Traveling with Elderly Parents – How Much Longer Will My Parents Travel?

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dad and me

dad and I

8:30 PM came and went and the rest of the crowd surrounding the luggage carousel picked up their bags and went on their way but no sign of my parents. I didn’t used to worry about my parents when they were traveling. After all, my father used to be a member of United’s hundred thousand mile club back in the day and as I grew up I thought of him as the most confident of all travelers. He knew how the airline system worked. He once visited me in New York on a business trip from California to Ohio and somehow managed to say the company money by doing so. He was confident behind the wheel as well since road trips were the norm for our family. Our road trips sometimes lasted thousands of miles.

Times Change

But times change. My parents are now in their mid-80s. For this three-week-long trip to visit family I chided my parents on overpacking and they responded somewhat cryptically “you need more stuff when you’re old”. They also rent wheelchairs to get around airports now. And now here I was in the airport waiting for them with no idea where they were.

I tried calling my parents on their cell phones ignoring the futility of the action. They own a cell phone. But they don’t seem to either charge it, carry it, or hear it when it rings. They also change the number unreasonably often and I inevitably have the old number. It finally dawned on me to call my home phone number because despite carrying a cell phone for over 15 years my parents haven’t seemed to learn how to call my cell phone either. Sure enough, seven messages left over the last five hours telling me that they: might be delayed, would probably miss their plane, and sure enough, had missed their connecting flight.

Travel Gets Harder

It occurred to me how much harder travel is for my parents now that it used to be. Technology has changed. They still aren’t comfortable buying books online let alone airline tickets. They still leave messages on my home voicemail as if we had a tape answering machine and are monitoring our calls even though we haven’t owned a physical answering machine one in more than a decade.

Someday, not that far away, my parent’s days of traveling, I realized, will come to a close. We’ve had to deal with the situation before. My mother-in-law is 93. She did not travel much in her working years. She was widowed before she was 50 and was busy trying to raise four children and trying to make ends meet. But after retirement, she found her travel lust. She sailed up the coast of Norway past the Arctic Circle. She traveled to Europe. She took classes in elder hostels. She even took a computing programming class. She visited us in California and even met us for a vacation at the World Expo in Vancouver Canada.

But before she managed to find someone who would go with her on her dream trip to China her days of traveling stopped. Even so, she lived on her own until she was almost 91, even after a stroke took away her speech and a heart attack slowed her down. But after a bad fall, she came to live with us. A flight to California, likely her last, this time exhausting for her. Now the walk from the dining room to her bedroom that she does once a day (with someone spotting her) is exhausting.

Priorities

The realization that your parents are mortal is a sobering one. My father was one of six siblings with only three left. Both my parents are still in good health but are not as tall or sure-footed as they used to be. They still drive but not much at night anymore and those days are winding down as well.

I think of the places that I want to go to. I realize of course I won’t get every place that I want. I think one of the reasons that the Amateur Traveler is important to me. We need to make some priorities. We need to figure out what we want to do, and yes what we want to see. I hope in some small way by talking about so many destinations week after week I can help people discover what’s on what destinations still call out to them or even what tiny corner of the world they would want to settle down.

Trying Again

I’m heading back to the airport. I’ve heard rumors my parents might be on a 12:40 flight. I only wish I could teach them to call my cell phone and tell me.

P.S. After I wrote this post I discovered 3 more voicemails… on my home phone and was able to pick up my parents on time. And yes, the cell phone number I had for them was their old one… again.

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

5 Responses to “Traveling with Elderly Parents – How Much Longer Will My Parents Travel?”

Jim McDonough

Says:

Chris

So true. My Dad (85) is an airline veteran – 32 years with American – but last year when he came here for Christmas he thought I would come to meet him at the gate. No, I can’t do that any more! Finally he realized no one was waiting at the gate to meet anyone and wandered off to baggage claim. And he had not charged his phone before leaving.

I imagine there is a way to actually get to the gate to meet someone, other than just buying a refundable ticket and not flying. I will need to investigate that for next time.

Jim

Jessi

Says:

Really poignant, Chris, thanks for posting this.

Brad

Says:

I’m sure this hits close to home for a lot of us, whether it’s travel or just life in general.

Deb Cline

Says:

Great article, Chris, and a really good reminder to us all. On the positive side, your parents are still amazingly active for their ages and have truly enjoyed their miles on the road and in the air. My Mother has never stepped foot on a plane, and the only flights my Dad has made have been on ‘fight for life’!! I love the photo of you and Uncle Ed!!

chris2x

Says:

Agreed Deb, I am grateful everyday for how well my folks are doing… ok maybe everyday but last Saturday.

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