Even though COVID is still very much a concern, more people are traveling again. For many of those 65 and over in the United States, 89% of whom are fully vaccinated, the opportunity to visit friends and family who are far from home, despite the requisite masks and other precautions, is too appealing to pass up.
“If you are vaccinated, your family is vaccinated, you have friends who are vaccinated – and hopefully also boosted – you can still enjoy a social gathering generally in a home,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNBC about traveling.
Yet, caregivers or family members who will travel with older loved ones should still prepare for their trips carefully and as thoroughly as they can. Besides vaccinations for COVID, many other concerns should be addressed regarding older travelers.
What to do before you start traveling
Before planning any trip with an older adult, the most important thing to do is to consult with their primary care physician to ensure they’re healthy enough to travel. Some medical conditions make flying dangerous, including:
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Recent surgeries
- Congestive heart failure
- Those with colostomies
For those with these illnesses, alternative travel options such as trains and cars are recommended. Your older adult’s physician will tell you what the best option is, and you can start your planning with that information in mind.
What you need to travel comfortably
Once you’ve been given the green light to start planning your journey, it will be essential to have everything needed for your loved one’s comfort and well-being on hand. There’s no reason to overpack, but it’s good to have ample supplies of some items that will make your trip easier. Some of these are:
- Protective undergarments
- Medications organized by day
- Compression socks for flying (particularly for those with blood clot concerns)
- Travel blanket
- Healthy snacks
- Noise-canceling headphones or earbuds
- Sturdy and comfortable shoes
- Books, magazines or other types of entertainment
- Extra eyeglasses
For those with mobility issues:
- Lightweight wheelchair
- Foldable cane
- Walker with seat
Traveling by plane
If your loved one doesn’t have global entry yet, sign up for it right away—and you should, too. Global entry ensures TSA pre-check on every domestic and outbound international flight and allows you to skip the long customs line when returning from out of the country. If you don’t have time to apply, TSA has a process for expediting those 75 and over through security. Contact your airline to see if they have options for securing aisle seats or other accommodations. For example, United Airlines has an accessibility desk to help with your older adult’s specific needs.
Traveling by car
When traveling by car – especially if there are more than two people and it’s a long drive – it can get a little crowded, and people can become antsy and irritated. Keep everyone entertained, especially your older loved one who may not be able to read on car rides (many people become nauseated if they read in a moving vehicle). You can make it easier by having snacks, plenty of water and other drinks, and entertainment on hand. Some good ideas for car rides include:
- Word games
- “Remember when” conversations
- Dramamine or other anti-nausea medication for those who need it
Don’t forget to bring blankets, a neck pillow, and other items that will make your older adult more comfortable.
Traveling by train
When long-distance travel is required, traveling by train can be challenging for older adults due to the tight quarters and discomfort some sleeping arrangements may cause. However, train travel is a good choice for shorter trips because it eliminates the need for a driver. In addition, check out Amtrak’s 10% discount program for those 65 and over for money-saving opportunities.
Accommodations at hotels and theme parks
For older adults with disabilities, limited mobility, or other challenges, check out the website accessibleGO. You make a reservation through this website at a hotel of your choice, and they follow up to make sure the hotel can accommodate your needs.
Hotel room concerns you should ask about if you make your reservations are:
- The height of the bed, which can make it challenging to get in and out for older adults
- The amount of furniture (and if it inhibits wheelchair or walker use)
- If there is a walk-in shower vs. a tub (or even a roll-in shower if possible)
Most large theme parks, such as Universal Studios or Disney World, will attempt to make it as easy as possible for older adults to enjoy their visit. In addition, because theme parks are mandated to be ADA-compliant, they’re often easier for older adults to navigate, and they’ll be able to find places to stop and rest when they need to.
Caregiver needs when traveling
Traveling can be stressful under the best of circumstances. Traveling with an older adult as a caregiver can mean challenging situations in unfamiliar places that add work to your already stressful job or responsibility. Once you’re settled in for the plane ride or at your hotel, take a few minutes to recharge your battery. Listen to a calming playlist on your headphones, read a few pages of a good book, or even close your eyes if your senior drifts off for a little while. You’ll need your energy for the rest of the trip you have planned.
The key to traveling with as few bumps in the road (or turbulence in the air) as possible is to prepare well before you go, know what to expect, and have everything you need with you. Your loved one will thank you for all of your hard work, and you’ll be able to enjoy the trip, visit with family and friends, and see the sites, knowing your loved one is taken care of properly.