into] a compromise. (Mary Louisa, 55, Florida)
I’m the parent! They wouldn’t dare argue! (Robin, 58, Illinois)
Change the subject. (Diane, 70, New Jersey)
I just keep my mouth shut. And let them do what they want. (Frances, 83, Louisiana)
Never argue. (Oralia, 61, Texas)
Give them space. (Debbie, 55, Michigan)
Love, patience, and respect. (Reta, 60, Alabama)
Same way I always have: I bite my tongue—a little more since they grew up. (Ann, 62, South Carolina)
I ignore her. (Edna, 64, North Carolina)
Many respondents mentioned one particular area of potential conflict: fear of being burdens to their adult children. Patricia (67) from Georgia wrote, “I don’t like to feel like I slow [my children] down”—a sentiment shared by many aging parents. Early on in our travels together, I learned that if Mom thought I felt hassled by having her on vacation with me, that feeling would destroy any chance she had of having fun. So when we travel together, I make it a point to reassure her (through both words and actions) that she’s not a burden to me. Communication is key: if you’re worried that your adult children perceive you as an inconvenient annoyance, speak with them about this in a quiet moment. Explain how you’re feeling and ask what you can do to make things easier for them. Taking the time to “talk it out” and make adjustments that help each other feel included and welcome can ensure that you all have a great time during your travels.
Nearly all (97%) of the survey respondents said that they love to travel with their adult children even though interpersonal conflict does arise from time to time. Mom says that when conflict arises, parents and children alike “should either talk it out or have a method for letting go and not engaging in the heat of battle,” and I think she’s absolutely right. Knowing that conflict is a possibility—and that everyone encounters it at some point—and having a plan for dealing with it will go a long toward keeping tempers calm (and the trip a success) if it occurs while you and your child are traveling together.
As we gear up for holiday travel, offer respect for your parents’ input, just as you ask the same in return. Good luck and happy holidays! Val
After a guest blog on travel insurance, it felt appropriate to follow it with blog on staying healthy on the road while traveling with an aging parent….enjoy!
Getting sick is always the pits, but it’s even worse when you’re on vacation. In addition to wasting money and precious vacation time, an illness on the road can be even more difficult to manage when you lack ready access to the prescriptions and over-the-counter medications that can help you get better faster. Staying healthy while on the road is even more critical if your aging parent has medical conditions that require specialty medication not easily accessible. Adding insult to injury, getting sick while traveling can be worse than usual, simply because you’re not home: there’s a lot to be said about the benefits of being in your own bed when you’re unwell! And for aging
Mom seriously hurt her knee in Cambodia and it really slowed her down the rest of the trip. Fortunately, the hotel had Bailey’s.
Unfortunately, travel can often make us more susceptible to illness. In addition to the risk factors present at your destination, conditions during the journey itself can increase your odds of getting sick. (Who among us hasn’t felt the first hint of a sore throat—or something even worse—after sitting on a plane for hours surrounded by coughing passengers?) Doing what you can to ensure that you’re as healthy as possible before embarking on vacation is a good precaution for you to take—and doubly so for your aging parents. In addition to being healthy before you go, you should also include knowing how to stay healthy while you’re on the road.
In case you’re sneaking in a family trip before the summer is over, here are 8 tips for you and your parent to stay healthy:
Visit a travel medicine specialist (aka a travel doctor) – While certainly critical if you’re visiting a developing country, this is equally important if you’re traveling in the United States or other developed country, as a travel doctor can ensure both you and your parent are current on all your vaccines before you hit the road. Primary care physicians may or may not be up on vaccines which a travel specialist would (as an example, a travel doctor would know that anyone living in the U.S. should get vaccines for tetanus, pneumonia, and shingles, whether they travel or not).
Wash your hands often – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that more than 8 million people board a flight every day (that’s over 3 billion people a year). That’s a lot of grubby hands and who knows where they’ve been. Wash your hands often to cut down on the transfer of germs from others.
Carry sanitizing wipes – I always have hand sanitizer in my carry-on just in case access to the restroom is not an option (such as during bumpy weather). Another great idea though is to carry sanitizing wipe with you so you can wipe down the fold down tray. Who knows how well the cleaning crew really cleans the interior of airplanes and even so, you only need one flight for the tray to be handled by someone with a cold or flu.
Do some activities – I love working out while on the road. In fact, I find I’m much more dedicated when I’m in a strange location vs. when I’m at home (where I can find all kinds of distractions!). Staying active boosts your immune system, releases endorphins and helps with staying mentally sharp. That helps me, but what about Mom? She is definitely the tougher sell, particularly as her knees hurt all the time (hence why she travels in a wheelchair for anything over a short city block). If this sounds familiar, check out my previous recommendations for stationary exercises which can be used when flying or once you arrive at your destination.
Hydrate and limit alcohol consumption – This one is tough as mom and I both love our cocktails (Bailey’s for Mom, wine or Grey Goose vodka for me). This is particularly critical for long hauls flights as dehydration can be factor in developing deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in the leg). That said, anytime you’re traveling, it’s good to stay hydrated. Mom and I have a pact that for every adult beverage we consume, we have to drink a glass of water in between. No water, no cocktail. This has been particularly effective with mom as she hates drinking water (and I rarely think about it) so we make a game of checking each other’s consumption.
Stay on schedule with medications – This will go a long way toward ensuring that your parents stay healthy on the road. During the transit phase of your vacation, plenty of things can go wrong and distract you from remembering either your or your parents’ pill schedules. So do your homework before the trip by pre-programming alarms, putting reminders in a book, marking your calendar, making use of a pill organizer, or doing whatever else you must to ensure that your parents stay on schedule.
Skip the carbs – Protein helps you resist infection and keep your immune system healthy. So skip the carbs at meal-time and bring healthy protein-laden snacks with you including pumpkin seeds, almonds or other nuts, oatmeal-raisin cookies (one of mom’s favorites!) or low-sodium beef or turkey jerky. Arrive early at the airport so you have time for a pre-flight meal loaded with fruits, vegetables and low-fat proteins vs. relying on airline food (assuming your airline even offers food). Maintaining a healthy balance while you’re on vacation can go a long way in not getting sick.
Rest and get plenty of sleep – The health benefits of getting enough sleep are often touted. For myself, whether I’m on the road or not, if I skimp on sleep for several days in a row, chances are I’ll feel the sniffles coming on (at least). Not only are there plenty of reasons for your physical well-being, it also helps mom and I get along better if we’re not overly tired and therefore more prone to snipping at each other. Although many travel warriors recommending forcing yourself to stay up when you land in a foreign country, Mom and I take short naps upon arrival so we can actually stand to be around one another.
Bon voyage! Mom and I would love to see pictures of your trip – be sure and share on our TWAP Facebook page!
Hi folks! I received a Guest Post submission from Fast Cover (insurance company) that I thought gave great advice on a really important topic: finding travel insurance for an aging parent. I find insurance (of any kind) confusing, and the article breaks it down into manageable chunks which are easily followed.
As Mom has gotten older, I’m more inclined to purchase insurance as she has gotten sick, forcing us to cancel vacation. The last time this happened was a trip to Disney World over Christmas 2013. Everything was paid up-front and I foolishly didn’t purchase insurance. When Mom got sick and ended up in the hospital, we lost thousands of dollars. So now, I always take airline insurance for her flights and at a minimum, I’ll price out insurance for high dollar vacations with penalties and/or non-refundable purchases. This article gives some great tips on what to ask for. Thanks to Fast Cover for their submission and happy trails to all our TWAP followers!
Finding the right travel insurance for an aging parent can involve taking some time scouring and comparing policy benefits. But when it comes to purchasing a travel insurance policy for an aging parent, you can find yourself contending with age restrictions and more expensive premiums, amongst other things. Of course it is highly likely that you can find a senior travel insurance policy, but whether you’re getting the best deal on the premium and whether it provides all the benefits you need are other questions.
Finding the right travel insurance policy for your parent can take time, but it becomes a lot simpler when you understand the key benefits and exclusions you should be looking for.
Here is a breakdown of some of the important components of travel insurance so that you are better equipped to choose a policy for your mom or dad.
Various travel insurance companies will impose age restrictions on their policies. For example some travel insurers won’t offer cover to seniors over a certain age at all, while other companies may only impose an age restriction on Annual or Multi-Trip policies. You should also be aware that age restrictions can apply to pre-existing medical conditions; for example, a company may provide coverage for asthma but only for travelers up to a particular age. Check the pre-existing medical conditions that are covered by a travel insurance policy to better understand any restrictions that may apply.
Pre-existing medical conditions
A travel insurance company may provide coverage for a range of pre-existing medical conditions. A pre-existing medical condition may include anything your parent is diagnosed with, taking medication for or has symptoms of. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, while common and often well-managed, can still be considered pre-existing medical conditions. The pre-existing medical conditions which may be covered can be found in the product disclosure statement. Cover can vary significantly between different insurers, as can what they consider to be pre-existing medical conditions. You should always read the PDS carefully to ensure it provides the cover you are after. If a condition isn’t listed, then there’s a good chance it won’t be covered. In some cases, you can pay an additional premium to cover the condition.
Some pre-existing medical conditions can be excluded under a travel insurance company’s policy benefits completely. For example, various companies do not provide medical cover to travelers for any claims arising from their prescribed blood thinning medication. Make sure you have a detailed understanding of your parents’ pre-existing medical conditions before you approach travel insurance.
Activities your aging parent will be covered for
I’m not sure all of our activities would be covered – you know Mom is a Wild Woman!
Like the case with pre-existing medical conditions, travel insurance may automatically cover a range of activities such as snorkelling or kayaking. Other activities may not be automatically covered so if you plan on a more adventurous holiday with your parent where you will be doing activities such as scuba diving past certain depths or deep sea fishing, check whether they will be covered. Cover for activities such as skiing and snowboarding may also be subject to an age restriction.
Coverage for valuables
Hearing aids, wheelchairs, and other valuables such as jewellery may not be covered by a travel insurance policy automatically. You can check to see if you can add cover for this onto your travel insurance policy, or check whether it is covered already in their home and contents insurance.
The excess is the amount of any claim a policy holder will be responsible for. For example, if your parent needs to make a claim for $2,000 and there’s a $500 excess applying to that section of the policy, the $500 excess would be deducted from the amount paid under the claim. Excess on a travel insurance policy can alter between age groups. Check the excess before you purchase a policy.
Getting the best deal
There’s a few steps you can take to make sure you get the best deal on a travel insurance policy. First of all, take the time to compare a few policies before deciding on one. Comparison websites are a great way to compare many options in a short period of time. When you’ve found a policy, see if your parent can get a discount as a senior. It never hurts to ask! Remember that policies are generally cheaper for younger travelers. That means purchasing a policy before your parent’s next birthday can make a difference! Some travel insurance companies will also offer discounts for loyal customers, so it can be of benefit to find out if there’s a loyalty discount for a travel insurance company that covers your parent.
Also remember that cancellation cover generally begins as soon as a policy with this benefit is issued. You can often purchase travel insurance up to a year in advance, which means you can have cover for months before you and your parent actually go travelling. If your parent becomes sick or injured before the trip, they may be able to claim for lost expenses if they have their policy already in place.
The fine print:
Fast Cover Pty Ltd ABN 98 143 196 098 AR No.381399 (“Fast Cover”) arranges this insurance as an authorized representative of AGA Assistance Australia Pty Ltd, ABN 52 097 227 177, AFSL 245631 trading as Allianz Global Assistance. This insurance is issued and managed by Allianz Global Assistance as agent of the insurer Allianz Australia Insurance Limited ABN 15 000 122 850 AFSL 234708. Terms, conditions, limits and exclusions apply. We do not provide any advice on this insurance based on any consideration of your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before buying this product, you should consider the Combined Financial Services Guide and Product Disclosure Statement (including policy wording) available on the Fast Cover website www.fastcover.com.au to decide if this product is right for you. If you purchase a policy, Fast Cover receives a commission which is a percentage of your premium – ask us for more information before we provide you with any services on this product.
I’m so excited for long-time friend of Travel with Aging Parents, MariF as she is traveling with her Mom to Costa Rica for the first time in August (and flying with an electric wheelchair). Of all the countries I’ve been to before, Costa Rica has a special place in my heart as I was basking in the infinity pool at the La Mariposa Hotel on my 40th birthday (I turn 50 this year). One of my best birthdays ever. The people are just lovely Mari so I am sure you’re going to have a great time.
Now, on to her question. Mari is going to rent an electric wheelchair for the trip, something I’ve actually not done for Mom yet. After exploring this topic though, it’s definitely something I would consider as it’s easier than I thought to arrange! The biggest caveat is to coordinate with the airlines sooner rather than later to ensure they have room on the plane (typically in the cargo hold). Most if not all airlines allow only one electric wheelchair per flight (due to weight limitations) so you need to confirm with the airline before actually booking your tickets.
Rent a Travel Power Wheelchair (vs. an electric wheelchair)
Mari, when renting a power wheelchair, you may want to look for a specific type designed for travel. This way, it can be folded or disassembled while on an airplane or in a car once you get in country (this is great because you can then jump in any taxi vs. needing a van with a ramp). Travel wheel chairs are lighter and take up less space than an electric power wheelchair. Once disassembled, the heaviest part of a travel electric wheelchair typically ranges from 80 to 60 pounds, and can support weight up to 300 pounds.
Checking an Electric Wheelchair
One option is to check the electric wheelchair at the ticket counter and instead use the airline’s wheelchair to get you to the gate. You may also take your electric wheelchair all the way to the gate and check it planeside (see below for more details).
If the wheelchair will fit upright through the aircraft cargo compartment door (ask dimensions when booking your flight) — or if it can be stowed upright in the cargo compartment — the airline typically will not need to disassemble your electric/battery-powered wheelchair and will leave the batteries attached. If the wheelchair requires disassembly before going into the cargo hold, mention this at the ticket counter before heading through security to ensure proper handling. Detachable items, like seat cushions and footrests, can be carried onboard or checked with the wheelchair in the cargo compartment. If disassembly of the wheelchair is required, always attach assembly/disassembly instructions, along with your wheelchair’s specific battery type, to the wheelchair.
If you’d prefer to use your personal wheelchair within the airport, arrange with the airline to check it at your departure gate and return it to you at your destination gate or at a connecting airport. Keep in mind, however, that the time between connecting flights may be insufficient to provide this service during layover, especially if disassembly and re-assembly of your wheelchair is required. If time is a factor, I recommend taking advantage of the airline’s wheelchair service to get you from gate to gate during a layover.
It’s very important to know how to disconnect the power from the batteries when you get to the aircraft. Locate that cable and mark each half of the connector with yellow tape. Practice separating and reconnecting the connectors. This may keep them from pulling your batteries out of the chair.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Understand that airlines swap aircraft all the time. Therefore, call to reconfirm with the airline 24-48 hours before you fly to ensure they have your reservation and that size of the cargo doors. Secondly, even if the airline said it would fit through the cargo door when you booked the reservation, it’s always smart to have disassembly/assembly directions attached to the wheelchair just in case.
Getting an Electric Wheelchair through Security
Electric wheelchairs are permissible through airport security although it’s highly recommended that you get to the airport super early to ensure you’re not rushed if they do additional inspection (which they probably will).
If your Mom cannot walk through the metal detector, be prepared for a pat down from the TSA going through security.
Mari, I get the feeling that your mom can walk through the metal detector, but if she cannot, she can be screened in the electric wheelchair. This will involve a visual and physical (pat-down) inspection as well as an explosives trace screening. The pat-down inspection is necessary because neither a metal detector nor a whole body imaging device can be used on passengers who are seated in a scooter or wheelchair. You can ask for a private pat down if you like. Meanwhile, you’ll need to place baskets, saddlebags, wheelchair assembly tools, purses and other carry-on items on the X-ray machine belt. If this is difficult for you to do, ask your security screener to help you (although I would be prepared to help as I’ve found TSA is typically too busy and can get a little surly about it). In addition to the patdown, TSA may use technology to test for traces of explosive material.
Final Travel Tips with an Electric Wheelchair
Be sure and rent from a reputable company (check for reviews and if possible, verify those reviews are real). You don’t want to have an issue with your wheelchair while on vacation (although if you do, just have your hotel order you a manual wheelchair).
Discuss with the rental place what typically can breaks on your electric wheelchair and bring a toolkit along to fix minor issues. Good to be prepared!
Mari: important to note, you may need to bring adaptive equipment for the battery charger (to convert from 220 to 110 voltage). Before you go, discuss the electricity they offer.
Good luck Mari and please send pictures! I’m SO excited for you!
I had a gentleman reach out via the Travel with Aging Parents Facebook page and ask me how to prepare for the emotional baggage that seems to accompany him when he travels with his parents. Troy is gearing up for a guy’s trip with Dad over Memorial weekend and “letting go of emotional baggage can be tough.”
First Troy let me just say that I get it. No, let me say that again “I GET IT!” Even after traveling 350,000+ miles with Mom, I’m still a little girl of 6 who Mom is going to tell what to do all the time. I’ve told the story many times, but one of our major fights was when I came out of the bedroom and Mom said “Are you going to where that lipstick to dinner?” My retort: “OF COURSE I AM MOM – IT’S ON MY LIPS!!”
Amazing how a friend could have said the same thing and I would be fine, but when it comes from a parent, it’s loaded with seeming judgment (and resentment on my part) from long ago. I tackled this topic in a previous blog post Troy, so I suggest starting there on how to let go of your emotional baggage.
Now, lest you think that you’re the only one bringing baggage to the party, don’t fret: your Dad surely has his own issues, especially if he can’t do all the things he used to be able to do. As you get older, you probably get annoyed to find your body hurting in new places each year (I sure do!). Now try to see things from your parent’s point of view. Imagine being excited to go on vacation and then realizing once you’re there that you can’t keep up. How frustrating would that be? This feeling is “excruciating,” according to my mother, and it can cause her serious angst about vacationing with my brother and me if we let her stew on it (which we do not). We remind her that we want her along and that we’re having a great time with her! (Do the same with your Dad.)
Here’s one poignant example: a few years ago, Mom used a wheelchair for the first time. I had made arrangements for it without telling her—and she was not happy about it.
Val: What did you think when the Delta Airlines rep showed up with a wheelchair in Indianapolis Airport to wheel you to the gate when we were flying to China?
Mom: I was actually mad, and I couldn’t believe you would do that without asking me first.
Val: If I had asked you, you would have said no.
Mom: Exactly! A wheelchair is for old people!
To my mom, wheelchair users are “old”—and who wants to admit to being that? Later, it became clear to me that her pride had been hurt: she didn’t want to be seen as someone who couldn’t make it on her own. (She still feels that way 10 years later!)
I’ve learned from my experiences with Mom that a parent’s reluctance to use a wheelchair is a very personal matter and one that you may have to address while on vacation together. The decision whether to use a wheelchair is a very personal one (and usually comes with plenty of emotional baggage), so I encourage you not to push your aging parent if he or she isn’t ready to take this step.
If you think that your parents’ mobility may be an issue during your trip, here are a few suggestions for tackling such a prickly topic with them:
Review the list of possible trip activities with your parents, noting the physical activity level of each item. Get their input and pay particular attention to what excites them the most. If they’re interested in an activity that’s a stretch for their physical abilities, make arrangements to rent a wheelchair at that site. Once you arrive, mention to your parents that if they become fatigued, you can rent a wheelchair so they can get around easier and not miss anything.
I used this approach the first time I rented a wheelchair for Mom at an attraction. I didn’t mention her inability to keep up (and thus embarrass her), but I did say that I didn’t want her to miss anything! She met this suggestion with resounding enthusiasm, because she hates the idea of missing something good even more than the thought of being in a wheelchair.
Rent a wheelchair ahead of time and have it waiting in your hotel room when you arrive. This way, if your parent decides to use it, it’s already there and readily available (and not something you have to try to arrange at the last minute).
If possible, rent an electric wheelchair rather than a push-from-behind model. It’s like a car! And it gives your parents the freedom to go where they want without assistance. These chairs can go fast, though, be prepared to jump out the way quickly (or get hurt)!
Donald Duck helping Mom onto her electric cart.
Mom is a MANIAC on an electric cart and always runs into me!
Every time we’ve rented an electric wheelchair for her, Mom has accidentally run into me from behind.
She’s a speed demon in her car, and that attitude certainly carries over when she’s driving an electric wheelchair. The last time we were at Disney World, the staff there warned her several times to slow down. I was oddly proud of her for this—right up until she rammed me!
Which member of your family does your parent listen to the best? People are often more receptive to feedback and requests from certain family members—and often unable even to consider suggestions from others. So if you want to encourage your parent to take a particular course of action, choose the messenger wisely!
This is definitely true in my family, and my brother and I use this knowledge as our secret weapon: if Mom refuses to do something (in the “we both know it’s best for her, but she’s being stubborn about it” category) that I’ve asked her to do, I ask my brother to step in, and invariably she’ll listens to him. I’m not necessarily happy about this situation, but through the years I’ve lightened up a bit and learned to accept it as one of those “that’s how it is” things. And ultimately, getting her to fulfill my request is more important than trying to avoid bruising my ego by getting my brother’s help.
When broaching the subject of using a wheelchair, do so privately. Don’t put your parents on the spot in front of everyone and make a big (and public) deal about the fact that they cannot keep up.
If your parent starts to falter while you’re out and about, just go get a wheelchair, bring it to where he or she is sitting, and mention something exciting that’s just around the corner: “Grab on, and let’s go for a ride! “ If you make using a wheelchair something fun (instead of something that seems punitive), your parent may be more likely to give it a try.
Most importantly, respect your parents’ wishes. If they truly do not want to be in a wheelchair, don’t force them to use one. They’ll get there at some point—just perhaps not this trip. Until then, consider finding a nice spot for them to sit and people-watch while the rest of you explore a site.
My mom’s interest in tourist attractions varies (she’s so not into looking at temples or other religious sites), but she still wants to come along. Fortunately, she’s as happy as a clam to hang out and people-watch on her own while the rest of us take our time checking out a site. This is really a great option—and one I deploy at least once during every vacation with Mom.
Here are a few more non–wheelchair–specific thoughts to keep in mind as you plan your trip:
I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating: avoid scheduling nonstop activities. Everyone (not just your parents) benefits from breaks and downtime during vacation.
Plan the most physically strenuous activity for the time of day when your parents are at their peak energy levels.
Contact the hotel before your trip and request the room closest to the elevator and the front entrance. There’s no reason for your parents to wear themselves out just going to the lobby!
If you’re interested in activities beyond your parents’ capabilities, discuss with them how they would feel if you went off on your own for a couple of hours while they hung out by the hotel pool or did some other low-key activity by themselves. This way their vacation can continue even when you’re not there. Who knows—they might be happy to have some time to themselves!
Mom chillin’ poolside.
When I’m off exploring on my own, Mom doesn’t stay cooped up her in room but lounges by the pool or goes for a stroll around the hotel. If she’s out for a walk and needs a break, she’ll hang out on a bench and watch the people go by (a favorite pastime of hers, especially in new cities).
Your parents will have a better time if they don’t feel like they’re burdens because they can’t keep up. You’ve scheduled this time with them, so use it to relax and just hang out together. Find great restaurants, for example, and enjoy long delicious meals in each other’s company. You both will probably enjoy those shared experiences just as much (if not more) than spending time at the greatest of tourist sites!
These days, I prefer to travel light so I can avoid those annoying fees for checked luggage. If airlines could figure out a way to check my emotional baggage (and Mom’s), though, I’d happily pay for that convenience! Unfortunately, airlines don’t provide that service. So until they do, we all have to learn how to handle our emotional baggage ourselves. It’s not as difficult as it seems, though. Just pause, take a deep breath, and remind yourself how lucky you are to be alive and going on a trip with your Dad.
Good luck Troy and please let us know how it goes!