Many people are reluctant to have frank conversations about money. But it’s important to discuss trip costs with your parents—and any financial limitations they, or you, have that could affect your trip together. Some aging parents (such as my mom) are worried about having enough to cover their retirement years, for example. This fear, and others like it, is very real to your parents. To keep everyone happy and excited about taking a trip together, be prepared to have an up-front discussion with your parents about their expected financial contribution, and then adjust your travel plan accordingly or, if possible, supplement your parents’ portion of the cost.
If your parent will be contributing to the vacation, it’s imperative to keep his or her budget in mind as you evaluate options. If you’re someone who prefers to hike your way through a country, this may be the time to leave the backpack at home, because your parent will almost certainly need more comfortable sleeping arrangements than a sleeping bag or cot (as well as hot water and breakfast!). On the other hand, he or she may object to a five-star hotel on the grounds that it’s too expensive (even if you’ve found a deal so good that the Pope couldn’t pass it up!).
You may need to factor into your expenses the time it takes to get to your destination as well as potential health concerns. For example, visiting such far-flung locales as China and Thailand can require plane rides in excess of 15 hours, depending on your starting point. Such long trips can increase my 84-year-old mom’s risk of developing deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood-clot formation that’s especially prevalent in the legs and increasingly likely to occur as people age and when they are immobile, as on long plane flights. Having more room and the ability to prop up her feet helps Mom decrease that risk on long flights, so several years ago my brother and I decided that it was best for her to fly business class (which offers foot rests and other amenities) on long trips. Because those seats are well beyond what Mom can afford, though, he and I purchase her ticket (or use miles) to get her up front. If your parent is in similar circumstances, you may need to factor a higher priced ticket into your trip planning, depending on your parent’s age and where you’re going.
The geography of your destination can also affect the trip cost. The more challenging the terrain, the more critical it is to arrange for local transportation, especially if convenient and accessible public transportation isn’t available. Private cars and taxis add up quickly but can mean the difference between your parent being able to participate and him or her having to sit in the hotel, waiting for your return.
Don’t forget to factor hotel location into your cost, too. It may be less expensive to stay on the outskirts of town, but if you’re not near the tourist sites, you may pay more in cab fares than you would pay for a hotel closer to the action. Mom and I experienced this firsthand when we went to London to see the world premiere of Casino Royale (we’re both huge James Bond fans!). We stayed at a location outside the city and saved a significant amount of money on lodging—all of which (and more!) was eaten up by cabs to get us back into the city to see the museums, plays, and other attractions. All told, we spent much more each day on cabs than we would have spent on a more expensive hotel in the city.
If finances are tight for your parents, consider covering some or all of their trip costs. For example, to help cushion the hit to Mom’s budget when she and I visited my brother in China, he and I typically split the vast majority of her trip expenses. When just Mom and I travel together on our own (and we aren’t visiting other family members), I put together an estimated budget, and then she and I discuss how much she has in her checking account and what she’s comfortable spending. I’ll typically cover the cost for both of us for anything particularly extravagant (such as some ridiculously priced restaurant that I want to try). Without this cost sharing, I’m not sure she would ever leave the house; or even if she did, once we reached our destination she might not leave her room because she finds everything “too expensive.” Absorbing the costs for Mom’s activities and other daily expenses (such as food) while on vacation helps lessen her financial concerns about traveling.
Planning for a vacation is also a great opportunity to start a conversation with your parents about their finances in general. This conversation can give you a sense of how your parents are doing financially and overall how things look for the future. If you’re not already involved in your parents’ finances, discussing a travel adventure may be a great way to bring their financial situation out in the open, and perhaps give you both peace of mind about any concerns in that area. My regular chats with Mom about her money, for example, have helped her feel a lot less anxious about it.