500,000 Miles with Dorothy

Valerie Grubb travels all over the world as a keynote speaker and executive coach. Before launching her coaching and consulting business, Val Grubb & Associates, in 2008, she worked as the vice president of strategic operations and initiatives at NBC Universal. Photos courtesy of Val Grubb and design by Kendra Kay Creative.

Valerie Grubb, MBA’01, gets her love for travel honestly—her dad was a pilot.

“I practically grew up in the air,” she says.

Grubb’s mother, Dorothy, shared a similar affinity for seeing the world. In 1995, the mother-daughter duo took their first trip together—a two-week jaunt around Italy. Dorothy was in her early 60s.

Over the course of their adventures, Grubb says that traveling with her mother became increasingly challenging. Dorothy began using a cane, and eventually a wheelchair.

(Left) In 2011, Valerie Grubb, her mother, Dorothy, and her brother, Eric, visited Alaska. One excursion took them to the top of a glacier via helicopter. (Right) Grubb and Dorothy flying to Australia in 2013. “I would book business class tickets for [us], so we could prop [mom’s] legs up to help with her circulation,” Grubb says. “This is one of my favorite pics with mom. Such joy.”

Drawing on what she had learned with her mother, Grubb published Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents Through Travel in 2015.

“I got so much more out of traveling together that I didn’t want it to stop [just because my mom was getting older],” Grubb says. “I wrote the book because I wanted other people to have that joy, despite the challenges.”

Dorothy’s mobility challenges didn’t dampen her adventurous spirit. Grubb and her mother traveled more than 500,000 miles—visiting places like France, Thailand, and China multiple times—before Dorothy died in March 2021.

In conversation with Grubb, we discuss the easiest trip she ever took with Dorothy, her tops tips for adult children traveling with aging parents, and her favorite writing spot.

What did you learn about your mom when you were traveling?
Valerie Grubb
: We talked about things that were important to her. My mom’s church was very important to her, and I didn’t understand why. When you go to places like Italy and visit the Vatican, you’re prompted to have those deep conversations.

What would you say to someone considering a trip with their parents?
: You have to understand that it’s going to be a different trip. You need to reset your expectations. You’re not going to see a ton [of sights] with your parents. You’re going to do one activity and then your parents are going to have to go back [to the hotel] and rest. You have to get comfortable with [a different pace].

Are there a couple destinations you recommend visiting with parents?
: I liked Savannah, Ga. I recommend bigger cities in the south because they move at a slower pace, and they have good sidewalks for wheelchairs. I always say to people, “Start at the town next door.” That way, if things aren’t going well, you can easily go home.

(Left) Dorothy petting a dragon during a Chinese New Year celebration in Thailand in 2014. (Right) Grubb and Dorothy on their last trip together. “We took a Disney cruise in July 2019, our last trip before the pandemic hit. [Mom] passed in March 2021,” says Grubb. “[We took this picture] on Disney’s private island: Castaway Cay.”

Which trip with your mom was the easiest?
: The last trip we took was a Disney cruise. It took all the logistics out of the equation. I arranged for my mom to have an electric wheelchair. It was the best money I’d ever spent, because she had freedom. She could move and it wasn’t up to me to push her places. The ship was fully wheelchair accessible.

What are a couple of your top tips for traveling with parents?
: First, make the travel arrangements for your parents, and then start your travel from your parents’ house. I know that’s a pain, but the travel experience is different for them. Anytime my mom got out of her routine, it would really stress her out. By me being there and taking care of everything, my mom was able to relax and enjoy the adventure.

Second, be very familiar with your parents’ medical situation and medicine routine. I was always the one who managed mom’s pills. The moment that I moved her out of her normal situation, it’s like she’d never taken pills a day in her life. I also had all her medical conditions translated into the local language and a list of her medications that I could hand over to a doctor.

You can find more advice from Grubb in Tips for Traveling with Aging Parents.

Have you gone on a trip since your mom passed away?
: Yes. I had an opportunity to go to Greece. I feel like that trip saved my life. It reminded me that I’m going to be able to travel again and enjoy it. Mom doesn’t want me sitting at home.

Rapid Fire with Valerie

Pen and paper or Microsoft Word?
: Word. As ideas pop into my head, I type them into my notes section on my phone. I also recommend the app Otter for voice notes. 

Do you have a favorite writing spot?
: Coffee shops. I’ve [recently] found a new spot called the Fourth Wall in New Orleans’ central business district. I wrote my first book in a Starbucks outside of Seattle. I wrote my second book at a Still Perkin’ in New Orleans.

Do you have a favorite writing snack?
: Pretzels. Specifically, Rold Gold pretzel rods.

What time of day do you do your best work?
: Morning. I set a word count. When I’m in the [zone], I can write 1,500 words, six days a week. Sometimes that takes me 90 minutes. Sometimes it takes four hours. I don’t go back and edit, ever.

Is there a book that you always recommend?
: If anybody’s interested in writing, I recommend On Writing by Stephen King. He taught me how to break [writing a book] down into a word count. You’re not writing a 60,000-word book, you’re writing 1,500 words a day. That, to me, was manageable.

Can you give me a brief description of your second book, Clash of the Generations?
: It’s about how to effectively manage different generations in the office. 

Are you writing anything new?
: I’m writing my first fiction book. It’s about a murder at Mardi Gras.

Read an excerpt from Planes, Canes, and Automobiles.

This story is part of our IU alumni author series, Novel Ideas.

Written By
Samantha Stutsman
Samantha Stutsman, BAJ'14, is a Bloomington, Ind., native and a senior content specialist at the IU Alumni Association.