Last week, I answered a question posted to the Travel with Aging Parents Facebook page by Marsha, who wanted suggestions for planning a trip with her mother, who is around my mom’s age (early 80s) and has somewhat limited mobility. This week, I respond to a follow-up question from Gayle:

I love your site! I would like more info on how to go on a vacation with my husband. We are older, and I have a lot of medical problems that make it hard to get around. Please let me know what’s the best way. Thank you.

Although my response to Marsha’s question certainly applies to yours as well, Gayle, I sense your hesitation and lack of confidence about even considering a vacation with your current medical conditions. So I’d like to expand on last week’s answer and give you and my other readers some ideas about how to start planning a trip—and a bit of encouragement, too!

These also make great tips for travel beginners.

Step 1: Decide where to go

I suggest you start small for your first trip: keep it local by exploring a nearby large city. Choose a location that’s an easy drive from where you live and has features or attractions that interest you.

Many cities have museums, for example, or noteworthy restaurants. An Internet search for “top 10 things to do in [city name]” should turn up plenty of ideas. You can also contact your destination’s Chamber of Commerce or your local AAA office for more information.

This trip doesn’t have to be full of tourist activities or visits to local attractions, though. Something as simple as an overnight stay in a hotel can be a fun mini-vacation just because it’s a variation from your usual routine. For example, I’ve done many one-night hotel stays just so I could sleep in a different bed for a night and do brunch at the hotel the next day (and have someone else cook and clean up afterward!). The holidays can be an especially good time of year for these sorts of overnight trips because larger hotels typically have fun activities available right on site and often offer holiday-themed package deals.

Whether you’re staying in a hotel one night or several, plan just one activity for each day, followed by some relaxation time in the hotel. For example, bring a book to use for cover as you sit in the main lobby and do some people watching (always a fascinating experience)! Let your imagination run wild and guess where each person you see is from and why he or she is at the hotel. I’ve encountered some very interesting people on the road—and created some fascinating stories about them in my head!

 

Step 2: Find accommodations

Once you’ve identified your destination, focus on accommodations. Although bed and breakfasts can offer a fantastic “homey” feel, they may present accessibility issues because they typically feature second-floor bedrooms and no elevators. For that reason, a hotel may be better choice for you.

Look for larger hotel chains, because they usually have rooms equipped with grab bars and other safety features. Take a look at last month’s two-part interview with hotel executive Will Perry for several tips for booking a hotel room with the accessibility options you need (part 1, part 2). If you have serious mobility or health concerns, a senior citizens’ center or AARP office in that city may be able to offer suggestions on local hotels that can offer greater assistance with your specific needs.

 

Step 3: Pack

Pack light for you and your spouse. Lay out on your bed everything that you want to take with you—then put half of it back into your closet and dresser. For a stay of one or even two nights, one bag should be able to hold clothes for both of you. Dragging two suitcases around definitely won’t add to the fun. (If you have to wear the same thing twice, don’t worry about it. Remember, you’re on vacation!).

Don’t forget to pack your medications as well as your schedule for taking them. Taking medications on time may actually be one of your biggest challenges, because your pill schedule can easily get messed up when you change your routine. Bring several copies of your schedule and always keep one with you so you can refer to it often. If you don’t already own one, this may be a good time to invest in a pill organizer.

7-day pill organizerA pill checklist is also useful. When Mom and I do long-haul flights, I write up a medication schedule for each day and check each pill off the list as she takes it. This technique ensures she gets them all down (and doesn’t take any duplicates).

 

Step 4: Get out and GO!

Once you’ve chosen a nearby location that interests you, found accommodations, and packed, you’re off to the races! After your trip, write a journal about what you liked and what you plan to do differently next time.

Don’t be surprised if you’re tired when you get home—even low-key overnight travel can take a lot out of you. But the thrill of being in a strange place, seeing new things, and eating food prepared by someone else all make travel interesting and rewarding. By starting small and working your way up to longer and more complicated trips, you’ll gain the skills and confidence to jet cross country (and even farther afield) before you know it!

 

Good luck, Gayle! Keep me posted on your travel adventures! What are your favorite tips for travel beginners?