Travelling Abroad with Elderly Parents

Tips for a successful trip and top 5 destinations to consider

By Leah Felderman  

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Elderly Man in Wheelchair Scenic View of Lake

  Need help finding care?

If you are a family caregiver and just can't seem to get away for that solo vacation, don't hesitate to take your parent with you! Waiting for your siblings to pitch in with Dad's care so you can finally get some stamps in your passport? Ready for Dad to give the nod of approval to a stranger as a respite caregiver so you can sink your toes into sandy beaches abroad? If you're tired of waiting for the perfect scenario to take a break, wait no more. Take your parent with you and start ticking off some foreign locales on both your bucket lists!

The key to travelling with your elderly loved one is to plan ahead:
Taking Elderly Parents on Vacation

Get your passport prior to securing travel plans

Travelling to a foreign destination isn't as daunting as it seems and requires just slightly more planning than domestic vacations. If you or Dad don't already have a valid passport (with at least 6 months left before expiration) take some time and apply for one. There are a variety of ways to apply for a passport including doing it all yourself via mail, in person with assistance at a local passport office, or hiring a private company as your third-party connection. The easiest, most efficient, and least costly way to apply for a passport is by appointment at the post office. Many (although not all) locations offer passport services. It will require a quick session with a post office employee; they will make certain everything is correct before sending it in the mail, so there will be no unforeseen delays in processing. You can even get your passport picture taken during the appointment. In addition, some situations (such as never having had a passport or having lost your most recent passport) require an appointment, (usually either at a post office or a local clerk of the court). If you are in a time crunch there are a variety of avenues to get your passport sooner (expedited services with increased fees) but there are no guarantees, so it is recommended to have your passport in hand prior to securing travel plans.

Apply for a passport

After you and Dad have your passports in hand it is time to decide where to go! While you compare bucket-list destinations with your traveling companion, keep the following tips in mind.

Research visa requirements

Take one more time-consuming step out of the travel itinerary. Choose a vacation destination that either doesn't require a visa or allows purchase of a visa upon arrival. Travelling to a country that requires a visa in advance may be the extra step that makes your vacation just bit too much work. Travelling to a country that requires a visa and a sponsor is definitely way too much work with Dad in tow-ah hem…Russia, I'm talking about you! There are plenty of amazing places to see that don't require an advance visa!

International Travel Information

Choose a destination that is deemed safe

Safe is a relative term. You'd be surprised the places that have travel advisories and the reasons for them. Bet you'd never guess that it is currently considered safer to travel to Morocco and Ecuador than the UK, France, or Denmark! Countries recently hit by natural disasters with significant impact to their infrastructure typically have travel advisories. Places with increased potential for terrorist activities and places with unstable domestic concerns also frequently have travel advisories. Don't let this deter you from seeing the far-flung corners of the world. But leave the very young and very old at home on more questionable journeys!

World Map of Travel Advisories

Utilize a legitimate travel company

When travelling abroad it is very important to utilize legitimate, registered travel companies. Regulations vary by country, but most have a primary regulatory body that oversee tourism basics such as safety of transport vehicles, utilization of appropriate structures, and legitimacy of businesses. You wouldn't want to sacrifice your safety to save a few dollars, or unwittingly support illegal endeavors. That's not to say that there isn't a great amount of nepotism and cronyism once you sign on with a tour company. Your tour guide may encourage his best friend's restaurant for evening meals or the company head may book his cousin's hotel for boarding. This kind of vendor cooperation is common and not cause for concern. However, hiring an unlicensed tour company could expose you and your travelling companion to unpalatable and even unsafe situations. Staying safe and having a relatively carefree vacation is as simple as hiring the right vendors for your travel. Having an abundance of options makes this task easier as companies compete for clients by providing great services. Unintended deficiencies are willingly and eagerly amended to earn stellar referrals, complimentary word-of-mouth, and favorable reviews. Your local travel agency and travel websites with user generated content, such as Travelocity and TripAdvisor, are great starting points for exploring your destination's vendors.

If you are visiting a well-travelled tourist destination with good infrastructure you can choose to be your own travel guide with great success! Once you get settled in a safe, comfortable, centrally located hotel (that you've researched well in advance to make certain Dad's needs are accommodated) you can use any number of available resources (guide books, front desk help, and internet resources) to tailor outings specifically for both of you. The best part about being your own tour guide is the ability to constantly adjust and amend as needed. It may be daunting to start but tailor-made, family led vacations are fantastic! Always carry several hotel cards from the front desk (with the hotel's name, address, and phone number) so you can return to your temporary home anytime with minimal confusion.

Choose a country with good emergency health care

The US is fortunate to have an abundance of medical professionals and state of the art healthcare services. Unfortunately, many countries lack this cornucopia of care lacking in either trained professionals and/or modernity in their machines and buildings that we are so accustomed to. Choose a country that has a reasonable standard of medical care and don't forget, Medicare does not cover care in foreign countries! Yes, pay the extra for medical care and evacuation coverage on your travel insurance option.

Here are our top picks to get started on your worldly explorations!

Tropical vacation
Costa Rica

Want to hike a volcano, swim at the beach, and wander through a tropical forest-all on the same day? Maybe take it slow with Dad and pick one exciting adventure daily. Central America has great access to so many natural wonders. Costa Rica's tourism industry has flourished in the past decade and is a top spot for vacationers with a well-regulated and very accommodating tourism industry.

Place without a language barrier
Republic of Ireland

The long-haul flights to Australia and New Zealand are difficult even for the most seasoned travelers. Leave the hustle and bustle of London behind and head to Ireland instead. No language barrier makes it easy to navigate this beautiful country yourself; or engage one of the many tour companies to take trips around the beautiful island so you and Dad can sit back, relax, and enjoy the stunning countryside. Quick and inexpensive flights available from the East Coast make it that much more enjoyable!

Explore the Orient

If Dad has always dreamed of visiting the Far East and can handle a long-haul flight (there is no avoiding it for Asian destinations) then head to Japan! Sure, there is nothing quite like the Great Wall of China, but there is also nothing quite like the crowds of Beijing. China can be overwhelming if one is not accustomed to cities with 22 million people (mainland China also requires a visa). Japan allows for visa free entry and there are many direct flights from a variety of US airports that make the long-haul flight more bearable. Japan has a wide variety of locations to explore from the quiet, traditional streets of Osaka to the raw natural beauty of Mt. Fuji to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Japan is incredibly accommodating to the elderly (just avoid the rail during peak travel times).

Short trip

Don't overlook our neighbors to the north! Canada is an amazing place to visit. It is a short trip from most places in the US: depending on your location you can get there by plane, train, car, or boat! You and Dad can explore the Pacific Coast beauty and resorts of British Columbia, Iceberg Alley of Canada's East Coast, or you can even get a bit of French flair in Quebec City.

Feeling extra adventurous

Morocco always seems to fly under the radar for American tourists, but it has been an international vacation destination for decades. Morocco is beautiful, safe, and very welcoming to travelers! From the gorgeous Mediterranean Coast to the barren beauty of the Sahara to the labyrinth of the Marrakesh medina. There is an abundance of tour companies to choose from to make your trip to this country truly unforgettable and the topic of family gatherings for years to come. Don't be shy, check out a night market to see snake charmers and levitation! Best yet, there are direct flights to/from the US and Casablanca!


Leah Felderman BA MA

About the Author

Leah Felderman is a proud alumnus of University of Central Florida (BA) and San Diego State University (MA). She has worn many occupational hats including teaching, hospitality management, government contractor and non-profit organizer. She is an intrepid international traveler having visited over 60 countries before happily settling down into her new life chapter of domesticity as a mom and Coast Guard wife.

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