Whether you’re flying or driving to your destination (or getting there by some other means), here’s the most important piece of advice I can give you for traveling with an aging parent: expect delays. If you’re flying, your plane might not depart on time, you might miss a connection (or two!), and there’s always a chance that your flight will be a nightmare full of crying babies, fighting passengers, or smelly feet. And if you’re driving, you’ll need to stop a lot more often than you anticipated, because bathroom breaks rarely occur at the same time as stops to gas up the car or eat. So adjust your usual expectations and allow more time than you think you’ll need to get to your destination—and maybe even a bit of extra time for finding accommodations on the fly if your plans go awry (I’ve had to do this with Mom on many occasions after we’ve gotten far behind on our driving schedule).

Planes, Canes, and Automobiles

Mom’s preferred method of killing time in an airport!

Although these sorts of challenges may sound like good reasons to stay home, preparing for a travel delay in advance will actually lessen the stress of dealing with them. For example, bringing items that can help smooth over any bumps you encounter during your trip can go a long way toward making the vacation more enjoyable for your parents (and for you, too!). Here’s a list of possibilities:

  • Earplugs or headphones. (The latter are especially helpful if your parent wears hearing aids.)
  • Healthy snacks, such as almonds or fruit bars. (These come in handy if your parent has low blood sugar, if he or she needs to eat before taking medicines, or if you miss a connecting flight late at night and all the restaurants in the terminal are closed until the next day.)
  • Sanitary wipes and tissues.
  • Reading materials, games, and a fully charged iPad loaded with movies. (The more entertainment options, the merrier!)
  • A copy of the itinerary for your parent, so he or she won’t have to keep asking you, “When will we get there?” (Honestly, I think that Mom asks me that mostly to get revenge for all the times I pestered here with “Are we there yet?” when I was a kid!)
  • Socks and a light jacket or blanket. (Many older adults find airplane temperatures too cold—and Mom is no exception.)
  • Compression socks. (These aren’t for everyone, though. They hurt Mom’s legs so we do not use, but for many aging parents, they are a lifesaver, especially on long haul flights.)
  • Chocolate. (It’s amazing how the pain of a flight delay can be eased with a little treat! My mom has a little chocolate every night, so bringing some along on a trip has the added bonus of enabling her to her maintain her daily ritual and therefore feel a bit more comfortable when we travel.)

I would love to say that I rarely have to break out these items during our travels, but the reality is that because little problems and inconveniences arise during every trip, it’s pretty standard for Mom and me to use most (and sometimes all) of my “emergency supplies” while in transit. One great benefit to having this stuff on hand? Guilt-free binge watching of my favorite TV shows and reading of gossip magazines! After all, when you’re delayed in an airport, you have to do what you can to survive, right?

What helps you get through a travel delay? Would love to hear your secrets!