Why You Should Travel With Your Parents As They Get Older

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Benefits of Traveling with Aging Parents

When asked, some of the top things that the elderly population desire, according to surveys, include stable and good health, continued independence, financial security, and independence. Travel can assist in achieving all of these! Even short trips can exercise the body, strengthen the mind, and assist in significantly broadening ongoing social circles. Travel can help overcome fears that are already associated with loss, and wayfinding that is yet to come. This can even stimulate mental health as it has been proven to assist in reducing the risk of dementia, improve mood, and generally be linked with enhanced well-being. Besides benefits for the elderly, there are also some ceremonially or culturally important experiences that, if fulfilled in assisted living facilities, would likely be less meaningful or authentic, such as celebrations, anniversaries, holidays, or reunions. All of these reasons are also significant but less often recognized motivations for embracing travel with the elderly.

There are so many aspects of life that change over the years. Growing up, there’s so much that constantly changes: interests, schools, friendships, houses, locations, routines, and the list goes on. The pace of all of this change starts to slow down, however, for both kids and parents once the former age out of the homestead and the latter start to brave deep waters of retirement. At this point, relationships can take on a whole new level of depth. Possibly the easiest and most valuable way to expedite this change? Maybe, that would be to travel together.

Strengthening Family Bonds

Going on that trip made me realize something that I didn’t care for in my younger years: we should travel with our parents while we still have the opportunity. Sure, group travel can be stressful; so is budget travel. But would I trade in those precious memories with my parents in Siem Reap for a peaceful vacation by myself? In a heartbeat, I would say no. If I could do that trip again, maybe minus the descent to Phnom Kulen which felt like it was directly off the set of “The Impossible,” I probably would. In a heartbeat, I would. This should be your wake-up call as much as it was mine. You really should consider traveling with your parents as they get older. Here’s why. It’s really hard to articulate the experience, but when we got lost because an Indian kid accidentally switched off the lights to Ta Prohm, I didn’t think we were going to break down and start yelling at each other. Michael and I were just worried sick that my parents were going to get eaten by wild animals. Haha. Even though we were with them 24/7, we endured it all and had the funniest travel experiences together. I like to think of it as “the family that travels together, goes crazy together.”

My parents aren’t getting any younger, and since time isn’t stopping for anyone, I figured that I should seize the moment to travel with them while they’re still relatively healthy. I gave them several options for our first trip together, not really expecting them to say yes to the idea of traveling out of the country. But surprisingly, my mom decided on Cambodia. I wanted a place that was relatively safe and not too far from Manila. Of course, the usual concern about Zika and traffic was a major force behind my decision. I guess she saw that Cambodia was relatively safe compared to other countries. It was my gift for her 63rd birthday. It was worth every penny.

Creating Lasting Memories

These are big moments. Meaningful moments. My mother is finally experiencing the joy of being a grandparent and my father is returning to his home(s) after half a century. How could we not be excited for their excitement and be a part of it?! And so we were. We were happy to go, happy to explore Indonesia with them, happy to see their faces light up as they were welcomed into their parents’ homes by their parents, the way they had always dreamed it would happen, and not as they had left it, death and time-eaten, the stones and the walls of the houses, the earth around them almost a constant reminder of what that time apart had cost them. We laughed and yes, like children more curious than hungry for sweets, we delighted at the watches that didn’t keep time and the cow that had decided the front yard was possibly the best spot for a siiiiiighhhhhh (yes, that long) nap. Traveling with older parents is not always easy – for them or for the children. I offer my tips not as an expert, but as someone who’s still learning the ropes. But I also know that traveling with them, experiencing these moments with them, is priceless and – with these few simple tips that we used to plan our trips – you can create some wonderful, lasting memories with your older parents on your own trip too.

In the past year, I’ve seen how my mom has gone from being someone who had firm plans to have grandkids to someone who says, over and over as she holds her grandson in her arms: “My life is complete. I never knew what a grandparent felt like until now.” My father, on the other hand, immigrated to the U.S. when he was 19 years old in the early 1960s and hadn’t left the country since. In the last 7 months, he’s flown across the Atlantic four times, to Poland and Indonesia, the “Promise Land” to both him and my Mom and home to their respective parents.

Providing Emotional Support

In the end, the responsibility of the parent-child relationship changes as both parties continue to age. The travel that occurs in the life cycle of the family, the parents, and then the adult children signifies something very special. Transitioning this fundamental bond from parent-to-child dependency to mutual caring allows that bond to move along as it should. For the adult child and aging parent, these travels can enrich and deepen their lives, strengthen and rejuvenate their relationships, expand their experience and understanding of the world, and as well provide solace and comfort as they continue to age together.

Lastly, travel keeps the relationship alive and strong between aging parents and adult children. For parents, it can be fulfilling to have their adult children’s attention and company, even for just a few days. Given that travel allows for intimacy and unplugging from the world, it is a very special time. For children of aging parents, it is so important to continue to give evidence that their parents are still loved and valued. Lack of physical contact can feed into feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem. By traveling as a family, it provides packages of time and attention to parents, allowing them to uncork wisdom and life advice in a neutral, loving environment. By continuing to travel as a family, the adult children also show that they are just as committed and loving as when they were children. This not only assists in developing joy and laughter but provides needed emotional support.

Enhancing Physical and Mental Well-being

In addition to interactions with pets, the obligation of traveling and creating lifelong adventures with elderly people can drastically change their well-being. Engaging the elderly in travel also provides a sense of purpose. Creating new memories in new places helps to change their existing thoughts on living day-to-day by adding a thrill and sense of victory. Doing so is proven to have an immediate post-travel glow, but also a long-term utility. Studies show that people also have a higher level of overall life satisfaction. That is, quality time spent with adult children and sharing intimate adventures in a foreign location. Such experiences put into perspective the value-laden principle of interdependence and contributor-ship, and sharing time with family who systematically reduce stereotypes about their supposed disability by challenging themselves in unfamiliar settings. Sharing such can also provide a platform to assess areas of life that are still left uncredited.

Discovering new sights, sounds, and activities with your loved ones can help to improve the overall psychological well-being of aging adults significantly. Interacting with animals can enhance mood and psychological well-being. Dogs are specifically, however, the most beneficial pets for the elderly. Dog walking added dimension to the otherwise sedentary lifestyle of most of the elderly participants. Pivoting studies on therapy dogs are proven assurance that they do reduce stress and anxiety in seniors. Dogs can also help sociable adults become even more independent as well as help in self-identification and physical activity when going on walks.

Promoting Physical Activity

Parents realize that they need to take care of themselves, but the motivation to do so may be lacking. However, when children encourage their parents to travel, they are also promoting physical activity. This can be very important for older adults. Their views of aging can impact their health and lifespan. A study found a person’s objection to aging correlated with longer life after controlling for the other variables. As parents realize that they need to take care of themselves, they may still lack motivation. However, when children encourage their parents to travel, they are promoting their health. This can be very important for older adults, especially if their views of aging can impact their health and lifespan. A study found that those objecting to aging correlated with longer life after controlling for the other variables.

As they age, individuals usually become more sedentary. It is harder for older individuals to engage in physical activity due to health issues. However, that physical activity is important for their health. Engaging in regular physical activity can help older adults better manage health issues overall. They are at a lower risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer (breast, colon, and lung), dementia, and depression. Traveling with your parents can help accomplish some of this physical activity, depending on the type of travel. Whether your parents have to walk through an airport or stand in line for a ride or to check into their hotel, these are all examples of physical activity. A more active vacation, like hiking or walking around a theme park, is even better health-wise.

Boosting Cognitive Function

Learning through travel is a long-standing and most powerful leisure and educational activity. Over the ages, people have been traveling in the pursuit of knowledge and spiritual growth. As travel expands people’s minds, it gives them the opportunity to make better decisions by being exposed to other cultures and applying some of their best practices.

According to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, older people who have accumulated leisure activities like travel maintain their minds sharper than those who have not. Many researchers have shown that serious leisure and educational activities that older people engage in can deter or delay Alzheimer’s and dementia. These activities include participating in fundraising or charity work, collaboration with clubs and affinity groups, and attending educational workshops, seminars, and courses.

Two studies from 2013 show how women who engage in six or more social activities per month in middle and old age preserve their memory longer than women who don’t. The same research also shows how these social activities help women preserve their memory by reducing depression. Depression is linked to an increased risk of dementia and usually occurs after memory loss begins.

Memory loss and slower cognitive processes are inevitable as people age, but there are ways to delay the inevitable and also stave off related issues such as dementia. Modifying daily habits can make a big difference – combining social, mental, and physical activities like traveling can help stave off cognitive decline and maintain mental well-being for longer.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety

We all age. But, why not age gracefully with excellent health? Studies show that work-related stress translates to increased cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, psychological ailments and susceptibility to infections. The most disturbing part is that, neither while asleep or awake, can one escape bodily and mental illness, which is caused due to long working hours. It is high time to break free from everyday routines and escape, from physical and mental sufferings even for a short period. In the short term, shutdown and holiday can help the body heal. Remember, you cannot rush the body’s recovery but you have the power of acceleration—it’s your choice. Leisure travel has a significant health benefit when one escapes from the daily routine. Cuts down coronary risks (“Myocardial Infarction” a.k.a “Heart Attack”) caused due to heavy work pressure which demands long stressful hours remaining sedentary at the workstation. Leisure travel can come to the rescue and protect us. A holiday can in itself stimulate our intellect increasing longevity.

Daily life can be physically draining. Regular breaks can restore self-control and help a creative boost. Over the years, men and women have worked themselves into poor states with no fun at their work stations. Physically and mentally, we need time off. Grabbing the check-in book right this minute rejuvenates the physical battery and spurs productivity as well as better health. Many hobbies taken up during a vacation serve as potential career boosters as well. Stress in the workplace stifles attributes such as resourcefulness, communication skills due to a rigid thinking process. College and postgraduate students and adolescents have adopted conservatism due to external scrutiny about their potential. Holidays will wind them down as well, and rejuvenate their emotional batteries by actively participating in a unique enjoyable environment.

Although vacations create wonderful lasting memories, the majority of people assign a very low priority to taking vacations. Without realizing it, failing to take a vacation is sacrificing health and wellness. So, it is very important to take time off from work to exercise our brains and our body. Exploring New Perspectives and Cultures

My father, even in his late 70s, surprised me, for example, when he, on a visit to Poland, noted that an architecturally magnificent gothic church was covered with a Soviet-era blue paint in order to align the structure with the surrounding drab socialist apartment and industry buildings. “Can you believe that?” he whispered. “Luckily, they’re renovating it now.” This surprised me because even many young people do not seem to notice the nuanced disharmony of the old and the new.

Wrinkles, gray hair, and slowing steps should not be used as a measure of ability and right. I believe that both old and young can continue to discover new nuances and perspectives. My belief is based on my own experience traveling over 7,000 miles with two parents who are already in their 70s, where I decided not to leave them behind. In Japan, traditional tea ceremonies are performed in small, wooden huts and everyone drinks matcha green tea with great precision in uniform movements. I attended one of these ceremonies with my mother and I was so proud to see her conducting the ceremony with great respect and gratitude.

As we grow older, we begin to notice how each place reflects the values and creativity of the people who live there – we develop a new understanding of culture, religion, arts, history, and language. When we reach a point in life where we have the physical and intellectual ability to venture into the wide world, we discover that the pathway to learning is infinite. It’s valuable to travel with our parents as they age because they too deserve to be wide-eyed and curious. Exploring new perspectives that challenge one’s beliefs and the comfort of one’s routine is important for a human to do.

Fostering Intergenerational Learning

What also is of great importance is grandparents transmitting their knowledge to the next generation and as her, invites exploration and self-governance to the narrative caught in national borders and collective past. Knowledge is usually passed down from the elders to the younger generation through storytelling. In comparison, educators and professors teach historical events, traditional practices, and unknown knowledge to students in a much more impersonal manner. Traveling together fosters intergenerational learning through the simple family-bonding moments spent while on vacation and through the stories and history lessons exchanged. Professional tours and trips are both sources of heavy learning, but learning from different teachers within an informal setting, as with seniors traveling alone, equality, and physical area of activities is regarded as the one giver of heavy learning.

Intergenerational learning is one of the most significant benefits of traveling with aging parents and kids. Multigenerational travel provides grandparents the opportunity to expose their grandchildren to a number of different cultures, traditions, and history. Studies show that children do better emotionally and socially when they have a close relationship with at least one supportive caregiver (such as a grandparent). Nourishing relationship between children and grandparents through travel is essential in providing a greater chance of creating lifelong attachments that could effectively support children’s early growth and sustenance; and continue to be of great importance even into their late adolescent years. In fact, children who are emotionally close to grandparents are less prone to depression, write all about their relationships with old and young family members, and have self-discipline (i.e., are easily adaptable, less vulnerable to stress, compliance oriented, etc.), contrary to children who are not emotionally close to grandparents.

Broadening Cultural Horizons

I say to my parents, quoting one of my favorite characters, Gandalf. I find these words particularly fitting, as at 87 and 83, books and maps have become my parents’ preferred window to the world. A reliance once borne of work and nurture, but now born of immobility, their library is both portent and inspiration in equal parts. Sheltered as the collection may be, together we still first pore over each volume in adventure—and it remains an approach to share. Though chosen carefully, the process satisfies their yearnings. As pages turn, we sip on discoveries made forgotten before, or perhaps awaken to new wonders anew. Like a great adventurer, my father ponders on secret worlds and transfers knowledge between geographies alike while my mother therein reminisces, before again searching through her mind for old moments, feelings, times. Do they arouse their curiosity? Slowly awaken the great wanderer within the heart? They carry a world worthy of investigation. They will soon see new lands.

It has long been held that travel broadens. It allows us to step outside our familiar worlds and embrace the different. These so-called ‘cultural horizons’ refer to the capacity of travel to shift our views and attitudes. As we grow older, our cultural horizons become somewhat more fixed, but as our parents age, this sense of immovability often becomes more pronounced. As life moves from retirement to aged-care facilities, from visit to hospital visits, from fame to frailty, it seems that less remains to mark its passing. Once enquiring minds recherche to opinions more deeply entrenched. Travel is but one small attempt to shift this shiftless fall toward age. One small attempt to again expand the cultural horizons that long lay forgotten. To continue the process of learning, of enriching old minds—an opportunity for multi-generational learning.

Practical Considerations for Traveling with Aging Parents

Before the trip, it helps to go on general sightseeing to places similar to where you plan to take the older folks. A dialog with an open-minded way of exchanging views & places of interest may help you find places or activities that you would not have otherwise considered. If you are in low supply of others (which means their own children or familiar medical personnel who had first-hand experience of the older folks’ reaction in suddenly altered environment), establish a go/no-go response strategy. You cannot predict everything, nor provide a 100% safe experience, but with a bit of accurate headline information, you can avoid most of the potential trouble topics.

How mobile are the older adults? What might be fun or interesting, or doable for you, can be a huge strain to the parents/in-laws, both travel and enjoyment-wise, because they may have issues with altitude, up-and-down-the-hills surroundings (or steps in general), distances, heat… Parent issues may not be predictable even if you know what their usual activities or challenges are, and will be less predictable if the older folks in your family a) do not share health data, b) do not consider health data travel-relevant.

Traveling with parents, older or not, can be very satisfying. When not sharing star-quality destinations with multiple members of extended family, it is not that great a sacrifice to use one’s precious travel time this way. However, for those who have not traveled with parents or in-laws needing some help with the regular activities or adventures while traveling, here are some thoughts from personal experience. This is directed partly at the actual decision to take a trip together, partly at the practical aspects during the trip.

Planning Ahead for Accessibility

Planning ahead for accessibility is not something people are quick to think about. Logistically, people want to know if there is the arrangement of a free breakfast, space for an extra bed, dining recommendations, and if there is universal Wi-Fi on the property. We gear up to prepare for travel by reading travel blogs and by renewing our passports. If we’re thinking about our aging parents, our “planning ahead” is usually about saving the weight allowance for more reading material for my stoic, silent dad, but there is a literal, physical component to the phrase “planning ahead” that involves talking to parents about their retirement goals, talking about the logistical challenges that come with transitioning into the next phase of old age (the kind of stuff that might be complicating travel, medical constraints and logistics that someone younger might not be prepared to handle).

As you get older, the kinds of travel experiences you want to have may change, and a sense of a ticking clock could be the reason. Maybe you occasionally find yourself avoiding public restrooms when you’re in a rush, so you don’t waste time checking for handicap-accessible ones. You take a good look at your older dog every time you say goodbye to him when you leave for a trip. You help your mom seem small as she tips over in laughter, so she isn’t embarrassed to stand back up. Not because you’re petty, but because you’re genuinely afraid she won’t be able to stand on her own and you’ll have to call for help. And someday you might be doing it for yourself, too, but it’s unlikely you’ll be planning a backpack-heavy, shoestring-budget, fast-paced, no-sleep-itineraries-through-24-hour-rainforest-marathons trip. This means that as a younger person, seeing the pitch-perfect beach vacation of dreamy, heartfelt moments at sunset is not a philosopher’s version of luxury that’s only appealing because we assume we’ll be unavailable to appreciate it as we get older. It’s genuinely something we, and our parents, really want to do and feel, write in our calendars, and post on our wish-boards.

Considering Medical Needs

If you travel with your parents, take all the medications to ensure they stay healthy and comfortable. Take note of the nearest medical facilities. If possible, find ways to avoid taking them to countries which need extensive injections or vaccinations. I remember when my sister had to get 3 rounds of Rabies vaccinations when we visited a country. The expenses are mind-blowing. As travelers, this is part of our logistical planning, which should make traveling with your parents enjoyable, not daunting. A vacation is a holiday, however, this is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. You must consider if your parents are more comfortable in spacious or cozy facilities. You need to consider what you and the one you love would fare better in. What destination would offer the best for you and your family?

In addition to the physical health and comfort, you must also consider the medical needs of your parents. It is important to make sure that you won’t have a medical emergency abroad. Personally, my mother is a heart patient and has high blood pressure. I had to make sure her medication was in order before our trips and ensure we have access to medication or medical assistance, just in case. I also had to ensure that my mother’s medical and travel insurance were updated to accommodate our travels. Expect the Unexpected. In planning our trips, we consider all eventualities and requirements. Since I travel a lot, I am prepared for most curveballs. For example, I pack a mini first aid kit, water, money, my phone, and important documents to accommodate most general minor incidents.

Ensuring Comfortable Accommodations

An important aspect of travel when introducing your elderly parents to a new place or food or activity is hotel choice. The hotel needs to be comfortable yet fun and guide your parents closer towards who they’d manifest to be if they weren’t constrained by the aches and pains of owning a house, paying bills, etc. When traveling without active seniors, choose hotels situated in quieter, less bustling areas of the city. If your traveling parents are more independent physically, consider locating the hotel within walking distance of the city’s attractions so you guys can make quick stop-offs depending on their energy levels. Then splurge a little on a place closer to a beautiful neighborhood, dotted with parks and near good restaurants for meals with great views.

Located in vibrant Toronto, my parents’ cosy, adorable condo was more than enough for me. But as soon as I disturb their routine, it becomes mine. Our living area gets messy, my visits add excitement and exoticism to their lives, and there is always noise and action going on in the space. To effectively escape this telenovela-worthy rivalry, I decided to put my parents up in a hotel for a few days to give them a break and time to be together. A cozy hotel room with a king bed, a sitting area, a mini-fridge with their diet soda of choice, and a nice view of the city; in total, it cost less than $120 a night. They were thrilled and actually looked forward to their “staycation”. Now, I make that same hotel booking for every visit and slow down my pace to enjoy dinner, Netflix, and Sunday brunch in their oasis.

Managing Travel Logistics

• Your parents still probably know how to travel, encourage them to do as much as they can for themselves. I find that the more my parents are involved in planning and execution, the more smoothly things go. So if they are physically able, let them select what they wear in the suitcase and pack it themselves. If they can use a smart phone or iPad, set up the boarding gate and baggage claim information on the phone and remind them to put it in their accessible bag. It’s the same as traveling with grandkids – have them do what they can, and gently fill in what they can’t. • Be prepared for transition points. This might mean conducting awkward airplane-based bathroom breaks or taking your Mom’s shoes on and off at the airport security line. Times have changed, and lots of changes are in store. • Bring snacks. I find that everyone appreciates having snack options, whether it’s my parents needing a small pick-me-up (I never travel without my Mommy snack purse), my teenage daughter who might be on a different eating schedule, or me needing an energy boost to prepare for the car ride from the airport. • Go electronic. Somehow everything just got easier when our families all moved online. Create a family email – or go old-school and make a travel binder with tabbed sections for flights, car rentals, and hotels. Convert all printed travel brochures to small in-line icons on a smartphone app, to minimize out-of-date carriage-weight.

The good news is that this is manageable, even when parents move from the “travel anywhere” to the “travel on a cruise” or “travel to visit family” stage. Here are my tips for making that easier for everyone:

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