Before I finalize the decision on which city or country to visit with my octogenarian mom (and particularly before booking anything that’s nonrefundable), I always take a quick peek at local lodging options to make sure that Mom will be able to get around the hotel on her own. This is a particularly important consideration for our trip planning, because Mom’s mobility has decreased in recent years (during our last couple of trips together, she’s had to rely on a wheelchair for getting around). As an example, I try to find accommodations with layouts and facilities that minimize the number of stairs she has to negotiate. (I keep her mobility issues in mind when researching tourist activities, too.) Read on for tips on booking a hotel if your parent has special needs as well.

The great news? Hotels can be very helpful in meeting most special requests you may have when traveling with your parent! I have struggled a bit in less developed countries, such as Cambodia, or in smaller cities throughout Australia. But by and large, most hotels will do their best to accommodate their guests’ needs. The only caveat? You need to give the hotel plenty of advance notice and follow-up 1-3 days before you arrive to ensure your needs are indeed met.

Keep in mind that a hotel’s size can influence its ability to meet your needs. Small boutique hotels may not have the full range of services that a larger hotel has available. At a minimum though, I’ve found that they can typically locate Mom and me on the first floor (to avoid stairs) or near an elevator (to avoid long walks down a hallway).

booking a hotel if your parent has special needs

Mom poolside at Peppers Beach Club Hotel in Cairns, Australia.

Large, full-service, chain hotels (Marriott, Hilton, Westin, etc.) will ensure that their local operators around the world are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a U.S. federal law that, in part, requires hotels to provide full access to people with disabilities. Some independent operators or smaller hotels may not meet the ADA requirements so be sure and ask specifically for the particular features you need. This is especially important when traveling outside the US, where accessibility regulations are unlikely to exist. In addition to being ADA compliant, large chain hotels usually have more resources to meet special needs, including shower chairs, rooms with handrails, lightweight door knockers, large-button phones, TTY or TTD phones, and other special equipment. Another reason to look at larger branded hotels first? A 2010 update to the ADA requires hotels to make the pool accessible for everyone – fantastic news if you’re looking for a little R&R poolside! To provide accessibility, hotels will typically have a sloped entry or a pool lift to help folks get in and out of the pool (heck, sometimes I need that if I’ve had too many cocktails! If you find that the hotel you book doesn’t provide the required safety measures like handrails and your parent ends up falling then you may want to contact someone like this slip and fall lawyer. Your holiday shouldn’t be affected due to the hotel’s negligence.

When booking with the hotel, be sure and let them know exactly what you need. And when I say “exactly”, I mean be very specific:

  • “I need a room close to the elevator.”
  • “My mom is confined to a wheelchair and needs a roll-in shower.”
  • “We need handrails and a booster seat for the toilet and handrails in the shower.”

If your parent suffers from incontinence, most larger hotels can assist with sheet guards as long as you give them advance notice. Also speak with the hotel in advance if your parent has medication that requires refrigeration. Even if the hotel doesn’t have an in-room fridge, most hotels can accommodate storage in their refrigerators (although be sure to label the medication with your name, contact information and hotel room number). Before handing over your medications, it may be worthwhile to inspect the refrigerator to ensure it’s not too cold (as freezing your medication is as bad as letting it get too hot).

Understanding your parents’ needs and giving the hotel as much detail as possible before you book will ensure that you can arrive at your destination confident that their needs will be met.

For more recommendations, check out my interview (Part 1 and Part 2) with Will Perry from CII Hotels and Resorts. Based in South Africa, Will has spent over 20 years in the hotel business and has worked for eight major brands (including the Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Starwood and Hilton properties) before joining CII as global head of asset management. He has a wealth of additional tips!


Have you signed up to win a Go Pro Hero 3? Go to the Travel with Aging Parents Facebook page and find the Happy 1st Birthday TWAP announcement from last Tuesday (8/12/14). Like and Share the post and you’ll be entered to win a Go Pro 3! What would a birthday be without presents?!?! Enter today as the contest ends tomorrow night at midnight!