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How to Reduce the Stress of Holiday Travel With Aging Parents

Casey Kelly-Barton
By Casey Kelly-BartonNovember 27, 2018

Holiday travel is challenging for just about everyone, but for families with aging parents, it can be especially tough. If your loved ones have medical, mobility or toileting issues, a good trip requires an extra round of planning to make sure you bring everything they need, get through airport security with minimal fuss and stay healthy on the road.

Learn more from our tips on how to reduce the stress of holiday travel with aging parents and senior loved ones.

5 Ways to Reduce the Stress of Holiday Travel With Aging Parents

Here are five ways families can improve their holiday travel and reduce the stress of traveling with their aging parents and senior loved ones:

1. Check everyone’s ID before you go to the airport.

I learned the hard way that traveling with an aging parent who doesn’t have a driver’s license can make getting through airport security slower than normal.

If your folks don’t drive, a state-issued personal ID card, a passport or one of a few other government-issued documents can help them sail through security.

Whatever ID they carry, make sure it hasn’t expired. If it has expired, or if your they don’t have a photo ID to show, plan on spending extra time at security while the TSA agents to ask your parents questions to verify their identity.

2. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.

My family once came within a couple of minutes of missing a flight because I didn’t realize my great-aunt would need to make multiple rest stops on the ride from her small town to the airport.

To avoid delays and frayed nerves when you’re traveling with your senior loved ones, plan to leave earlier than you would if you were traveling on your own so there’s time for stops.

If you’re bringing mobility equipment like walkers or wheelchairs, think about how long it takes to fold, stow and set up those items as you transfer from car to plane and back.

3. Know the rules for air travel with medications, medical equipment and mobility aids.

The TSA exempts medically necessary aerosol medications, gels and liquids from its 3-1-1 rule, as long as you declare these items at the checkpoint and take them out of your carry-on for screening.

TSA officers have to screen mobility devices like canes, walkers and wheelchairs. Let the agents know if Dad or Mom is unable to stand or walk on their own so they can screen them appropriately.  If your parent needs a pat-down screening, they can request that it be done in a private area out of view of other passengers.

For more details on travelers with special needs, see the TSA website and if your parent has dementia, we have more travel tips to help reduce stress and confusion at the airport.

4. Know your options for assistance when you fly with an aging parent.

Will your parent or senior loved one need a wheelchair at the airport to get through the terminal or need extra time to board the plane and get settled?

If so, call your airline to see what assistance they offer, because not all airlines have the same process for requesting help.

For example, Southwest Airlines allows passengers to request a wheelchair at curbside check-in or at the ticket counter just inside the airport entrance. American Airlines asks travelers to make their assistance requests when they book their flights, either online or by phone.

5. Travel as light as possible and pack wisely.

Checked bags cost you money, are a hassle to keep track of and slow you down at baggage claim, so try to avoid them when you’re traveling with your parents. If you’re planning to bring gifts to your destination, ship them instead. Then focus on helping everyone pack their carry-on bag as efficiently as possible.

Packing as much into a carry-on as possible without destroying it has become a hobby (or obsession) among frequent travelers. You can find a nearly endless list of YouTube videos showing different ways to maximize your carry-on space and plenty of articles on getting a week’s worth (or more) of clothing and personal items into a carry-on bag. It’s a good idea to take your roomiest handbag or backpack too, so you can keep your parents’ necessary medications and personal-care supplies within reach during the flight, not stuck in the overhead bin.

It’s also a good idea to keep your aging parents’ doctor’s phone numbers with you — in your phone and printed out in case your phone battery dies. Take contact information for hospitals and urgent-care clinics at your destination, and remember that if your parents have Medicare Advantage coverage you’ll need to find in-network providers.

If you’re taking your folks abroad for the holidays, all of you may also need travel health insurance, because original Medicare doesn’t provide coverage outside the U.S., and neither do some private insurance plans.

Holiday travel includes a lot of things that we can’t control, like crowds, your parents’ needs and weather. That’s why it’s also important to bring as much patience as you can on your trip, so you and your parents can arrive at your destination ready to enjoy the season with your family and friends.

Have you traveled with your aging parents over the holidays? What other holiday travel tips do you have to share? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

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Casey Kelly-Barton
Casey Kelly-Barton
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