INTERVIEW: Jeannette Franks, Gerontologist (Part 3)

Drawing on her professional experience as a gerontologist and on her personal experience traveling with her father, Jeannette Franks has plenty of great advice and encouragement for anyone who’s considering a trip with an aging parent. Yesterday she talked about travel in general; today, she discusses special concerns and considerations when traveling with aging parents.


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(JF): You can travel on your own anywhere, depending on your preferences and physical capabilities. Just take your time!

Rent a nice house or apartment for a week (book a long-term hotel stay). Stay in one place for a week, then go somewhere else for another week. Even if you’re in a tiny little town, you can get to know a place better by spending more time exploring it. Take some language lessons, enroll in a local cooking class, do a planned tour—find things that expose you to the local life for a while. These experiences make a trip so much more relaxing and enjoyable.


(VG): Any other travel recommendations?

(JF): Travel light! Don’t travel with more than you can roll! And bring clothes that dry quickly. Washing your clothes in the sink helps save space in your luggage and can cut your laundry costs, which can be high in some places (though in India having laundry done cost only about two dollars!)

Plan down time, and be respectful of your travel partner’s need both for down time and for time on his or her own.

And don’t overbook: part of the Paris experience, for example, is having a three-hour lunch and taking your time to soak in the local atmosphere! Enjoy the relaxation part of your trip.


(VG): What precautions should older travelers take on a long-haul flights and long trips?


My brother, Eric, pushing mom in a make-shift wheelchair after our flight from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Shanghai, China where my brother lives.

(JF): The older you get, the more difficult it can be to adjust to time changes. When taken under a doctor’s direction, drugs can be helpful for people who have issues sleeping on planes or need help adjusting in-country. (Some sleep aids can interact with other prescriptions, so don’t take any without first speaking to your doctor.) For non-drug options for adjusting to time changes, use a sleep mask, ear plugs, or headphones to block out light and noise on the plane, and when you reach your destination go for walks in the daylight.

Break your trip into stages. I live in Washington state, so for my recent trip to India I first went to New York for five days. This made the time adjustment easier when I landed in India. Even if you’re with a travel group, arrive a couple of days early to give yourself an opportunity to adjust to the time zone and relax before you start sightseeing. Don’t expect to fly to the other size of the planet and get going the day after your arrival!


(VG): I’ve noticed with my own 83-year-old mom that as she ages, she becomes less tolerant of a lot of things and more dependent on me, yet at the same time she still wants her independence. What should I do?

(JF): The mother-daughter relationship is always fraught with peril. All families have conflict—that’s part of being a family.

It’s really about respecting each other’s private space. It may be worthwhile to get separate rooms or separate bedrooms in a suite with a shared bathroom. Depending on where you travel, it can actually be cheaper to get a suite with two bedrooms than to get two completely separate rooms.

When I travel with my husband, we give each other time on our own. Nonstop togetherness is stressful! We give ourselves some down time or take walks on our own.

Have a list of activities that you can do separately—even something as small as one of you staying up to watch TV while the other goes to bed. Individual down time is a good thing, especially on vacation, so work that into the schedule.

If your parent is physically or cognitively challenged, enlist a local caregiver or the hotel staff to assist with things. When I took my father on vacation, my husband and I would get up early and have breakfast by ourselves. Dad would come downstairs to the restaurant on his own later, and the hotel staff knew to look out for him.

[Val’s comment: I did something similar when I was in Australia. When I went on a diving trip, I asked the hotel staff keep an eye on Mom as she hung out by the pool that day.]


(VG): What should people not say to their parents when traveling?

(JF): Don’t be patronizing or condensing. It’s so easy to do either—it can happen unconsciously. So be careful! People pick up on that behavior at any age and in any state of mind.


Many thanks to Jeannette Franks for sharing her wisdom! I hope that this interview helps all of us to be on the lookout for ageism and to see getting older in a different and more positive light!