Trip Tips for Older Travelers with Health Considerations
You have likely seen this wonderful story recently: Brad Ryan attempting to take his Grandma Joy, now 89, to visit all 61 national parks. Over the past four years, they’ve visited 49. Grandma Joy has lived in the same small town in Ohio her entire life. She’s never been to the mountains or the ocean. Brad changed that for her. To see their travel adventures story, click here.
Is there a destination you’ve been wanting to visit? Have health considerations or age kept you or an older loved one from traveling and enjoying the experience? We’re not all as ambitious as Brad and Grandma Joy but we could be letting concern about travel stand in the way of a much-needed visit with family or friends or an opportunity to enjoy a special destination.
With some thoughtful planning, we can all enjoy a little time away. Certainly, there might be bumps along the way but anticipating those potential obstacles will lessen travel stress and help bring joy to the journey.
Here are some ideas for planning ahead that will help ensure you or an older loved one is ready for an adventure:
- Consider your strengths and interests and let those be your guide.
- Have a written, shareable itinerary and make sure that others have it, too.
- Take breaks and enlist help.
- If you take medication, have a pill organizer (some refer to it as a “mediset”) filled and in your carry-on baggage. Include instructions.
- Have an ID card with an emergency contact and health information.
- If traveling internationally, make sure you have an international call plan for your phone. Also, you may want to investigate overseas coverage on your insurance.
Focus on strengths and interests in planning a trip
What do we mean by strengths? Too often, people will dismiss the idea of travel based on mobility limitations or concerns about cognitive changes. Taking a strengths-based approach when planning for travel acknowledges health concerns and considerations but opens us to the idea that travel can take many different forms.
Begin with some small steps first—plan a day trip or a weekend exploring local destinations such as museums, botanical gardens, parks, a bookstore, or chocolate shop, followed by a meal at a favorite restaurant. Get your footing, find your “travel” balance, and build confidence.
Build an itinerary
Plan ahead. Whatever your mode of travel, a written itinerary is essential in guiding the trip. Don’t pack too much activity into one day. Recognize that time differences, new surroundings, and too much activity can play havoc on sleep patterns, appetite, and your sense of well-being. Best to specifically tailor your travel with intentional down time.
Be flexible. Not everything will go according to plan, so roll with the punches. A good sense of humor helps, too.
Make sure you share the itinerary with family or friends who won’t be traveling with you, so that they can check in and be of support, especially in case there is an emergency.
Take breaks and enlist help
When traveling by car, plan regular stops along the way. Frequent breaks are important to stretch your legs, use the facilities, hydrate, and nourish mind, body, and soul. If flying, make sure that you have an escort at both ends if the older adult is traveling alone. If someone has health concerns, you can arrange for a traveling nurse as an escort.
A few simple steps can ensure that medications aren’t an impediment to travel. Pill organizers are inexpensive and can help enormously. You can even arrange to have your pills prepackaged through your pharmacy. Make sure to have the organizer or packs in your carry-on luggage in case your other luggage goes missing. In addition, a written prescription list and instructions, packed along with the organizer, can help others in assisting. Make sure you know about pharmacies at your destination too, just in case.
Carry an ID card with emergency contact and health information
You can easily create a card with emergency contact and health information, and have it laminated. Pack it in carry-on luggage. List emergency contact names and numbers, as well as health information. If for some reason you or the individual you are traveling with has a medical emergency or is unable to communicate, the emergency contact information card is a quick reference to help connect with family, support, and medical professionals.
Consider international communications
It’s good to add an international calling plan for your phone so you’re not surprised by extra charges when you return home. You can cancel it upon return. When traveling overseas, investigate global medical insurance coverage for extra peace of mind while traveling.
While this isn’t a comprehensive list, my hope is it will give you encouragement to make and implement travel plans you might not otherwise have considered.
For more information about traveling, here are some additional resources:
- Savvy Senior Travelers (Rick Steves’ Europe)
- Travel Tips & Planning Advice for 50-Plus Travelers (AARP)
- Seniors and Travel (AginginPlace.org)
- Elite Cruises & Vacations (focused on dementia-friendly travel)
Contributor Michelle Maeda, B.Sc., CMC, is a Certified Care Manager at Aging Wisdom, a graduate of the University of Hawaii, and has worked in social services for 30 years, the past 25 with older adults and their families.