As our family members age, mobility limitations and health issues can present new challenges to traveling. That’s not to say that travel with aging parents is impossible under those circumstances, though. On the contrary, a relatively new travel industry called assisted vacations is making it possible for people of all abilities to travel with their families. An assistant (who is often a registered nurse) helps families plan and carry out trips that accommodate the needs of family members with cognitive or physical limitations.
Personal experience led Thomas Stern to create a company called Assisted Vacation. In the first part of this interview, he discussed what his company does and how it got started, and today he offers even more information about assisted vacations.
(VG): What do assistants do during a typical vacation with clients?
(TS): We design our person-centered services according to the precise needs of each client. Our services range from providing a few hours of support per day to traveling with clients 24/7 for several weeks. Our team members are located throughout the USA and Europe, and most of them are registered nurses with broad healthcare experience who can provide personal care, medication management, and even skilled nursing procedures (such as catheter changes).
(VG): Are there any destinations or settings that work particularly well for assisted vacations?
(TS): Countries and regions with older populations are generally better equipped to meet the needs of our guests. For example, logistical preparations are often easier in the USA and Europe, where hotels generally offer accessible rooms that aren’t always available in developing countries. But developing regions often offer benefits such as strong social traditions of weaving elders and their needs into the social fabric. With all that in mind, we avoid very few regions because our careful planning enables us to deliver the exact experience that our clients want, regardless of location!
(VG): What was the most challenging assisted vacation you’ve arranged for a client? From that experience, did you learn anything new that has benefited other clients?
(TS): Our most challenging assisted vacation was not an assisted vacation at all. Rather, it was a long car trip we took as a family with my grandmother, Nati, who had Alzheimer’s disease. I wrote about it in detail on my blog, but the short version is that this trip, which we undertook completely on our own, made us realize how valuable assistance could be to people who wanted to travel with family members with physical or cognitive limitations.
This trip taught us that having a caring, supportive helper along on holiday can make the experience better for everyone involved. It also taught us the importance of planning!
(VG): Based on your experiences working with senior travelers, what preparation advice do you have for seniors who are planning a big trip?
(TS): Plan your trip well. Part of the excitement of travel lies in the challenge of the journey. But tight airport connections, poor infrastructure, and the unavailability of necessities such as medications can make travel very difficult. Proper planning (which includes calling ahead to hotels to let them know about mobility issues) can go a long way toward making travel for seniors both safer and more enjoyable.
(VG): What do you find most challenging about your work?
(TS): Definitely the rigorous planning (such as locating accessible hotels, ordering supplemental oxygen, and scheduling adequate transition times) that goes into each assisted vacation so our clients can rest assured that every detail of their vacation will run smoothly.
(VG): What do you enjoy most about your work?
(TS): I love helping our clients benefit from the quality of life that vacation enhances! For both individuals with physical or cognitive limitations and their caregivers, we help make vacation dreams a reality.
Thanks to Thomas Stern for sharing this information (and the accompanying images) with my readers! I hope that anyone who’s wanted to travel with aging parents but hesitated to do so because of their mobility or health issues will now feel inspired to explore the possibilities of assisted vacations!