Traveling with Grandparents

On vacation


10 Ways to make a trip with Grandma & Grandpa go more smoothly

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Why go?

At KidTripster, we’re often encouraging parents to travel regularly with their children, reminding them that they only have 18 summers before their children’s lives and priorities will start to change. However, we want to communicate that same kind of urgency when it comes to traveling with grandparents. They, too, want to spend precious time with their grandchildren and you - and vice versa. In many cases, families wait too long to include grandparents in their travel plans and then find that grandparents develop severe limitations that can affect their ability to participate.

In the last two weeks, I’ve traveled on two separate trips with grandparents: one was road trip with my 73-year-old mother and the other was a trip involving air travel with my 75-year-old mother-in-law who hadn’t flown in 14 years. I was struck by one thing - the joy that they derived from being included and actively sharing in our family’s memories. It’s a joy that we should all aspire to give our parents.

However, travel can come with some challenges. While there are certainly grandparents out there who are spry and in excellent health, I am going to assume - for the purposes of this article - that your parents may have some limitations. Both my mother and mother-in-law have significant health and mobility issues. But with advance planning and support, I know that it’s possible for most grandparents to enjoy travel with their children and grandchildren in the later years of their lives.

So, let’s get started!

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1/Think through every step of air travel

As a travel editor, I fly… a lot. Like anything that you do often, it becomes second nature. I really don’t give it much thought; I just do. But when traveling with my mother-in-law, I found myself rethinking every step of the process. I encourage you to do the same.

First, when booking a grandparent’s airline ticket, make sure to select a seat as close to the front of the plane as possible. My mother-in-law can only walk very short distances, so every step matters. She also has balance issues, so I booked an aisle seat to make trips to the lavatory easier. Make sure you ask your parent whether he or she would feel more comfortable if you helped steady them on that walk.

KidTripster Tip: It may be that the closest restroom to your parent’s seat is in the first class section. Explain your situation to a flight attendant in advance and ask permission for your parent to use the closet lavatory. In most cases, the crew will accommodate your request.

Also when booking your airline ticket, you’re often able to request a wheelchair online. If not, make sure to do it when you check in at the ticket counter. You’ll also want to build extra time into your pre-boarding schedule to accommodate that request.

KidTripster Tip: Think through how your parent will get into the airport. If the walk from the parking area is too long, plan to drop him or her off curbside at the departure area and then go park.

The wheelchair service is free. The attendant will be happy to wait while your parent takes care of bathroom needs or while you wait in line to grab snacks for the plane. An attendant also will be on the jet bridge with a wheelchair when your plane arrives at your destination. The attendant will wheel your parent to the car rental shuttle or taxi/ride share line. On your return home, the attendant will transport your parent all the way to your car in the parking garage. Just ask.

KidTripster Tip: While it’s a free service, it’s a nice gesture to tip the attendant who goes the extra mile (or at least out to the parking garage) a few dollars.

Some other details to think about: if your parent hasn’t flown for a long time, he or she may need a primer on the 3-1-1 rule for liquids and a heads-up about TSA procedures at the security checkpoint. Make sure your parent has packed some snacks, especially if he or she suffers from low blood sugar. And if your parent is not savvy with apps, get a printed boarding pass at the counter when you arrive at the airport.

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2/Be constantly vigilant about obstacles

Again, the grandparents in your life may be sure-footed; mine are not. I found myself constantly looking ten feet ahead to spot any potential obstacles. Make sure you’re ready to lend a hand getting into cars or stepping up into car rental shuttles. Be aware of uneven pavement or uneven ground at a park. And cobblestone streets… don’t get me started on cobblestone streets!

3/Make special requests at the hotel

Call your hotel in advance to make any special requests. I don’t typically like a first floor room, but when staying with my mother at an expansive Orlando resort, it made sense to cut the walking distance from her room to the outdoor amenities. If you’re at a hotel that doesn’t have first floor rooms, consider asking for a room close to the elevator.

You even may want to consider requesting a handicap-accessible room. My mother doesn’t use a wheelchair, but she can’t lift her leg over the tub edge to use the shower - something that I wouldn’t have considered had she not told me.

4/Plan to stop often on a road trip

If you’re traveling by car with a grandparent, you may want to budget more time for roadside stops. Yes, we all need bathroom breaks, but grandparents also may need time to just get out and stretch. My mother really can’t sit for more than two hours. Rather than being annoyed by the frequent stops, use them as opportunities to have a snack, respond to email or check out a wacky roadside attraction. I hear the Giant Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas is pretty impressive!

Small ship cruise with grandparents

5/Consider cruising differently

Cruises have long been touted as excellent options for multi-generational vacations - and they are. The variety in food options, onboard activities, and offshore excursions tends to please everyone. However, over the last few years, ships have become behemoth, presenting real challenges for grandparents who may have mobility issues.

If you have your heart set on a family cruise, consider cruising differently. I’m a big fan of small ship cruises. Smaller ships are a much more manageable size for grandparents, but the experience is still big on adventure and family togetherness. Click here to read about some small ship cruises that I recommend.

6/Consider special dietary needs

When I’m traveling, I look forward to some adventurous eating, especially if I’m in a location serving food that’s very different from my own region… except when I’m traveling with my mother. In her defense, she has a long list of foods that simply don’t agree with her. So before we go anywhere, we look at online menus to make certain that she’ll have an adequate selection. The same is true for my mother-in-law who’s a vegetarian.

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7/Know your grandparent’s medications

I’ll admit it, I failed on this one the first time out. It didn’t occur to me until about halfway through the trip that I had no idea what medications my mother-in-law took. It’s imperative that you have a complete, written list of every medication that your parent takes, plus a list of any allergies. You certainly don’t want to find yourself in the middle of a medical emergency unable to communicate that information to doctors.

KidTripster Tip: Prior to the trip, ask your parents about their medication schedule. When out of their routine, it can be easy to forget to take medications on time. Set an alarm on your phone so that you can help remind them.

8/Plan for the worst case scenario

My mother will be the first to admit that she has an awful sense of direction, but she still wants the freedom to wander off and explore on her own. After all, she’s an adult! But in case of an emergency, make sure your name and phone number is written down on a piece of paper in your parent’s purse or wallet. Also, it’s helpful to right down the name of the place where you’re staying, just in case your parent forgets.

KidTripster Tip: My mom has a habit of not keeping her phone on. Make sure your parent does.

9/Build in rest time

Traveling with me can be exhausting. I’m a go-go-go kind of person. Just like you would plan downtime for younger kids, give your older parents the option of sitting out an activity. Frankly, they may just need a break from the family and constant togetherness!

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10/Get feedback on the itinerary

Remember, while you may be doing all the planning for the family vacation, it’s your parents’ vacation, too. They should get some input. Make sure to share the itinerary well in advance to give grandparents the opportunity to add stops that would interest them.

KidTripster Tip: Make sure to take lots of photos on your family’s trip. You’ll want to look back on those memories!

Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah fondly remembers her grandfather taking his first flight at age 73 so that he could go to Georgia with the family.

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