Although trip planning should take into account the energy levels and interests of all participants, don’t underestimate your elderly parents’ drive and willingness to challenge themselves physically, socially, and intellectually. For example, the 63-year-old mom of this week’s guest blogger, Carrie Roberts (an American who’s lived in London for the past few year or so), gallivants around Europe with confidence—and with no company but herself. Your own parent might not be up for such globetrotting, but perhaps Carrie’s tale can inspire him or her to embark on a new travel adventure with you!

Prior to moving to London, Carrie Roberts worked for Val Grubb & Associates, my consulting company, as a project manager.  After launching this blog, I immediately thought of Carrie’s own travel experiences, having lived in Australia and now in Europe.  Earlier this year, her mom was in London for a visit and Carrie was telling me about how much her mom gets out and about in Europe on her own.  It highlighted to me that there are lessons learned whether you’re on the road with your parents or they’re on the road on their own.

My Mom: More than Meets the Eye
by Carrie Roberts; London, England

It’s been five years since the death of my father and during that time my 63 year-old mother has filled her life with friends, home, dog, garden—and travel. For her, travel is a diversion from the same old stuff, and stepping onto a plane or train infuses her with energy!

When she’s on the road, Mom is fearless. A four-day tour of Amsterdam, Brussels, and Bruges with no companion but her thoughts? Easy. A trip to Paris by herself? No problem. She sets out to conquer each challenge in order to prove to herself that she can do it—and perhaps, too, to prove to herself that life isn’t over for her just yet.

Carrie and Bev

During Mom’s most recent trip to visit my family and me in London, she stayed with us for three weeks. She took a number of trips outside the city, including a solo day trip to Paris that proved to be a bit more challenging than her usual excursions.

Most adult children might worry about an unaccompanied elderly parent exploring a foreign city on his or her own, but I encourage my mother to travel wherever she wants. Mom is able-bodied and comfortable with her own company, and she has a sense of adventure that rivals that of most 20-somethings. The best thing she can do to stay active and happy is keep exploring outside of her comfort zone, pushing personal boundaries by crossing geographical ones.

Mom enjoyed her Paris adventure. Well, “enjoyed” might not be the best word—“conquered” is more like it! In addition to encountering a few less-than-friendly Parisians, Mom also arrived during the high peak of summer, when the city was heaving with people and using any bathroom in the Louvre required a 40-minute wait. (Nothing quite like trying to view Mona Lisa while in desperate need of a toilet!)

While standing in yet another line that day, Mom started chatting with a fellow American (who was traveling with her family). Upon learning that my mother was on her own in Paris, this stranger asked incredulously, “Really? You’re alone?” Perhaps she intended to express admiration for my mom’s adventurousness and confidence, but I don’t think she realized that her exclamation not only rather insensitively underlined my mother’s state of being over 60 and (fairly) newly single, but also indicated surprise that my mother would be capable of this sort of travel. Fortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, my mother is confident and comfortable with herself, and she handled the encounter with a laugh and a joke.

Mom encountered a few more minor mishaps that day: rude waiters, discourteous train travelers, trouble finding the right Eurostar platform at Gare du Nord. Nearly 16 hours after she left she was back in my London living room, sipping a much-needed scotch as she recounted her day. Her trip to Paris wasn’t “fun” in any usual sense. But it was a positive experience she won’t forget any time soon. By that measure, she and I count this trip a success.

Perhaps the point of travel isn’t to have unadulterated fun but to be slightly uncomfortable and to feel a little out of control. Those experiences give you time to turn inward, challenge your belief systems, and let you experience personal growth, one mile at a time.

Mom is hitting the road again tomorrow—first on an overnight flight back to the USA, then on a 1,400-mile drive to Utah. Even though she’s in her 60s, her life most certainly isn’t over. In fact, she’s experiencing a new beginning!