Traveling with Elderly Parents

10:00:00 AM Unknown 6 Comments

My mother would probably hate me for referring to her as elderly and to be truthful it feels sort of disloyal to admit her age, but she is north of 70 and despite her 20 year old drive to go, go, go, the hips just don't work as well as they once did.  She is slowing down and when we travel together I. HAVE. TO. SLOW. DOWN.  

This is not always easy as my travel norms require a lot of energy. My husband is notorious for parking the car far away so we can park for free or for less.  We NEVER stay right downtown and it is common for us to walk all day long, resting only at meal or snack times. Traveling with my mom required a new strategy if we were both going to have an enjoyable trip, so the following are a few tips I learned as we toured Colmar and Strasbourg, France

1. Ride the Tourist Train, bus, tuk tuk, or bike--My mother simply can not walk all day long like she used to, so we found the tourist train and rode that around town.  It gave us a "cliff notes" overview  of what the town had to offer and saved her energy for going back to sites we really wanted to see. When we visited Strasbourg we took a boat tour through the canal.  It was fascinating to see the city from the water and sometimes it's nice to just sit back and listen to the commentary.  
2. Go to the Museum--Museums are perfect because you are in the building together, but can go at our own pace.  If mom needed to stop and sit on the bench for a while she could.  We generally set a time to meet back at a certain point and then feel free to move as quickly or as slowly as we prefer.
3. Splurge a little and stay as close to downtown as possible. We did this in Strasbourg and while I wasn't crazy about our Rick Steves' recommended hotel, it was incredibly convenient. Again, if your parent tires himself just getting into town, then they won't have energy for the fun stuff.
4. Agree to some time off--Now this may not suit everyone, but my mom is brave and is willing to sit in a cafe or window shop alone while I run off for an hour.  In Strasbourg I wanted to go back to photograph a church we'd seen on the boat tour.  It wasn't more than a mile away, but my mom wasn't super interested in making the trek.  So, we agreed on a meeting point and set a time.  I ran to take my photo while she sat and had a coke.  I was happy, she was happy.

One evening mom was tired after dinner.  I took her back to the hotel then went out again.  She didn't mind having time to herself to shower and chill out and I was able to enjoy the city as the sun set.
5. Go for an early morning jog--Okay, I swear by this one.  If you are an early riser, get up and go for a run.  I so enjoy running in new cities.  I like the quiet of the morning, I like seeing the businesses as they are preparing for their day.  I like that the streets aren't full of cars, bikes and pedestrians AND I love running into buildings and sites that don't make it into the guide books.  It also helps to orient you to the lay of the land making site seeing later in the day easier.  
6. Be realistic, be patient and communicate--I've learned this truth about myself--when I go to a new city, I want to see everything.  This simply is not possible with elderly travelers in tow.  In order to avoid frustration or disappointment it helps if we go to a place I've already been, that way I can focus my attention on making it a good trip for my parent and not worry about all the attractions I'm not getting to.  I'm learning to exercise more patience, but most importantly you must communicate your wishes and limitations to one another.    
7.  Don't forget prescriptions!-- This is pretty self explanatory--nothing is worse than not having the medication they need on hand when they need it.
8. Arrange for day trips alone--This will only work if your parent is brave enough and thankfully my mom is willing to push herself outside her comfort zone.  In the 4 years we've lived in Germany my mother has visited three times; once for 6 weeks and the next two for 4 weeks.  I can't always play tour guide Barbie, so I've made arrangements for mom to join day tours.  This year she even went to Berlin on her own!  I made all the arrangements from transportation to hotel, gave her itineraries and guide books then dropped her off at the bus station with my daughters cell phone.  Was she a little nervous, was I a little nervous?  You bet! But she was so thrilled to see one of Germany's most historic cities that it was worth a little discomfort.
9. Take advantage of the opportunity-- My mother is a willing traveler, meaning she'll go where ever I take her.  If I have a hankering to see a new village (something my children are increasing opposed to) I can take my mom; she loves the adventure even if it looks similar to the 10 previous.

Another advantage, typically when we travel as a family we won't eat at nicer restaurants because who wants to pay top dollar for children whose apprecation for food doesn't go beyond chicken nuggets, pizza and pasta. With just the two of us however, we can take the time and expense for a nice meal.  We ate a delicious lunch at the Maison Kammerzell, one of the oldest and best preserved medieval buildings in Strasbourg.  I loved the surroundings, the service was prompt and best of all the food was actually good!
10. Be flexible--Don't be so tied to your schedule that you frustrate everyone, including yourself because you aren't seeing or doing everything you want. Keep the schedule manageable and make changes if necessary. Ironically enough, it was because of ME (and an incredibly infected tooth) that we had to cut our trip to France a day short.

Obviously, the individual needs of each person will vary, so no list will ever be truly complete, but the things I mention above have really helped me.  It's hard to see your parent age and lose some of the physical freedom they enjoyed in their earlier years.  But with a bit of patience and good planning you can still have an enjoyable time together!  
All photos from this post were taken in Colmar, France.  Of the two, Strasbourg and Colmar, my mom preferred Colmar.  She felt is was more quaint and a bit more manageable.


  1. Wow, really useful tips! I'll have to keep these in mind.

    Lovely, lovely photos of Strasbourg and Colmar. :)

  2. Love Germany's all the details of the architecture (I lived in Berlin for a year, but at time blogging and photography was a thing of the future!)

  3. So I am the "elderly parent" and want to tell you that these are all great tips, and that the extra patience that you have now, and the slight inconvenience of having an older parent in tow, will one day be some of the most precious memories that you have, and some that you would give anything to repeat. This is from one who has been in both positions now.

  4. Some of these elder care services that you can look into include home care, adult day care, geriatric care managers, geriatric assessment, daily money management, hospice care, advance directives, and long term care insurance.  Senior Gift