Everything you need to know before travelling with your senior parents
Going on that holiday with mum and dad need not be (that) stressful. Here are 11 things you need to keep in mind.
It’s too hot. It’s too cold. They’re tired. The food’s too salty. And they need to go to the toilet. Like, right now!
For some of us, the idea of going on a holiday with our 60- or 70-something-year-old parents can invoke trepidation. We’re sure everyone has had (or have heard of) stories of coping with the grumpy moods, the bickering, the fussing, and not being able to fully enjoy the sights because – gah! – dad’s suddenly gone off somewhere and mum’s still at the gift shop.
But that really doesn’t have to be the case. With the right planning and attitude, travelling with your old folks can – and should – be a memorable experience.
Intergeneration travel is looking to be one of the trends for the year – and it won’t just be about your kids (if you have any) but your parents too.
By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be above the age of 65, and like the younger folks, many of these Babyboomers are turning out to be keen travellers, says Helen Lim, president of Silver Horizon Travel (SHT).
The 71-year-old Lim and her fellow seniors have been regularly organising tours for the past couple of years – and know fully well what’s it like to be on the road with folks like your parents. Here are some of their tips on making that holiday trip with mum and dad less stressful and more enjoyable.
1. DECIDE ON THE TYPE OF HOLIDAY
Go on a cruise, stay at an all-in resort, join a tour or do a free-and-easy? They each have their pros and cons. The first three might be less stressful for everyone as everything will be more or less covered, while going on your own will require more effort. The catch, of course, is that you’ll have to cough up more for someone else to do the heavy lifting.
There are also other factors: The things you can do on a cruise or at a resort are pretty much set in stone with little room to manoeuvre. Tours – especially those with other seniors – might be a good way for your parents to interact with others their age. Travelling free and easy with your parents is just that bit more personal and special.
2. TAKE IT REAAALLY SLOW
To paraphrase an old proverb, Rome wasn’t conquered in a day. So you really shouldn’t think you can see Rome in a day, especially with your old folks in tow. Forget about checking out a gazillion places – a maximum of three sites a day will do. “We don’t want to run, run, run, to see 10 places a day!” said SHT’s Lim.
This also means you can start a bit later. Your parents may already be awake at the crack of dawn but that doesn’t mean heading out at 7am. Starting at 9am should be fine, said Lim.
Once you’re out and about, don’t be in an itinerary Nazi. Whether it’s having lunch at a restaurant or taking that trek to a monastery up a mountain in Bhutan, remember to take your time. As fellow SHT member Dr Shirley Wan quipped: “That mountain won’t run away”.
3. DON’T DOTE – THEY’RE NOT OVERGROWN BABIES
Here’s the thing. A lot of the anxieties we have may be all in our heads. Why we fuss over our parents may have to do with more about how we see them.
“They’re very independent. Don’t think they cannot do things,” assured travel counsellor Winnie Tan, who added it is actually good for us to treat them as fellow able-bodied travellers. “It’s good for their mood and egos.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn't keep an eye out. If they really want to climb those rickety stairs, don’t stop them. Simply be alert and be those extra pair of ears and eyes.
4. THEY’RE NOT NANNIES EITHER
Lim recounted how one senior traveller's not-so-fulfilling trip. The reason? The grandfather had to spend most of his time at Disneyland either sitting down or taking care of the grandkids while the rest had fun.
A lot of senior travellers may simply follow the family during school holiday trips, where the focus may be on grandchildren. “So they’re mostly there to help and it’s not shared fun,” said Lim.
The trick is to find out what they want to do or see and find a compromise with what you want.
A study on travel habits released early this year by Expedia and The Centre for Generational Kinetics revealed some differences: Babyboomers (aka your parents) prefer sightseeing and touring, as well as longer holidays (a week or more). Meanwhile, Gen X and Millennials (aka you) lean more towards relaxation (at a beach or spa) and prefer long weekend trips.
Ultimately, you’ll have to sort it out among yourselves. But make sure you’re on the same page, which sometimes means coaxing it out of them. “They might say they’re OK with anything but they might actually want you to ask them. Your parents have to express themselves too, so that you’ll feel good and everyone enjoys,” said Lim.
And remember: They're your kids. You take care of them.
5. CHOOSE THE RIGHT HOTEL
Good Wifi connection and a skyline view might be tops on your priority list when choosing where to bunk, but that might not be the case for your parents.
You might want to think twice about that moody hipster hotel, luxury treehouse or traditional Japanese ryokan – dim lighting and futons might not be suitable for seniors with eyesight and knee problems, said Tan.
The same goes for bathtubs and hotels with no lifts (a problem in many old European hotels). Make sure there’s a standing shower and, if there are really no lifts, get a room on the ground floor.
6. IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BRING…
Yes, your mother probably has already packed her entire medicine cabinet along. But just in case, make sure you’ve got all the essentials, such as for gastric issues, stomach aches, headaches and fever.
Check for any travel alerts, in case they (and you) might need vaccination for certain destinations.
Also consider buying personal travel insurance as well (if you’re with a tour group, chances are the insurance only covers the basics). If either parent has an existing medical condition, Tan also recommends that they bring along a letter from their doctor in case of hospital emergencies.
For trips that require long walks and hikes, make sure everyone’s got a good pair of shoes, walking sticks and hats.
Not sure what to bring? Social enterprise Silver Spring has an “elder pouch travel companion”, which offers a clue. Among the items are an emergency call list, a poncho, a blanket, a medicine pillbox, torch light, magnifying glass and a distress alarm.
7. WORK THOSE MUSCLES BEFOREHAND
Speaking of long walks, Lim has a suggestion: Why not prep your parents beforehand and encourage them to talk short walks before the actual trip, like, say around the park or the estate?
8. REMEMBER TO TAKE THOSE BREAKS
Toilet trips and power naps are a given. For the former, most coach tours allocate stopovers every two hours. If you’re doing a free-and-easy, just make sure there are hotels, malls or any decent place for that quick pee.
And even if your dad says he’s fine, trust us, he’ll want that quick snooze. Again, they can do that on the bus if you’re on a tour (and some folks do have the ability to automatically power down while sitting down). If not, consider a quick afternoon break at the hotel or come back early to have enough time to refresh before dinner.
9. THEY NEED THEIR 'ME TIME' (LIKE YOU DO)
You don’t have to be together all the time. That’s often a recipe for cabin fever disaster, especially on long trips. They need their space too, you know?
If your parents are the adventurous sort and you’re in a place they’re relatively familiar with, why go separate ways for two to three hours, said Lim. “You can do your own thing and they might also not want you to always keep an eye on them.”
That’s probably way better than “dumping” them in the hotel in the evening while you go for drinkies. And you never know, they might want to check out the nightlife on their own, too.
Besides, there’s always your mobile phone. Make sure everyone’s connected via Whatsapp or Viber.
10. CHOOSE YOUR DESTINATION WISELY
This one’s a bit tough because, frankly speaking, every place has its pros and cons. Certain countries – such as Japan and, yes, Singapore – are known to be senior-friendly. But with the right planning, every place can be as well. Silver Horizon Travel’s destinations, for example, range from Batam to Bandung, Switzerland, Siem Reap, Chiang Mai and Russia.
Of course, there are some guidelines to make things a bit easier – crowds and heavy traffic are unpleasant experiences for everyone, while destinations that require a lot of climbing, stooping and crawling might not be suitable. So we guess exploring Vietnam’s underground Cu Chi Tunnels is a no-go.
In terms of mobility, you’ll have to do a bit more planning if you’re not on a tour. Roughing it out on the public transport is OK if there’s a decent metro system but we’re not sure about going around on tuk-tuks all week. Hire a van, flag a cab, or simply Uber and Grab it.
11. MIND THE FOOD
Yes, we know you're a crazy foodie – and so are your parents. “From our trips, the feedback has been that food is one of the things seniors really look forward to,” said Lim.
But there’s a caveat: “They’re also very fussy nowadays.”
At the end of the day, just make sure you know your parents’ specific no-nos even before your trip so you can research in advance where to go for dinner or lunch. Other than that, Lim offers a simple mantra: “Less salt, less oil”.
BONUS: THERE ARE BENEFITS FOR YOU TOO
Keep an eye out for senior discounts at places such as museums, or even priority lanes at airports and tourist spots. But beyond that, think of travelling with your parents as a way for them to see you’ve grown up into a perfectly decent, responsible adult.
Not that you can’t milk your status as their kid. Mothers know best, right? So once you’ve got the basics all settled (the itinerary, the accommodations, etc), you might just want to step back and let them handle a few things – seniors can often get away with (or charm their way through) a lot of things.
Lost? Confused? Let them be the ones to approach the locals. Dad’s grumpy? Zip it and let your mother handle it.
Oh, and they sometimes like to pay for things, too.