Best Tips for Traveling with Elderly Parents

Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Traveling with Elderly Parents

Planes, Canes, and Automobile. Traveling with Elderly Parents
Planes, Canes, and Automobile. Traveling with Elderly Parents

An excerpt from Valerie Grubb’s new book on travel with your parents

By Valerie Grubb

With a father as a pilot, Valerie Grubb began traveling at the age of four. She and her mom took their first overseas vacation together more than 20 years ago and have logged over 300,000 miles (and counting) since.

Throughout the last 20 years, they have visited destinations such as Thailand, France, Australia, China, Italy, and Cambodia.

Originally from Indiana, she currently lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Find her book, Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel on Amazon.

Chapter 6: Checking Your Emotional Baggage While on the Road

You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right. Anne Lamott

Techniques for “Letting Go”

On those unavoidable days when your buttons are pushed too hard, resist the urge to fight. Just let it go—let go of being right, of having the last word, of proving how smart you are.

After all, we’re adults now, and part of being a grown-up is letting go. (Right?) So count to 10 quietly to yourself, leave the room, or just close your eyes and take a deep breath. Here are a few more ideas on how to let go and get on with a great vacation.

Get Sleep

Nothing makes me crabby and quick to anger more than being tired. In fact, sometimes I can hardly stand to be around myself when I’ve fallen behind on sleep. Unfortunately, the same goes for my mom. So when we’re both jet-lagged from flying halfway around the globe, it’s best to avoid us during that first 24 hours!

Although many seasoned road warriors and travel sites say that the best way to ease the transition to a new time zone is to stay awake until the local bedtime, I prefer to listen to my body. If it’s begging for sleep—particularly to the point where I’m feeling sick—I lie down for a quick snooze of just 30 to 60 minutes.

This little power nap does wonders for my attitude (and for Mom’s, because she takes a nap, too!): afterward, my nerves aren’t as frayed, and my hot buttons don’t get pushed as easily.

So definitely prioritize sleep during your trip. Do what you can to catch some winks while en route (not always an easy task, since it’s difficult to sleep in those uncomfortable airplane seats), and take care of yourself once you arrive at your destination. Making sure you’re well-rested will go a long way toward helping you keep your emotional baggage in check.

Don’t Overbook

Valerie Grubb, author of Planes, Canes, and Automobile. Traveling with Elderly Parents
Valerie Grubb

When I travel, I have a tendency to plan out every moment of the trip (and I do mean every moment).

When Mom and I travel together, we inevitably fall behind on my carefully planned-out schedule. Then I start looking for where to pin the blame—and that’s a mindset that leads nowhere good.

Let go of the goal of “seeing everything there is to see” in a city and instead focus on enjoying and experiencing your new surroundings.

Take the time to have a glass of wine at an outdoor café or enjoy a leisurely meal (including dessert!) at a restaurant you read about on the flight over. Just be in the moment and let the world revolve around you.

Sure, you want to see and do lots of stuff. But you won’t enjoy much of it if you run yourselves ragged. So plan downtime into your trip schedule, to give you and your parent opportunities to catch your breath and notice the rhythm of the city around you.

Plan Activities on Your Own

To help keep a positive mindset while on vacation, do some research before you go on your trip and identify activities that you and your parent can do together as well as activities that you can each do separately. Being in contact 24/7 while on vacation can tax even the best of relationships (Mom and I can attest to this!), so give each other a bit of space and some time alone.

The author and her family in the Blue Mountains of Australia.
The author and her family in the Blue Mountains of Australia.

On our trip to Australia, for example, I spent a day diving at the Great Barrier Reef while Mom hung out by the hotel pool and read, ate, and drank.

We both had a marvelous day doing our own things. The time apart made our time together that much more special—and gave us a lot to chat about over dinner that evening!

Separate activities don’t have to be all-day affairs, though. Sometimes all you need is an hour here or there apart. I typically take a walk by myself first thing each day before

Mom is up and moving around, for example. Or in lieu of a walk, I visit a local coffee joint for an early-morning espresso before enjoying a leisurely breakfast later with Mom (meal times have only slowed down with her as she’s gotten in her 80s).

Going to the gym is also something I’ll do solo (Mom would never have an interest in joining me), and it’s a healthy activity that lets me burn off calories (or stress) that may be building up.

Bring Along a Healthy Dose of Patience

You’ve probably heard the saying “Patience is a virtue.” Before I started traveling with Mom, I wouldn’t say that was part of my standard mindset. But now, whenever our plane races down the runway at the start of a new trip together, I remind myself to be the “Queen of Patience” with Mom and with all things on our upcoming adventure. I cannot change or control how other people (including my mom) will react.

But I can make a pact with myself to be relaxed and patient while I am on vacation.

The key is to remember that when they’re on a trip your parents are out of their element and might need some extra time (and patience from you!) to handle all the temporary changes in their lives.

As I pointed out in chapter 1, when I travel with Mom everything needs to s-l-o-o-o-o-w down. We start our day later, we take more breaks, and we stick to regular mealtimes (critical to maintaining Mom’s pill schedule).

Planes, Canes, and Automobiles.

For more travel tips and information, visit or connect with Valerie on Facebook and Twitter.

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