6 helpful tips for traveling with a senior citizen

Don Kevin Hapal

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6 helpful tips for traveling with a senior citizen
Rappler's Don Kevin Hapal shares words of wisdom after a two-week trip with his with his 80-year-old grandma

It’s never too late to tick a few things off your travel bucket list – even when you’re 80! 

That’s what I learned when I traveled with my 80-year-old grandmother on a two-week tour across 3 European countries and 6 cities.

We were hesitant about the taking the trip at first, considering her age, but we had a promise to fulfill: to take her to the places she’s always dreamt of visiting when she was younger. 

To be honest, I braced myself for a challenging trip and my plan was to focus – more than anything – on keeping her safe. But surprisingly, traveling with an elderly companion turned out to be a fun and unique experience for me as well. 

Depending on how you look at it, the challenge of keeping her within sight all the time and consistently checking on her health, all while making sure she’s having fun, adds to the thrill of being on foreign soil.

But before you buy those promo plane tickets for you and your grandparents, here are a few tips for making your next adventure fun and senior-friendly:

Make sure he or she is fit for travel

FIT FOR TRAVEL. The author's grandmother at the Sforza Castle in Milan, Italy. There are many things to consider before traveling with an elderly. Photo by Don Kevin Hapal

Before you even consider traveling with your grandparents, make sure that they have the capacity to sit in a plane or train for hours, walk around in cold or hot temperatures, or eat unfamiliar food. Don’t just take their word for it – to be sure, consult their doctor and ask which medicines you need to bring. Ask for extra prescriptions too, so you’re prepared in case of delays.

There are also other factors to consider like the season (pollen during spring may be a problem for those with asthma and lung problems), pollution, etc. Make sure you’re aware of their allergies and present medical conditions, and never insist on traveling with an elderly friend if the doctor tells you not to.

Take it slow

TAKE IT SLOW. The author's grandmother rests while looking around Paris, France inside a sightseeing bus. Photo by Don Kevin Hapal

While spontaneity can be fun when you’re traveling alone, it’s a completely different picture when you’re with an elderly friend.

I know you want to make the most out of your trip, but when planning your itinerary, make sure to consider that they get tired quicker. Don’t forget to provide plenty of stops so they can rest and catch their breath.

In Europe, you can buy tickets online for most tourist spots, which you can do to avoid long lines. In our case, we already bought tickets in advance for our train rides from Milan to other cities and our entrance to museums like the Louvrè, so we didn’t have to waste time and energy waiting in line (and believe me, the lines are insanely long during peak season).

Traveling with an elderly companion means you may have to focus more on quality over quantity: spend more time in fewer places.

Going around at a slow pace may not be common among young travelers nowadays, but there’s a bright side to it: you get more time to appreciate every sight!

I often get too hung up on capturing as many Instagram-worthy sights as I can when traveling, but I’ve learned from this experience the importance of stopping and giving yourself time to admire the view.

Be prepared for emergencies

Next, consider their special needs and think of all the emergencies you may encounter.

Know who to call and where to go in case of an emergency (hospitals, police stations). You’ll feel a lot safer too if you have a friend who lives in the place you’re visiting.

Your elderly companion may be forgetful already, so be the one to keep all important documents like their passports. Give them an identification card with your contact details, in case you get separated and they get lost.

Also, remember that your companion will need to use the bathroom more often, so be sure to know where the nearest toilets are. When booking your airplane tickets, ask for seats by the aisle and near the toilet. Bringing adult diapers is a good option too.

Bonus tip: When you book your airline tickets, register your elderly companion for special assistance (it’s free!). The airline will provide you with an escort and a wheelchair so your companion won’t get tired throughout the trip. You also get to skip the long lines by going through priority lanes.

Prepare to spend more money

PREPARE YOUR WALLETS. The author's grandmother in Venice. Before going on a trip with your grandparents, make sure you are prepared budget-wise. Photo by Don Kevin Hapal

I know that low-cost travel is a thing among millennials now, but traveling with an elderly friend will require you to be much more prepared budget-wise.

Make sure to anticipate all kinds of emergencies, like having to take your grandparent to a doctor or rebooking your return flight to an earlier date. Note that some countries will require you to get health insurance in order to be issued a visa.

Depending on your grandparent’s condition, you might have to choose more expensive but more comfortable accommodations and transportation as well. They may not be comfortable staying in backpacker inns and bed-and-breakfasts.

You might have to make emergency purchases too, like buying new coats and shoes if the temperature is colder than you expected.

Don’t be restricting

LET HER BE. Locals believe that your wish will be granted if you spin three times in the middle of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Photo by Don Kevin Hapal

Prioritize their safety but try not to be overprotective and patronizing. After all, there’s no sense in going on a trip if you can’t make it fun and memorable.

Keep your grandparents within sight, but allow them to do their thing: give them time to look around, let them talk with people, and be patient when they make mistakes and do or say crazy, sometimes embarrassing, things.

Believe me, most people don’t mind (you’ll get a free pass too, when you’re older). In fact, my grandmother made more friends than I did!

Of course, still be on guard for gaffes that may have serious consequences. During our trip, for example, I had to repeatedly stop my grandmother from picking flowers on heritage sites and sitting on art pieces inside museums (she mistook some for chairs).

Maintain your composure at all times and do not lose your cool. Treat them like you would treat your own child when on a trip, but with the respect that they rightfully deserve. Remember that they probably went through the same ordeal when you or your parents were much younger.

Document everything!

FORGETFUL LOLA. The author's grandmother in Verona, Italy. Your grandparents may already be forgetful so make sure to give them something to help remind them of your trip.

Lastly, try to document every detail of your trip!

Seniors usually have trouble remembering things. After our trip, we had to consistently remind our grandmother that we went to Paris and not London.

What we did was take as many photos as possible and then gave her a physical photo album that she can hold on to, so she can be reminded of the things she saw, the food she tried, and the people she met.

They may not be able to remember every detail of the trip but they will always remember the warm feeling of being in the city of their dreams with the people who love them. Rappler.com

Traveling for different seasons can be challenging. Keep your loved ones warm with the right clothing. Shop with these coupons and get the best deals for your travel needs.

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Don Kevin Hapal

Don Kevin Hapal is Rappler’s Head of Data and Innovation. He started at Rappler as a digital communications specialist, then went on to lead Rappler’s Balikbayan section for overseas Filipinos. He was introduced to data journalism while writing and researching about social media, disinformation, and propaganda.