By Kaye Swain
Summer time is definitely travel time, including for many of us boomers and seniors and our aging parents. As a full-fledged member of the Sandwich Generation (caring for aging parents while babysitting grandchildren), I have made frequent trips in the last few years with my senior parents. Some helpful hints I've learned, often the hard way, include:
- A hotel suite with 1-2 bedrooms and a living room, like the Residence Inn can offer, is often much easier to deal with than individual hotel rooms. This gives your senior parent and you a bit of privacy, yet they have the security of knowing you are in the same set of rooms as them. This is especially important if your aging parent is dealing with memory loss of any kind.
- If you do have separate hotel rooms, request that they be right across the hall from each other. Then you can set up a signal, such as putting up the "do not disturb" sign when you go to bed, and taking it down when you awake. Each of you can then look out the peek hole to see if the other is awake.
- Most hotels offer rooms for those with special needs. If your senior parent has any kind of health issue - hearing or sight problems, range of motion issues from arthritis, a wheelchair, etc. - you can request one of these rooms for them. They will usually have the bathroom set up for easier navigation and a shower instead of a tub. Make sure you let the hotel staff know you need to be right in the same area, preferably across the hall or right next door, in order to help your parent. You might also ask if an adjoining door is an option. These are not as common as they were but they can be quite handy for a caregiver.
- ALWAYS call the hotel itself (not the 800 number) to verify that if your room will not be on the first floor, do they have an elevator. One of our favorite hotels, a very nice fairly-new one, has two floors and NO elevator. Needless to say, this can be very difficult for many elderly parents, not to mention you and the luggage. Even if the hotel helps with the luggage, it still takes more time and makes your stay a bit more difficult.
- Make sure you and your senior parent pack as light as possible. The lighter the suitcase, the easier it is to juggle it and your aging parents.
- If you are flying to visit family and taking gifts, be sure you do not wrap them until you get there. Many times the security agents will unwrap all gifts in your luggage or carry-ons to take a closer look. It's a safety precaution that I appreciate but it does add another challenge to the travel plans. I always pack the gifts, unwrapped, along with a few gift bags from the Dollar Store and some wrapping tissue. Then it's very simple to wrap the presents at our destination.
- Speaking of security, if you or your parents have had any kind of replacement surgery such as hip replacement, knee replacement, etc., be prepared for a total "pat-down" each time you go through the security lines. In the past fifteen years since my senior mom's hip replacement, there's only been one or two times she did NOT get called aside for a full security check. As long as you and your senior parent are prepared for it, get there a bit earlier, and make plans for one to watch the luggage while the other is temporarily detained, it shouldn't be a problem.
- Also, be aware that sweaters and jackets usually must be removed for the security line, along with shoes. If your aging parents are like mine, they might wear one or two jackets because of being cold. Make sure that all of these clothing items are easy to take off and put back on. It will mean less stress for both of you.
- When possible, you might want to consider flying Southwest Airlines. They can be a wee bit challenging since they do not have assigned seats. They are, however, excellent about seating those with special needs - such as our elderly parents and their helpers (us) - first. And they are wonderful about not charging a penalty if you have to make changes to your reservation for any reason, including the health crises we caregivers are so familiar with. Many other airlines will charge quite an expensive fee to change the tickets, even if it is due to a hospitalization for the traveler or a caree. If you purchased a full-price ticket or a senior ticket, your ticket amount will be immediately refunded. Otherwise, you will have a credit that you can use within one year but NO extra fee. I've taken advantage of that a couple of times and really appreciated it!
Travel can be such a great experience. We especially enjoy visiting various long distance grandkids and other relatives. Planning ahead with tips like these can make for a great summer trip, full of sweet family memories and safe travel for you and your aging parents.
Kaye Swain is a member of the Sandwich Generation dealing with the issues of caring for the elderly parents and relatives in her family while also babysitting grandchildren. She enjoys writing on those topics at SandwichINK, in order to provide other multigenerational caregivers with useful information, resources and encouragement.