I’m excited to announce that Mom and I are about to embark on another big trip together: on January 23 we travel to Asia for just over two weeks! First we’ll head to Shanghai, China, to visit my brother, my sister-in-law, and their 26-month-old twin daughters for six days. Then the entire family will fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand, a city located 500 miles north of Bangkok, among the highest mountains in the country. It’s always great to travel with family, especially if you’re going on one of those thailand tours, it is a great way to build memories with your family.
Mom last saw the twins a year ago around this same time, when we met my brother and his family in Australia. You can imagine how excited she is for our trip! We typically meet during Chinese New Year as my brother’s company (most of Asia, actually) shuts down for two weeks to celebrate the holiday. This is mom’s fifth time visiting China (and my ninth!), and although Mom is comfortable making the journey, our pre-trip preparations make all the difference between enjoyment and aggravation both en route and while out of the country.
When planning this trip, I definitely kept in mind all the suggestions listed in “The Countdown: 14 Critical Trip Preparation Tasks for Traveling with an Aging Parent.” Here are some of the additional preparations specific to this upcoming trip.
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Because of a condition called necropathy, Mom’s knees and legs ache constantly. They hurt even while she’s sitting—let alone trying to walk short distances. With her condition in mind, I took these four steps when booking our flights:
- I started looking one year in advance of when we wanted to travel and was flexible on departure and arrival dates. That said, figuring out when fares will be at their lowest is as difficult as getting Congress to agree on anything! I utilized several websites to monitor airfares for a few months (Airfarewatchdog has a great chart that compares several airfare-monitoring sites) and finally pulled the trigger and purchased tickets in August 2013. Not only did we score a pretty good fare, but we had five months to pay off the tickets before incurring additional expenses during the trip.
- When booking plane tickets for our mother, my brother and I make arrangements for the highest level of service we can afford. It helps that I have elite status on Delta Airlines, because that allows me to prebook economy comfort seats (with extra legroom and incline), which work well for many of Mom’s flights. For long-haul flights, however, my brother and I decided several years ago that we would pay to book Mom in business class, because its fully reclining seats and footrests are a big help to her on a 12+ hour flight. For this upcoming trip, I booked Mom and me on connecting business class tickets (which was less than half the price of direct business class tickets!).
- On January 19 I’ll fly to Indianapolis to help Mom with her final packing, then we’ll spend two days in NYC before starting the long journey to China on January 23. During our NYC days we’ll stay in my apartment, but whenever we have a long layover in a different city, I book us a hotel for a night or two, because having a bit of a break between flights helps Mom’s legs. On our return trip, Mom will overnight with me again in NYC before jumping on a flight back to Indy the next day.
- I’ve reserved a wheelchair to take Mom to our gates in Indy, in NYC, and in connecting airports during our overseas flights (Narita International in Japan for the flight over, and Detroit Metro on the way home).
At two weeks before our departure, I contacted Delta to reconfirm the wheelchair reservation. (Thank goodness I did, because Delta did not have the wheelchair noted in Mom’s record, even though I spoke directly with a Delta help desk representative when I made the reservation!) I also verified our side-by-side seats, an arrangement that makes it easier for me to help Mom with any questions she has on how to work the seat and entertainment handheld remote control (and to keep her on her pill regimen with the time change).
In Shanghai, Mom and I will be staying with my brother and sister-in-law, so I didn’t need to arrange for any special accommodations there. In Chiang Mai, however, we’ll be in a hotel for four nights. For our stay there, I’ve booked a room with bars in the shower and reserved a wheelchair for our exclusive use while on the hotel property.
Two weeks out, I confirmed this room requirement with the hotel’s general manager. I also asked for the contact information for the front desk supervisor who will be on duty upon our arrival, in case there is a problem. (For more insight on how to book a hotel if your parent has mobility or other issues, see part 1 and part 2 of my interview with Will Perry, a hotel industry senior executive.)
The Packing Checklist
Mom has a fantastic attitude when it comes to travel: she’s ready to roll at the drop of a hat, and she emphatically says “Count me in!” even before she knows where we’re headed. That said, I’ve definitely noticed she’s less proficient than she used to be at packing her bags. That’s why as part of our preparation for long-haul flights, I typically fly to Indianapolis to assist Mom with her final packing.
To assist Mom with packing (from my apartment in NYC), I mail her a checklist of items that she can pull out prior to my arrival. I’ve found Travels’ Checklist to be a great site for pulling together packing lists. You provide data about your party, the duration of your trip, your lodging, your destination (including typical weather conditions there), and the kinds of activities you’ll do on your trip, and the site spits out a printable checklist of items to pack. I’ve used that site as the basis for checklists that I’ve modified and used repeatedly when Mom and I travel together.
When I send Mom the checklist, I also send her a form with the dates we’ll be gone and where we’ll be visiting. She can show it to the pharmacist for any prescription overrides she needs to ensure she has enough medication to get through the trip, and to the travel doctor to make sure her shots are up to date.
Mom has been using the packing list since I sent them to her in mid-December. I’m hoping it won’t take long to finalize her packing when I arrive in Indianapolis on January 19 (fingers crossed!).
Tune in next week for additional travel tips as Mom and I prepare to hit the road (again!) on January 23!