As the official travel agent and pack mule on all my trips with Mom (including our upcoming trip to China and Thailand), I have had plenty of opportunities to figure out which items are most helpful for travel with aging parents. Through experience, I’ve found that the following accessories make travel easier—and more enjoyable—for my mom. If you’re looking for gift ideas for a senior traveler, check out this list of ideas!
1) Lightweight Rolling Luggage (carry-on and checked)
If it were up to my mother, she would still use the suitcase she’s been lugging around for the past 40+ years! Fortunately, I’ve been able to convince her that luggage is the most important piece of travel gear for any trip and the one that really warrants an investment.
Look for designs that help prevent back and shoulder pain, and be sure your parent has something lightweight that rolls (four wheels are better than two!). The number of luggage options available at vendors such as Eagle Creek, Brookstone, and Ebags can leave you feeling overwhelmed. To find the bag that works best for your parent’s needs, read through online reviews or visit the luggage in person at a store before making a decision.
2) Ergonomic Luggage Handle
Once your parent has a good piece of luggage, attach an ergonomic handle to it to take the strain off her shoulder, wrist, and elbow when she pulls it around. Travelon sells a three-in-one travel handle that works great for this purpose, along with many other handles and straps that make luggage management a bit easier.
3) Ultralight Blanket and Jacket
Because most airlines don’t hand out blankets anymore, and plane cabins tend to run too cold for most people (including Mom, whose feet are always cold), I highly recommend packing a lightweight blanket in your carry-on. Brookstone, for example, sells travel blankets that fold up into small pouches that also work as pillows!
Consider bringing a packable jacket, too, to use during the flight and for the non-flight parts of your trip. For travel to a cold climate, your parent will probably need an ultralight down jacket like the ones from Uniqlo or LL Bean. For warmer climates, stick with a light windbreaker or waterproof shell from Patagonia. Or try a three-in-one jacket from Lands’ End, with options for dealing with unpredictable weather. (All of these vendors sell outerwear in styles and sizes for both men and women.) Regardless of your destination, try to find something that packs down to a small size so it doesn’t take up too much luggage space and isn’t a hassle to carry if your parent decides to shed it during an outing.
4) Folding Cane
The average cane takes up a lot of space and can be cumbersome in the narrow confines of a plane or a restaurant. On your next trip, see if your parent will try a folding cane. These full-size canes fold into a compact size (and usually come with a small storage bag), making them easy to take along and use on a trip. For example, Magellan’s sells an aluminum cane that has a hardwood handle and folds down to 11.5 inches. Folding canes come in simple colors and in gorgeous designs (such as the ones sold by Elderluxe). I picked up three different styles for Mom so she can coordinate her cane with her outfit!
5) Magnifying Glass with Light
Because the lighting can be iffy on planes or in restaurants, bring a lighted magnifying glass with a light to help your parent read important things (like menus!). Travelsmith and First Street both sell pocket-size magnifiers with lights.
6) Attachable Eyeglass Case
Hold on to those glasses! Use an eyeglass case with a clip that attaches to your parent’s carry-on bag (or belt) to make sure that his glasses are always attached to him. Losing glasses can really mess up a vacation, and this inexpensive travel item can help you avoid this disaster. There are tons of designs for cases with clips; take a look at Debby Burk Optical for some ideas.
7) Compression Travel Socks
Depending on where your adventures take you, some trips may include sitting in a cramped seat for a long period of time. This position can lead to swollen, achy feet and legs, especially for senior travelers. Wearing compression socks (in addition to doing the exercises I discussed in How to Keep Moving Even When You’re Strapped into an Airplane Seat) can help boost circulation and energize your parent’s legs. Footsmart and Feetness First are two of the many sites that sell compression socks.
That said, be sure to get socks that fit. (Most sites offer detailed sizing information.) I once ordered a pair for Mom that was too small for her. They hurt her legs so much that she actually took them off mid-flight.
8) Folding Stool or Chair
A lightweight stool can be a lifesaver for anyone who has difficulty standing for long periods of time, especially when visiting places with long lines (such as museums or amusement parks). I know what you’re thinking—a stool isn’t strong enough, right? But there are actually some impressively sturdy lightweight portable stools out there! Check out the Walkstool, which gets rave reviews for comfort. For something more affordable, look at the offerings from TravelChair, such as the Slacker stool (which is super compact) or the Joey chair (which has more support but also takes up more room in your luggage).
10) Money Belt
A money belt lets you keep your passport, credit cards, cash, transportation tickets, and other valuable papers with you at all times. Whether you absolutely need a money belt depends on your destination, but using one is never a bad idea. (Renowned travel expert Rick Steves says, “I never travel without one.”) They come in all shapes and sizes, and many of them are slashproof, waterproof, and very comfortable to wear. Take a look at REI to see some available options.
11) Travel Journal
Pack a journal that you and your parent can write in each night. List the day’s details: where you went, what you ate and drank, what you did, who you met, etc. A beautiful travel journal will help you both remember your travels better and become a special keepsake long after your trip. Moleskine makes several sizes and styles of journals that all feature a pocket in the back (handy for keep track of ticket stubs and other paper memorabilia) and look terrific lined up on a bookshelf.
I always give my mom a book of photos of our journey; however, that takes me a month or so to get that together following our trip. A journal is something your parent can reflect on the moment she gets home.
I hope this list has inspired you to get packing! Having the right stuff with you (but not too much of it) can make a huge difference in your travels, especially when you travel with aging parents.
What other “must have” items would you add to this list? Please share your suggestions in the comments!
P.S. Although I have personally tried some of the items mentioned in this post, please don’t consider this a list of endorsements. My goal here (and elsewhere in the Travel with Aging Parents blog) has been to give you some ideas to help you and your parent figure out what travel items work best for you.