Travel with parents, grandparents, first-timers and other novices is a different experience and requires a little different preparation. A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, with my parents. My dad has Lyme disease and we were told a specialist there might be able to help him. Now, my dad will always know more about cars than me and my sewing skills will never compare to my mothers. But travel, that is my game.
As my mom began making plans for a trip north, she asked me for some travel advice. It did not take long before I realized a trip, even one as small as this, was going to be challenge for them given their limited travel experience. So I offered to come along and try to help make things a little less stressful for them. I wanted my dad to focus on his treatments and not be distracted by anything else.
Travel with Parents
Perhaps your parents are old hats are getting around an airport and renting cars. Mine are not. Below are some suggestions for how to travel with one’s parents. In addition, R also wrote a post on how to travel with your family.
Note: some of the things I learned could also be applied to anyone traveling with first-time or novice travelers.
Provide instruction beforehand
When you are traveling with someone who is new to flying or who has not flown for many years, do not assume they are up-to-date on the latest rules and regulations. For example, my mom was under the impression that she could not take any food on the plane. She also did not know that toothpaste is considered a liquid and needs to be packed separately if you are carrying it on the plane. Given the constantly changing rules and the media’s inability to accurately report on anything, it is not surprising she was a bit confused. So the more instruction and clarity you can provide beforehand, the easier the experience will be for everyone when you are going through security.
I opted to visit my folks the weekend before we left so I could answer questions, help my mom with her packing list, make sure their luggage was the right size, etc. A little prep work with them beforehand definitely contributed to smoother experience in the airport.
Get ready to answer questions
When you travel regularly, you tend to forget how strange and different that world really is. R and I hop on plane, pop in our headphones and pull out our books. But with someone new, that is actually kind of rude. I found myself experiencing a flight through my parents’ eyes and it made me look at everything a bit differently. I answered questions about things I have not thought about in a long time. My mom was delighted to find out she can play Candy Crush on her phone as long as it is in airplane mode. Being ready and willing to answer questions will assist both you and your folks through the experience.
Note: be sure to explain the flight attendant call button to your dad BEFORE he accidentally pushes it.
Keep everything under one reservation
If possible, keep everything under one reservation. I discussed logistics with mom, but then I went ahead and booked the flights, car and VRBO for all of us. The main reason I did this was to keep things simple. I was the only one who needed to keep track of our reservations and check in for our flights. It was me who dealt with the rental car agent. I was the single point of contact for our VRBO. Trust me, booking, coordinating and tracking is easier if one person takes the lead—preferably the person with the most travel experience.
Also, having one reservation resulted in a couple of bonuses:
- Bonus #1: more rewards for me. My parents do not belong to any reward programs so there was no advantage to them paying for their own trip. I, on the other hand, do track and earn rewards for travel. Booking everything at once meant triple the rewards for me.
- Bonus #2: TSA PreCheck for all. Although there was no guarantee, my folks did end up with TSA PreCheck because they were connected to me. The airports we traveled to and from were small and lines were short. But TSAPreCheck meant my dad did not have to take off his shoes, which is difficult for him. When R and her mom flew to Seattle last week, her mom also got TSA PreCheck. (R booked both flights using her Delta SkyMiles.)
Be ready for new experiences
After checking our bags, retrieving our boarding passes and making our way through security, my dad realized he did not have his pain pills. He was due to take one in about an hour and by the time our flight landed, he would be in a lot of pain (if he doesn’t stay on top of his pain management, it can get pretty bad). We all talked about it and made a valiant effort to convince ourselves that dad would be fine. However, I could tell my mom was upset because she forgot to take them out of his checked bag (or remind him to do so) and I could see my dad getting more and more anxious.
Finally, I went and talked to the gate agent about retrieving a checked bag. Apparently, it is possible to retrieve and recheck a checked bag. It was a brand-new experience for me. Honestly, the only reason I felt it worked was because the airport is small, it was a slow night and our flight was delayed. Thankfully, everything worked out and we all learned a couple of valuable lessons in the process.
Rethink how you use technology
Smartphone and apps have changed the way we travel. I can hardly remember what it was like to travel without my iPhone (or even get through my day, sadly). But my dad does not have a smartphone and my mom does not have any travel apps. So I needed to rethink how I use my phone for travel and adjust according to my parents’ needs.
First off, there would be no electronic boarding passes. We went old school and printed them off at the airport. I still kept track of all our reservations in Google Trips, but I was not able to share that information with my mom. I ended up emailing her our itinerary instead. On the other hand, Google Maps was a lifesaver. As we navigated an unfamiliar town, trying to find our lodging, the doctor’s office, places to eat, etc., the voice in my phone directed us on where to go. Even my dad, who claims to hate modern technology, stated how grateful he was for the convenience Google Maps provided. I had to give some thought to which technologies would work best on a trip with my parents. But in the end, I think we struck a nice balance.
Bring something to do…for your parents
R and I always board a plane with something to pass the time. (We had a situation on a flight to Hawaii that reinforced our need to do so.) Thankfully, I told my mom ahead of time that she should bring some reading material for my dad. He subscribes to a couple of magazines and she would not let him read the latest issues until we were in the airport. Having something new to read gave him a way to pass the time and thinking ahead meant they were not spending airport prices on reading material.
Do your research
Of course, I did my usual research when it comes to travel and made a list of all the places I wanted to see and all the things I wanted to do. For the better part of two days, I was on my own and able to explore to my heart’s content. Belatedly though, I realized my list did not include too many dad-friendly activities. During the time I spent with my folks, I struggled with finding ways to entertain my dad. He cannot walk far so exploring on foot was not an option. And his hip gets stiff if he sits in a car for too long.
We ended up going on several mini road trips with stops along the way for him to get out and stretch. This was a great way to explore, but I wish I had done a little bit better of a job researching the area beforehand. And I really wish I had packed my Idaho for the Curious: A Guide by Cort Conley. We could have rolled along while mom read to us the history of the area. My Idaho atlas would not have been remiss either. Lesson learned on that one on how to travel with parents.
Set realistic expectations
R and I are not foodies, but we do enjoy sampling the local fare and searching out the places and dishes unique to an area. I actually did quite a bit of research on places to eat since that is something I figured my dad would enjoy. The places I suggested were not exotic, but he still preferred to eat at a name he recognized. We did manage to go to a couple of local places and I got to one on my own. But overall, my experience eating in Coeur d’Alene was not what I expected and I could have done a better job managing those expectations. Plus, I could have saved myself some time researching.
Don’t forget to pack your patience
In general, when it comes to travel with parents, patience is key. There is a lot of waiting around and things are bound to go wrong. When traveling with family, patience is doubly important. After all, nothing tries your patience like family. For whatever reason, when nerves are frayed and tempers are short, we tend to take it out on those we love. Overall, our trip went very smoothly and I rarely needed to remind myself to be patient. But who knows what might happen on future trips and patience is always a good thing to keep in mind.
Find joy in the little things
My dad loves to fly. He turns into a little kid when he climbs on an airplane. In fact, he insisted on the window seat and after we sat, he pouted and said, “I got the wing.” Luckily, we were able to move so he could look out the window and enjoy the scenery below. He has an enthusiasm I lost a long time ago. But I found his excitement contagious and it made me enjoy a take off again.
Other little things I enjoyed include teaching my mom how to use Google Maps, introducing my dad to hummus and watching my folks take their first Uber ride. Travel with parents brings with it challenges and obstacles. But it also brings with it fun and adventure and I thank my parents for highlighting some of the more fun parts of travel.
Travel with parents and grandparents is very different from travel with your best friend. It brings with it challenges; however, if you take certain steps, it can be a lot of fun. I enjoyed my time in Coeur d’Alene with my parents very much. I also enjoyed sharing my love of travel with them. Best of all, when they fly back in September for a follow-up appointment, they feel confident they can do it on their own. Passing on that knowledge is very rewarding.