Serene Karplus, Nederland. Travel can be confusing and disorienting at any age. Add to that the amount of change occurring every year in the transportation industry and it accumulates to an overwhelming volume of new information to process. Anyone who has not flown, especially internationally, for the past decade must learn a lot of new procedures and computerized communications. This can be a pretty tall order for an older adult. Most elderly people who travel infrequently find a younger companion to escort them and assist with planning. Having just returned from an international trip with two nonagenarians, I offer a few tips for the escort.
Planning: Include the elder in all decisions about dates, times, and places with a calendar in front of you to ensure the flights and hotels are suitable. Reserve everything several months ahead and avoid the odd times that offer the best prices if the elder will be groggy and disoriented all day after catching a 5:00 a.m. taxi. Allow time to recover from extreme time zone changes.
Documents: Print all confirmation numbers, phone numbers, websites and create a travel file for hard copies – a copy for the elder’s reference and a master copy to carry with you, as cell phone access and internet glitches can happen anywhere. Plan ahead for where/when/how you will print boarding passes, not only for departure from home, but also as needed for the return flights. (One airline charged us nearly $40 and made us wait about half an hour to print them for us at the airport when my aunt insisted they would not print at home for the non-EU passport holders; we almost missed our flight.)
Ensure passports are up-to-date several months ahead of the trip, checking that they will not expire during the trip or soon after the planned return, in case it is delayed. Check with the destination country’s embassy to determine whether visas are required and whether your prescription drugs will be allowed over their border. Acquire a written copy of the prescription to carry with you.
Financials: Months ahead, apply for a specially designated travel credit card that will not charge fees for foreign purchases and before the trip, fill the checking account for debit card withdrawals of foreign currency. On arrival at any foreign airport, visit an ATM as soon as possible to withdraw a small amount of foreign currency for tip and taxi cash, then seek a standard ATM away from the airport.
Wheelchair Assist: After booking flights, contact the airline directly to order wheelchair assist. Airports can require miles of walking and delays can require covering a lot of ground very quickly. The wheelchair passenger also enjoys great advantage in avoiding long lines at security, border control points, and customs, as they enter a shorter line and their companion must accompany them. Wheelchair assist personnel can take care of the elder’s passport and security checkpoints, guiding you through the inner workings of faster service. They save a lot of confusion over directions and know the distance yet to be covered to reach the gate on time, with all the hidden elevators up and down through the various levels of the airport. Don’t try to travel without their help, even if you have to be the one pushing your companion (wear solid, non-slip sturdy shoes) when they may have too few personnel at a given moment. Be prepared to tip them in their local currency, although some are required to refuse tips.
Advance Appointments: Align all the usual personal care appointments for the elder needed in advance of the trip – haircut, foot and nail care, pacemaker checks or whatever else is pending, doctor visits, banking needs, shop for travel-size cosmetics, set up postal service delivery instructions, etc. Align the timing of prescription refills and coordinate well in advance with your pharmacy to secure the quantity needed for the trip, plus some extra should any mishap delay your return. Keep a written copy of the prescription to carry with the medicines in their original pharmacy bottles and pack them only in carry-on bags. Carry the day-tracking pill boxes separately and set them up after you reach your destination.
It can be overwhelming to your elder companion to have to handle all of these arrangements alone and in the time frames required, so help coordinating it all will be most appreciated by them.