Airport departure … Ready or not, here we go!
Story and images courtesy of Valerie M. Grubb
As the Baby Boomer generation continues to move into their fifties and sixties, more adults than ever before are bringing aging parents on holiday with them. However, planning the logistics, activities, and itinerary for a vacation suitable for adult family members of different ages, interests, and physical abilities can be a challenging task. Author and travel connoisseur, Valerie Grubb has successfully walked the walk, country by country through her mother’s sixties, seventies and eighties. Valerie shares her experiences with our readers and offers invaluable tips for successful inter-generational travel that includes aging parents.
When I was young, of course, I could count on my yearly trips with my parents to see Mickey Mouse in Florida and my grandparents in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Once I went to college, though, my choice of traveling companions changed almost exclusively to vacations with friends.
Brother Eric, Mom and Valerie do a helicopter ride to the Mendenhall Glacier near Alaska’s capital, Juneau.
That changed again in 1994 when I found myself with a backlog of holiday time that had a time limit on it and a boss who insisted that the company could survive without me for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, none of my friends could get vacation time approved on such short notice, but to be honest, I was too much of a wimp to go to a foreign country by myself. My brother was long gone from the house, and my dad was a pilot whose work took him away from home much of the time. That left Mom …
Since moving out on my own, Mom and I had never spent more than a weekend at a time together. Two weeks far away in Italy sounded as crazy to me as taking time off from work. However, I bit the bullet and invited her — and she said yes.
Mom (then 64) had one requirement for coming along: pre-booked hotel rooms in Rome, Florence, and Venice (she was okay with figuring out everything else on the fly). It was only after the trip I realized that pre-booking was the best decision we had made, because during the trip I had enough adjustments to make to Mom’s style (and vice versa, I’m sure!) without also having to worry about where to lay our heads each night.
Mom hitches a motorbike ride in Cambodia.
During that first trip, I discovered that Mom requires a minimum of an hour and 15 minutes to eat any meal (including snacks or coffee and dessert), that she cannot skip meals (something I frequently did), and that she must have eggs for breakfast (a meal I typically skipped). After sleeping late and packing up on our last morning in Venice, we couldn’t find a place that was still serving eggs. While searching for almost an hour, I remember being really angry at her inability to compromise — and at my inability to find a restaurant that served eggs.
As I leaned against a post to take some deep breaths, I noticed that the restaurant two storefronts along had a sign advertising quiche, even though they’d told me they weren’t serving eggs when I asked earlier. The server at the door was delighted to see us return to the restaurant, and in true Italian fashion he couldn’t help but be charming to two women traveling by themselves.
After lunch (and a few glasses of wine), I asked the waiter if he knew that quiche was made with eggs. His surprised “No!” seemed genuine, and in fact he insisted on verifying this with the chef, who set him straight. He then sat down with us for an additional glass (or two) of wine. Although our lunch wasn’t the fanciest meal we had in Italy, it was the most hard won — and one that established a baseline for our travels ever since!
The ladies appropriately celebrate Chinese New Year in Shanghai, China.
Twenty years and 300,000 miles later, our trip to Italy remains one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken. For the first time in my life, I saw my mother as a person, not as a tormenter who existed solely to question my choice in both men and lipsticks. Our travels together as grown-ups these last two decades have increased my respect for her and strengthened the overwhelming love I have for this person who has become a friend in addition to being my parent.
Valerie and her mother bookend a Statue of Liberty replica in their favorite color. ©Kelley School of Business at Indiana University/Josh Anderson
The book, Planes, Canes, and Automobiles grew out of the success of my blog, Travel with Aging Parents, which I launched in 2013. My impetus for the blog came in late 2012 when planning a trip to Australia. I realized my mother’s capabilities had changed: she now needed a wheelchair and did not want to travel alone even on short flights. I looked for suggestions for handling these changes, and I was struck by the lack of resources to help people plan vacations with an aging friend or family member. I couldn’t find any comprehensive information that shed light on the nuances of globetrotting with aging parents, and realized that many of my friends were struggling with the same challenges.
Planes, Canes, and Automobiles is available on Amazon.com and through other internet and local booksellers.
Paperback, published Oct 2015, 248 pages
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
ISBN-10: 1626342164; ISBN-13: 978-1626342163
This informative book offers insights and tips on:
Developing Strong Bonds: How traveling can create stronger bonds between you and your parents in ways that no number of phone calls and emails can ever equal.
Choosing a Location That Suits Everyone’s Interests: How to pick a vacation spot that all ages and interests can enjoy.
Dealing with Medical Concerns: The best ways to manage medical issues and crises while on vacation.
Changing Capabilities: Tips for traveling with your parents after their physical and mental capabilities begin to falter.
Forgetting the Past and Moving Forward: Techniques for “letting go” of the emotional baggage from your childhood and enjoying your time away together.
Asking and Listening: Why you should never treat your parents as children even when you’re the decision maker.
Prioritizing Alone Time: How to build downtime into your schedule regardless how busy you are.
Ready for some ocean kayaking off Sitka, Alaska?
A Thailand elephant deftly snitches Mom’s hat.
“This is a book full of warmth and love…[and a] wealth of information, tips, and practical suggestions based on personal experience on how to plan, survive, and enjoy taking trips with one’s parents as they age. The valuable appendixes, with sample packing lists, itineraries, and resources, are reason enough to explore this book, and Grubbs’s honest discussions of the ups and downs of traveling with her Mom gives the narrative a human touch. VERDICT: A solid choice for anyone looking for ways to involve their parents in their journeys.” — LibraryJournal
In addition to writing about travel with aging parents, Valerie Grubb is the principal of Val Grubb & Associates, Ltd, working with companies throughout the U.S., Asia, Europe, South America, and Central Eastern Europe as an operations and leadership consultant. She has also served as the vice president of strategic operations and initiatives at NBC Universal. Connect with Val through Facebook. or her Travel with Aging Parents blog.