17 ways to make traveling with aging parents a success

The nation's most-visited national park is also one of the best for leaf peeping. The fall colors in the Great Smoky Mountains arrive as early as mid-September at higher elevations and work their way down. Take a drive along Clingmans Dome Road or the Blue Ridge Parkway for a good look.
America’s national parks offer visitors inspiring and affordable ways to unplug and reconnect with nature. Although not every state has a national park, the National Park Service also oversees national monuments, national historic sites, and national rivers, among other areas. Some parks are iconic, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, and others are underrated and lightly visited. This list highlights 50 must-see destinations — the best the country has to offer. National parks often charge an entrance fee that grants seven days of access and costs up to $35 a vehicle. An interagency annual pass provides access to all the national parks and other federal fee areas for $80. Seniors 62 or older can buy a lifetime passes for $80 and annual passes for $20. Members of the military are eligible for free annual passes. Fee-free days also are offered occasionally during the year, including Sept. 22 for National Public Lands Day and Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
Slide 1 of 18: If you and your parents are travel buffs, there’s no need to halt your trips because they are older and not as spry as they used to be. You will need to make some adjustments and plan accordingly, but you still can enjoy your time together, deepen your bond and take in wonderful sights. Here are 17 ways to make traveling with your senior parents a success.
Slide 2 of 18: If your parents use wheelchairs, canes or walkers and/or are worried about being a long distance from their doctors, U.S. travel is a good option. But there are several countries that make it easy for people who are handicapped or have mobility issues to navigate, so do some online research if you want to go overseas. Find out if the hotel, inn or Airbnb place you are eyeing has an elevator, or book a room on the ground floor. Read guest reviews on Trip Advisor and other travel sites and post questions if you are unsure if a place is a good bet for seniors. Ricksteves.com also has a useful travel forum section.
Slide 3 of 18: Your retiree parents likely are on a budget, so look for senior discounts. American Airlines, British Airways and Southwest, for instance, offer senior fares on some routes. Amtrak offers a 10 percent discount for seniors for coach travel on most trains. Many major hotel chains in the U.S. offer senior discounts, so shop around for the best rate. You might also consider taking advantage of a hotel rewards program and an AARP membership for discounts.
Slide 4 of 18: Train trips offer a leisurely and comfortable way to travel. You and your parents will have more legroom than on an airplane and you can watch the scenic landscape roll by. You could book a luxury train trip with your own cabin through the U.S. or Canadian Rockies or take a high-speed train in several European countries. There also are scenic trips through Thailand, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Asian countries.
Slide 5 of 18: A cruise ship is a floating city with everything you likely will want or need. Best of all, your mom and dad won’t have to worry about doing a lot of walking. If your parents are averse to large ships or the ocean, there are river cruises that take you to gorgeous European capitals. If mobility is an issue, book a cabin with a balcony, so your parents can see the sights without having to go up on deck or wander around on a shore excursion.
Slide 6 of 18: If your parents are not fans of flying or insist on taking the dogs with them, a road trip makes sense. You could go visit family members or old friends you haven’t seen in a long time or drive to a destination that was a family favorite when you were little. Put your parents in charge of the route, so they can have a sense of participation and ownership.
Slide 7 of 18: If your parents prefer a quiet spot, respect that decision. Don’t try to strong-arm them into going to a bustling South American city or staying at a raucous beach resort that isn’t their cup of tea. This trip should be pleasant for everyone. Make it a group decision.
Slide 8 of 18: They may seem horribly old-fashioned to you, but traveler’s checks are comforting and familiar to some seniors who worry about using credit cards when traveling. The checks require a signature and can take the pressure off having lots of cash on hand. If your parents’ bank doesn’t issue traveler’s checks, get prepaid credit cards that act much the same way.
Slide 9 of 18: An airline is required to check in free of charge a wheelchair or electric mobility scooter, and the airport will provide a wheelchair to take your mom and/or dad to the gate. Check in early to ensure you can get to your gate in plenty of time. Travelers in wheelchairs typically can board the plane early with a family member, so select a bulkhead seat for maximum legroom. You should avoid exit-row seats if your parents would have trouble assisting with an emergency evacuation.
Slide 10 of 18: You should have a budget and a clear understanding of who is paying for what. Is everyone going to pay an equal share of the total cost? Are you going to stay in simple hostels or five-star hotels? If you’re booking a cruise or staying at a resort, find out what is included in the price.
Slide 11 of 18: Five European cities in one week – no. That’s not good for anybody, especially seniors. Pick one or two cities that offer a lot for you to do together and stay in the same hotel for at least three nights. Not having to pack up a suitcase and check out each morning makes traveling much more pleasant. Find a hotel in a neighborhood with a lot of restaurants and things to see so you won’t have to do a lot of walking.
Slide 12 of 18: If this is an expensive trip and/or a long one, pony up for travel insurance. Travel insurance can reimburse you if there are accidents, illness, canceled tours, lost luggage, theft, travel-company bankruptcies, emergency evacuations and more. At Travelinsurance.com and Squaremouth.com, you can plug in your dates and other information and compare plans. Read the fine print to know when cancellation, interruption and delays are covered. These vary.
Slide 13 of 18: Pack as lightly as possible to avoid having to schlep a lot of baggage. Use luggage with spinner wheels, check the climate of where you are traveling and only pack clothing that is appropriate for the region. If you get there and it’s colder than you expected, you can always buy a jacket or cardigan. Encourage your parents to load up an E-reader with books and leave the heavy paper versions at home.
Slide 14 of 18: Ensure everyone’s passports are valid for at least six months beyond your departure date and put them in a safe place. Pack enough prescription medication in your carry-on bags to last for several days beyond the trip and use pill organizers with the days spelled out. Keep doctor contact information, medical insurance details and hotel and tour reservations in an email folder. It’s also a good idea to print out important information in case you can’t access your email.
Slide 15 of 18: Many old people, but not all, tend to have an aversion to spontaneity and surprises. Have the travel agenda planned and give copies to your parents so they will know what’s coming up. You likely will be the tour leader, so to speak, so make sure you do your research, but also leave some wiggle room in the itinerary. You may get to your destination and your parents may not be up to a walking tour. Avoid being locked in to too many non-refundable tours or online museum bookings in case of illness or fatigue. That city pass may seem like a good idea when you land, but are you really going to hit six museums and historical sites in 48 hours?
Slide 16 of 18: Are you planning to hit the Louvre in Paris or the Colosseum in Rome? Go when it’s less crowded (avoid free days!) and don’t plan on spending the whole day there. After your visit, find a nice spot for lunch or dinner, so your parents can sit and rest over a leisurely meal.
Slide 17 of 18: There will be times when your parents will need to rest, so don’t count on them for every shore excursion or day hike or even a walk after dinner. Ensure they are comfortable in their room and go out on your own, if you want. You don’t need to babysit them.
Slide 18 of 18: Remember that your senior parents move slower than they used to and they also may want time to make decisions about things to do. They may even upend your careful planning. Take a breath, let them move at their own pace and enjoy the time you are spending together. You may not have a lot of other opportunities to be with them.

17 ways to make traveling with aging parents a success

Research where to go

Look for senior fares

Book a train trip

Consider a cruise

Pack up the car

Don’t make decisions for them

Get some traveler’s checks

Be aware of airport and airline rules

Be clear about the costs

Don’t try to do too much

Get travel insurance

Help them pack

Be organized

Draw up an itinerary

See the sights in a reasonable way

Be flexible

Be patient

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