Remember what vacationing with your parents was like as a child? Expect something similar in reverse as a grownup. Travelling with independence-reduced elderly relatives typically means the adult children taking charge. The trick is managing this without patronizing.
"It's a delicate balance between being helpful – even when it's not appreciated – and maintaining respect for one's elders," says family travel blogger Claudia Laroye (thetravellingmom.ca). After successful holidays with her own folks, she's developed a checklist for first-timers.
"Much depends on the health and mobility of your mom or dad," says Laroye, adding that adequate travel insurance with medical coverage is critical – although with increasing age and individual health issues this can sometimes be difficult to arrange.
"Bring supplies of all medications – plus extra prescriptions in case of loss or delays. It's also not a bad idea to have medications translated into the language of the country you're visiting: Explaining what you need when you don't know Chinese or Spanish is frustrating and potentially dangerous."
You may also need a prescription for wresting power from parents who've run their own vacations for years. "You might be taking on travel arrangements, baggage handling, dealing with hotels, booking transport and restaurant ordering," says Laroye, adding that one tool helps with most scenarios.
"Patience is a valuable virtue when travelling with anyone – and it can be tested with family members of any age. If your relative is slower, more forgetful or harder of hearing than you are, you should make the adjustments to cope, as they likely can't."
Laroye's mother, Kathi Campana, is in her 70s. She has her own perspective on how trips should work. "All participants should retain some independence and everyone should be actively involved in decisions and arrangements," she says, adding a personal wish list that includes private bedrooms, staying at least four days in the same place to avoid daily repacking and scheduling grandparent rest days when everyone else can do their own thing. "Grandparents," says Campana, "can show their family where they grew up. Family trips like this can create special memories – and all generations can learn to appreciate and respect each other more."
As for dining, check dietary options for flights, cruises or tours. "If certain food items from home are important, bring them," advises Laroye, who also suggests carefully selecting accessible rooms in modern hotels or ground floor rooms in older properties.
"Since we don't want to spend every single vacation in the town we grew up in, combining grandparent visits with family trips makes sense," says blogger Jamie Pearson (travelsavvymom.com).
Keep in mind that extra generations require additional consideration. "Ideal destinations offer many activities and big – or separate – accommodations. Look for a place your family can pursue divergent interests in the mornings, lunch together, and then relax and explore in the afternoons. Beaches, dude ranches and mountain towns can all work," she says.
But before you take the plunge, Pearson suggests practising. "You don't have to go for a whole week! If you like the idea of three-generation vacations, take the concept for a long weekend test drive. You can do a lot of connecting in three or four days."
The secret to making it work? "Privacy. There's nothing less relaxing than your kids misbehaving in front of your parents. Relationships thrive on time spent together but also time spent apart. Also, don't do too much sightseeing as a group – it doesn't work."
OUR READERS WRITE
Avoid stairs, cobblestones and packed itineraries. But do it before it's too late. @terriwrites
Focus on their experience, not yours. Decide a few key things they want to do and leave ample time for rest and nice restaurants! I just spoke with my parents about this and the first thing they said was "be patient" – so I guess that makes me an impatient daughter? @jiwon_bang
My 89-year-old father and I went heli-hiking with Canadian Mountain Holidays because they have guides to accommodate all fitness levels. At the end of the day we'd meet back at the lodge and swap stories in the hot tub. Worked for both of us. @SecretsSuitcase
Try to do flights and other transport during the daytime – late night travel seems to be especially tiring. @karlazimmerman
One word: bungee. Seriously, though, keep the trip warm, flat and affordable – for example, Vegas, New Orleans or Florida. @johnlewinski
We arrive three hours early to make sure we get through all the lines. But most importantly, we use the extra time to sit and have a meal at the airport. Be aware older people are cost conscious and I am still hearing the story of my $9 beer. Best of all, on a holiday, old people nap in the afternoon and you are free for a few hours. And get a room with two bathrooms. James Burwash
Put all medical information, physician numbers, etc. on a USB and keep with you at all times. @GloGrandma
My tip from experience: Don't expect a foodie-type trip – illness and age can take a toll on digestion. @fionahmcfarlane
Make sure you don't pace the trip too fast. Leave time to rest and take breaks. @seattlekim
Warn them in advance of long walks. Choose hotels with elevators. @markbakerprague
If your family wants to take a tour as part of their trip, a private tour with your own guide is often a better option for less mobile individuals who may not be able to keep up with the pace and inflexibility of a large group. @Tours_By_Locals
Go cautiously @DaveHTO
Treasure it! Our oldest tourer was 94 with a 70-year-old son, 45-year-old granddaughter and 20-year-old great-granddaughter. It was an amazing day! @thebigfoody
Lovely food. Lots of chats and listening. And a nap – that way they might dance until dawn! Lucky parents. @AtHomeInLondon
Avoid hotels or at least find a hotel with many amenities. We stayed at the Hilton Bayfront in San Diego. It had a nice promenade and spa facilities (swimming and steam room) @TravelHackingCa
Define elderly? If they can vacation, they can take take themselves, can't they? They're adults, not toddlers! @sbbridge
Well my grandparents got off on a flight to meet us on the wrong island of Hawaii so maybe review their flight plan before. Also, be clear on who is paying for what. Dedicate together time but have solo time for them and you. Make sure health insurance is majorly overkill. Don't do anything too unusual, but expand their boundaries a bit. My grandparents were still travelling at 90 and are now 94 so now keep it closer to home @goodlifevan
I hear Del Boca Vista is nice. @furtney
"I want to treat my wife to an unforgettable spa vacation. Any suggestions?"
Send your travel questions to email@example.com
Follow me on Twitter: @johnleewriter