Most people don’t like the stress involved with planning a day trip with their aging loved ones, let alone traveling with seniors to exotic places. Read this interview to discover why you shouldn’t be discouraged — but instead be inspired — to have a wonderful time and create invaluable memories.
Conversational, fun and light-hearted are all words that come to mind to describe Val Grubb, author of the cleverly titled book: “Planes, Canes and Automobiles Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel.” Of course you would have to possess these qualities to encourage traveling with seniors, which Val has done herself and promotes in her book:
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“Mom and I have traveled 300,000+ miles in the last 20 years and even though she’s slowed down, we don’t want the good times to end!”
She continues, “In late 2012, I was planning a trip to Australia with mom and I was appalled at the lack of resources out there for people who want to travel the world with an aging parent. That was the impetus I needed to create my blog, Travel with Aging Parents; and here I am with a book about to launch. Almost unbelievable to be honest.”
Val noticed a change in her 85-year-old mother, Dorothy, a few years ago as she was planning an international trip and wanted to see if she could find some pointers on how to make their travels easier. “I live in New York and mom used to meet me here before we took the long haul overseas. She never used to have any issues. She was always very independent, but she was all of a sudden scared to travel on her own. People get older and things just sort of change.”
The lack of information on traveling with seniors and people with disabilities was especially surprising to Val, as people are living so much longer these days. This was the catalyst she needed to inform the public that traveling with seniors is possible — and also enjoyable. So far the response from the public has been amazing as so many people are in Val’s situation.
Read this interview with this delightful lady to discover the possibilities of travel with your aging loved ones. Maybe your next trip to a fun local destination — or across the pond — is easier than you think.
Val expected challenges on her travels with her mother. There were the obvious; the physical challenges of traveling with a loved one in a wheel chair. However, there were other, less tangible, challenges Val encountered. For example, she points out that people need to be mentally prepared for the emotional baggage that will probably be joining you on your trip if you’re traveling with a close elderly loved one.
Since Val was traveling with her mom, she had to be ready for the parent/child dynamic, even if her mom was now in her mid-80s. “Mom would make condescending comments like, ‘You’re wearing that lipstick out?’…If a friend made that comment it would be fine, but since it’s your mom, it’s a loaded comment. The stress of travel and the change in scenery, even though it’s good, also now makes Mom nervous, which results in crabby comments from her. You just need to expect this and not rise up to challenge. Just move on and enjoy the trip as there are so many things to enjoy.”
Other obstacles included breakdowns that happened as Val’s mom got older, which she outlines in her book. In fact, Chapter 1 of Val’s book says it all: “Understand That Things Have Changed.” Here’s a little of the insight she shared:
“Mom was suddenly petrified to do things on her own. Mom has always loved to travel, but she now has more of a fear; it was apparent things had changed and I just had to accept this and acknowledge it would happen. So many people assume things are exactly the same as when you’re younger, but personalities amplify as you get older, and there are big changes that can happen in a person’s 60s, 70s and 80s… You have to be in tune to your parent and how they change as they age.”
One morning when in Italy, Val and her mom slept in, which was rare on their travels, but they were tired. They missed breakfast and no one was serving eggs, Dorothy’s favorite breakfast food. Val comments, “She had a meltdown that she couldn’t have eggs for breakfast… It was really frustrating as we went everywhere and no one served eggs. Luckily we found someone who was serving quiche, which made mom happy.”
Another thing Val mentioned to be cognizant of on travels — and daily interactions — was to not be condescending to your aging loved one, even if you are now the caregiver. If the senior is a parent and you’ve switched roles, you need to remember that they are still your parent and you need to be respectful. Don’t assume the parent role and start bossing your parent around. Involve them with some of the decisions, as they don’t want to be treated like a child.
Just as Indiana Jones had to choose his fate based off his chalice choice, you’ll need to be smart about choosing your vacation fate when traveling with seniors. Whether you’re looking for a local trip or something more glamorous, Val had some favorite travel destinations. China and Thailand were definitely among her picks. “Asian culture reveres age and people were very receptive and considerate to my mom. They helped when we needed it and were very kind and courteous. But it’s also fun to take local trips.”
Common sense is also the name of the traveling game. “You’re not going to be able to pound through the Spanish Steps, visit the Coliseum and take an afternoon trip to Pisa. You have to change your expectations — You have to slow down and know that your parent needs more downtime between activities,” Val notes. It’s also really important to do your research ahead of time. If you’re traveling with someone who is in a wheelchair, make sure you have handicap accessible accommodations. Find out what types of tourist activities area accessible with a wheelchair and how you’re going to get there (Val mentioned that she typically took a private car or joined a tour bus).
In fact, even though Dorothy is in a wheel chair, that hasn’t slowed their travels. Last year the adventurous duo took many trips, from China to Nashville. This year they’re planning an extended family trip to Yellowstone with an age range of 82 years between oldest and youngest traveler as Valerie’s brother is bringing his 3 ½-year-old twins.
“Every trip will present challenges, but that’s part of the fun — these challenges will become great memories,” Valerie candidly comments.
Val also astutely pointed out that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been one of the greatest things for aging travelers. It’s worth noting that most U.S.-based hotel brands, such as Marriott and Hyatt, typically require their international operator to comply with U.S. ASA standards. So if you’re new to traveling with an aging parent, booking a U.S.-branded hotel can help ease any issues as they are typically fully ADA compliant.
“Hopefully we’ll be seeing more travel-related companies thinking about how to accommodate the needs of older travelers. The baby boomer population is aging and many of them have money. It only makes sense for countries to consider families and retirees who may need additional assistance getting around,” Val comments.
What is Val’s main message to her readers? That you can do this!
Val’s blog has has had quite a bit of reader activity through blog post comments and questions. She also has very active social channels, where she also gets a lot of reader feedback and questions. This was another reason she chose to write a book around traveling with aging parents as, even though the book is an extension of the blog, it goes into more detail as there are chapters for comprehensive and organized information to help with trip planning and walks you through the traveling process. Any time someone presents a question to Val she reiterates that these travels truly are possible.
“You will have to adapt your style, but your parents won’t be around forever. There is no amount of phone calls you can make that will equal taking a vacation with them. We live in a very fast-paced world and travels allow you to just be — be with them, that is, and enjoy the moment. Just enjoy their company and let the world inspire you. Your parents and aging loved ones value time because they know exactly how precious it is.”
What helps you do this? Val’s book is a great guide. She has very helpful chapters that cover subjects such as safety, medical, health and more. According to one review from Samantha Brown, television and travel host and AARP Travel Ambassador, “The table of contents reads like a list of your biggest worries when planning a trip with an older loved one, all of which Grubb puts to rest with her intuitively written and expertly researched chapters. Grubb’s travel experiences with her mother have resulted in a delightful guide full of important information for those of us who want to enjoy the companionship of our best travel partners, our parents.”
There’s no time like the present to book your adventure with your aging loved one. Val’s book offers practical advice, funny anecdotes and a plethora of information to get you started. Award-winning journalist, best-selling author, caregiver advocate and A Place for Mom’s wonderful spokeswoman, Joan Lunden, has some insight:
“I know first hand the joys of traveling with a parent. I traveled with my own mother all the way through her eighties, creating priceless memories that I will hold with me forever. “Planes, Canes, and Automobiles” would have been a great resource for me during my travels.”
Seize the day and start creating great memories with your aging loved one, even if you have to make frequent bathroom stops. Just remember, he or she won’t be around forever. “Planes, Canes and Automobiles” is an excellent resource to help guide you on your adventure.
Do you have any travel stories with your favorite senior? Share your stories with us in the comments below.
In addition to writing Travel with Aging Parents, Grubb is the principal of Val Grubb & Associates, Ltd. She has worked with medium-and large-sized companies throughout the U.S., Asia, Europe, South America, and Central Eastern Europe as an operations and leadership consultant. Prior to launching Val Grubb & Associates, Ltd., she served as the vice president of strategic operations and initiatives at NBC Universal. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Kettering University, and obtained an M.B.A. from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
A true renaissance woman, Grubb is passionate about traveling the world and spending time with her family. Originally from Indiana, Grubb currently lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel” is her first book that will be available for purchase on Amazon.com and through other booksellers on October 6, 2015.