Planes, trains & automobiles: your MUST DO guide for successful holiday travel 🛫🚙🚍with your elder
'Tis the season for travel. In this KIRC edition, we dish steps caregivers (and others) can take to make the journey less stressful
It’s that time of year again. HOLIDAY 🛫TRAVEL!
Many of you are preparing to load up your cars or travel vans to hit the roads. Others are pulling out the luggage as you get set to board planes and trains en route to destinations far and wide.
In fact, The American Automobile Association, AAA, has just released the 2021 travel predictions and a whopping number of you are going ‘somewhere’ for the holidays!
109 million people are expected to travel more than 50 miles - by car, air or rail between December 23, 2021 and January 2, 2022. That’s a whole heck-of-a-lot-of-people!
In it’s latest news release, AAA breaks down some terrific information of what considerations you should take into account before traveling:
Best days to travel
Pricing for hotels and rental cars
Making sure accommodations are clean and safe
which days are preferred travel, and more
Over the years as I’ve tracked this yearly offering, there are considerations I have never seen included: and those are the extra steps and precautions you should consider if you happen to be traveling with an elder.
The seriousness of this truly hit me as my caregiving duties with my mother increased. The most physically and emotionally challenging travel moment came when I moved my mother from South Florida to here in Northern California in 2016.
Julia & Miss Nellie/DFW Airport, 2016
A cross-country flight from Miami to San Francisco, with a layover in Dallas was BEYOND stressful. Navigating the airport, lining up a wheelchair transport, making sure mom had bathroom stops and had an open stall, finding food she could eat, walking from point A to point B, using the bathroom once on the plane - Aye-ya-ya! I’m pretty sure I aged ten years during that flight. And I'm going to venture to guess that anyone who is a caregiver routinely feels the exact same way.
Which brings me to the massive numbers of you traveling this year. Obviously I can’t compete with the likes of AAA, but I would like to share with you some “hands-on” experiences that might be able to offer some help if you are a caregiver and travel is in your future.
And if you are NOT a caregiver, but see others who clearly are, keep these items in mind. We [caregivers] truly need everyone to help us in these efforts.
The reality is, EVERYTHING is not only harder, but it takes SO - MUCH - LONGER! So if you have travel plans, I would advise to build in an additional one to two hours for prep time. Why? You'll need the time for:
Loading into the car
Bathrooms stops along the way
Getting from home to car, to bus, to train, to airport, etc…. It is ALL going to take MUCH longer.
Remember, you can’t rush an elder. You need to make sure they feel safe and comfortable. Keep in mind if you are traveling you may be heading into unfamiliar territory for them. Be mindful of how SCARY all of this can be. Be mindful of what they are feeling and how everything around them is impacting their sense of well-being.
Hitting the roads
If you are traveling by car, realize you’ll probably need to make extra bathroom stops. That alone is going to add time.
And here’s why I think it's a good idea to do a little 'recon' BEFORE hitting the road.:
Do you know which exits/stops have clean, safe bathrooms?
If a wheelchair or walker is involved - is there a ramp into the building?
Does the location have proper wheelchair accessible bathrooms?
Sure, your elder may not have any disabilities, except they are older and may need assistance (wider stalls, grab-bars, a sink in the bathroom for cleaning up should there be an accident), but that still means YOU have to think about these items.
And speaking of accessible bathrooms… this is the part I am going to VENT just a little bit.
WHY IN THE WORLD DO BUSINESS LOCATIONS CONSTRUCT PUBLIC FACILITIES WITH ONLY ONE STALL WHICH HAS GRAB BARS???
Sometimes even major airports aren’t much better in that respect. Seriously? ONE stall with grab bars??? How much more expensive could it possibly be to install grab bars in each and every stall? C’mon developers… we can do better! In fact, I CHALLENGE you to do better.
If there is ANYONE out there reading this who is in the construction biz, please reach out to me. email@example.com. I would love to interview you on this topic and learn how I can add my voice for greater advocacy in this space
This is a cause I want to talk more about and spark change. Perhaps hearing the personal challenges will help those designing public spaces think differently about the realities we face with aging.
Because it is not JUST those with physical disabilities who need those wider, grab-bar stalls!
No, it is perhaps anyone who is older, uses a wheelchair or walker, and their caregiver who probably has to go into the stall with them to assist! (I speak from personal experience).
Uh-oh...there's been an accident!
And, speaking of needing accessible bathrooms… please DO NOT USE THOSE STALLS if you do not need accessible accommodations for yourself or your elder. The reality is - those of us helping an elder navigate do not have another choice. You do. WAIT for another open stall!
If you will be staying in a hotel, keep in mind there may be only ONE accessible room available. Without such accommodations, it may be impossible to travel with an elder who needs a larger bathroom with grab-bars, access to the shower and the ability to reach the sink.
If you think this article is just me being fussy, think again. The following input is from KIRC readers who shared some of their experiences when I asked, “What are your biggest challenges with traveling?”
REAL caregivers sound off
“The one thing I worry about travel is thinking about not just where you are going, but you need to think about the ‘in-between.’ Where you pass through may not have the amenities an elderly person might need. Access to simple things such as food they can understand. For example, I can’t give my dad a taco because he doesn’t remember how to eat it.
I have to know, are the toilets too low? How long is the trip? If I’m out driving and my dad doesn’t recognize the area, he gets scared that I might leave him.” - Male caregiver to elderly father - MB
“The cold weather is the worst part of it all the time. I hate taking my 82 year old mom outside when it’s cold. It is just easier for her to slip and fall trying to get her in the car.” - KB
“The bathroom! My dad has memory loss. The bathroom can only have one way in and out. I don’t want him to feel like a child so I don’t go inside, but I stand at a distance and make sure he is able to regroup as he leaves the restroom. If we are at an airport, etc., then I sit outside the door so he can see me when he exits.” - CD
“My Aunt is 57 has spina bifida and is wheelchair-bound. Transferring anywhere is hard. We don’t have a wheelchair van but are working to get one for her so we can travel with her.” - SR
Clearly, I could go on, but I won’t. I think you get the point. So here's what you SHOULD do as we approach the thick of holiday travel:
Caregivers: plan, plan, plan and then plan and prepare some more. Our elders are the first priority. Keep them safe. Comfortable. Emotionally calm. And respect that everything will take longer.
Everyone else: Consider my personal story as well as those you just read from fellow caregivers. DO NOT USE ACCESSIBLE BATHROOMS if that is not you. If you see an elder or caregiver who looks like they might need some help, ask them and offer to do so. Kindness goes a long way in this area.
Getting older isn’t always easy or fun and it can be SUPER stressful for the caregiver involved. It’s the holiday season - be NICE to each other.
And as I reminded you in our Thanksgiving holiday update… time isn’t promised for anyone. None of us know if this is our last holiday season with our elders. Cherish it. Take your time. And be safe.
Happy holiday travels!
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