Tips for Traveling with Aging Parents

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.

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.

Grubb and her mother traveled more than 500,000 miles together—visiting places such as France, Thailand, and China—before Dorothy passed way in March 2021.

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. But that didn’t dampen her mother’s adventurous spirit.

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. 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 [experience] that joy, despite the challenges.”

Keep reading to discover the IU alum’s five tips for a successful trip with aging parents.

Manage your expectations.

An adventure with your aging parents—whether it’s to a neighboring town or a city across the pond—will be unlike those family vacations you took as a kid. The pace will likely be slower, meals may need to be scheduled around medication, and naps will be a necessity.

“You’re not going to see a ton of [sights] with your parents. You’re going to do one activity, and then your parents will need to rest,” says Grubb. “You have to get comfortable with that.”

Start the trip at your parents’ house.

Driving or flying to your parents’ house and then flying to your destination sounds like a pain, but Grubb insists that it’s the secret to a successful trip. This extra step allows you to assist your parents with packing and transporting them to the airport.

“Any time my mom got out of her routine, it would really stress her out,” Grubb explains. “By me being there and taking care of everything, my mom was able to relax and enjoy the adventure.”

Explore on your own.

Don’t feel pressured to spend every waking moment with your travel buddies. There’s no harm in taking a solo stroll through the city or visiting a museum while your parents are enjoying their afternoon siesta.

“Every trip, I would go get [my morning] coffee on my own,” Grubb says. “My mom loved to read, and she didn’t mind staying in the room.”

Be very familiar with your parents’ medical needs.

When traveling, especially to a different time zone, it can be difficult to keep to a strict medicine schedule. Grubb recommends being the one in charge of administering pills.

“The moment I moved my mom out of her normal situation, it’s like she’d never taken pills a day in her life,” she recalls with a laugh. “I used a pill organizer to keep her on schedule.”

Translate medical conditions.

When traveling abroad, Grubb advises having all medical conditions translated into the local language.

“I’d also have a list of mom’s medications that I could hand over,” she says.

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