The past month has been spent happily basking in the English summer sun and revelling in the much needed family time with the three of us – the parents and me – heading down to spend time with the elder sister and brother-in-law who’ve set up home in UK.
The parents also wanted to travel a bit and explore, take in as much of England as their aching knees can allow.
It’s been a while since the parents have travelled extensively and on foreign shores; nearly a decade to be precise. And much has changed in the interim.
While we did manage to squeeze in trips to several places, travelling with them has made me aware of the changes in the dynamics of the family and hints of role reversal.
There is obviously no age bar on travelling and my parents are the kinds who will continue to travel forever – my sister and I get our love for travel from them. My parents will probably raise an eyebrow (or two) if I call them elderly but the fact remains that with their age hovering between 65 and 75 years, travelling has to be planned with a different mindset and requirements.
Here are some pointers that I’ve pulled together from the elder sister and my experience of planning trips for the parents.
- ‘Patience’ is one of the most important things you will pack. Travelling with aging parents and elderly relatives can be daunting as you are responsible for their well-being while ensuring the journey is a rich experience. Even if your parents have been travelling frequently, it is difficult to remain updated with the constant changes across avenues and they may fumble a few times. So remember to keep your cool and stay patient.
- The parents cannot make a sprint for the gate at the other end of the airport to catch a connecting flight with just 20 minutes in hand. Stick to booking direct flights or trains to reduce travel time and cut down chances of missing a connecting flight.
- The immigration line at the Heathrow Airport’s arrival terminal is a mile long and could take up to 40-50 minutes, if not less, to clear. That is too much standing time in a crowded, stuffy area for my father. When I mentioned this to a passenger assistant, he promptly ushered us into the fast track line reserved for those with special permission or families with children. We cleared immigration within 15 minutes.
Moral of the story: Ask for help. Most ground staff and airline crew are more than willing to help make your parents’ journey smooth.
- Make a handy folder with print outs of all documents required for the journey. These would include the passport and visa (if needed), tickets, travel & health insurance, invitation letter etc (if visiting family abroad), identification other than passport, medicine prescriptions, foreign and/or local currency, a credit card, information about contacts, emergency numbers and details of accommodations if any.
- Speak to the family physician when you plan to travel. He will help you with a list of medicines and doses for regular use and in case of emergencies.
- Pack a few doses of prescription medicines in the hand baggage along with the prescriptions. Slide that hand baggage under the seat in front of your parents’ rather than stowing it in the overhead cabin.
- Irrespective of whether you are staying with family or in a hotel, locate the closest pharmacist and hospital before you land.
- Arrange for a prepaid mobile phone or a SIM card before the parents head out alone. Give them a medium to remain in touch with you and also the confidence that comes with the ability to call for help if needed. Store your number and the local emergency numbers on the phone before they start using it.
- Senior citizens can avail discounts on rail tickets, travel tickets, the fee for entry into tourist spots in several parts of the world. These discounts may not necessarily be announced or displayed at the information centre so don’t forget to check with someone in charge. During our trip to Scotland, the parents got discounts on tickets to the tour buses within the cities and the Highland tour. That is a lot of money saved.
- Plan your day at the destination with ample breathing space. The parents visited Cambridge in the morning and then spent the rest of the day with family in London. In Edinburgh too, we spent some time over tea and snacks after reaching the hotel at 4 pm. It was only around 7 pm that we ventured out to walk through the city and grab dinner. Chart a map of the places all of you want to visit and be prepared to bump a few places off the list.
- Consider meal preferences. My parents are always game for different kinds of food but on days when they are tired, they prefer Indian cuisine. We found a few Indian and Nepalese restaurants near our hotel in Edinburgh and tucked into comfort food every night.
- I had a difficult time trying to find accommodation during our recent Scotland trip because most places in and around the city centre had a flight of stairs while others were too far. You want a place that does not skimp on basic comforts and has lesser footprints. Look for one that is central to the city or is located near a railway station, tram line or bus stop. Check for elevators at the place of stay, enquire about the availability of taxis and don’t forget to ask for the room with a view.
- Plan some time alone. Carve out a day during your trip or some daily time where each of you is left to enjoy their space. A dose of time apart is always healthy.
If you can think of any more tips that would be handy for senior citizens travelling alone or for youngsters like me who are planning a trip with the parents, do share them in the comment section below.