Vacationing with Elderly Parents: Dos and Don’ts

Featured Article, Healthy Aging, Senior Health
on October 2, 2013
should you take elderly parents on vacation

QUESTION: My wife and I would like to arrange a vacation for my elderly parents. They are both in wheelchairs, but still certainly enjoy life and all it has to offer. Do you think we are taking on too much and are headed for disaster?  —Leo and Wilma

ANSWER: No, I don’t think you are headed for disaster in any way, shape or form by vacationing with your elderly parents. You sound like wonderful people who know what life is really about. But planning and making preparations ahead of time is your key to creating some good times and exceptional memories. First on your list, have you asked your parents if they want to take a trip? As adult children of elderly parents, we often think we know what’s best for them. It would be no surprise if they preferred staying close to home and perhaps enjoy a one-day outing. But, if they are young at heart and want to take a longer trip, go for it!

Obviously, some modes of travel are going to be more conducive than others. Needless to say, I’d avoid airplane trips. Air travel these days can be a nightmare, even for the most robust young travelers. Too many lines, too little space on planes, too little services offered, and always the possibility of flight cancellations. A cruise, train trip or even a road trip by car would be a better bet. Cruises are ideal for the older generation because once they are settled into their state room, nothing changes the entire trip. There is an array of meals and meal times available – and you can be sure to let the cruise line know ahead of time if special diets are required. Once in port, your parents will have the choice of going onshore, taking a side trip, or just staying on deck enjoying the view. Since they will be well cared for, you and your wife could possibly take a day trip and know your parents are safe and well-fed.

Train trips offer the same comforts. Sleeping rooms are comfortable and service is excellent. Dining cars are easily accessible and meals are reasonable and usually quite tasty. Spending time in the lounge car each day presents changing vistas. If you don’t have a particular time you have to go, choose the fall season. There is nothing more spectacular than a train trip across the country along the Canadian border or up and down the East Coast to enjoy the fall foliage. Two sites that offer a multitude of trips and help with travel planning are and Both reputable companies offering senior discounts, disabilities services, companion fares, and even allow service animals.

Last but not least, there’s always the possibility of a road trip. Be sure to stop often for a rest, a snack and hydration, arrive at the day’s destination early to allow time to relax before dinner. Prior to the trip, make sure your automobile is in the best condition possible (especially the air conditioner). Most importantly, enjoy the journey! For ideas and road trip packages, check out the American Automobile Association at

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 Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (, the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at or