Close up of happy senior couple tourists scanning code to rent a scooter together outdoors in town

Close up of happy senior couple tourists scanning code to rent a scooter together outdoors in town (halfpoint (123RF))

If you have been stationed overseas very long, you probably have friends or family who want to visit. That’s normally not a problem until your grandmother wants to see the entire Rhineland and you wonder whether her physical capabilities will allow her to walk for hours over uneven terrain or otherwise endure the rigors of sightseeing.

My wife Nancy and I recently flew to Germany to visit our two daughters whose families live in Germany. Our travel experiences with each of these families were completely different but also very successful because they planned ahead to accommodate us “older” folks. We have physical limitations which impact both our energy and ability to walk very far or fast. We only have a certain amount of energy each day. It’s like we have an energy “fuel tank” that depletes much more quickly than our young daughters and our grandkids. When our tank is empty, we must rest.

Traveling with senior citizens requires some forethought. Here are some tips.

As you schedule events for older visitors, then, don’t fill the whole day with activities. Add some down time. Your guests will appreciate a lull to rejuvenate and refresh. Be adaptable and flexible with your agenda.

Get a sense of your visitor’s physical capabilities. People naturally slow down as they age. Energy levels decrease and “quiet times” are not only common but necessary. Try to discover how much sightseeing is too much for proposed trips. We let our daughters know beforehand what we felt we could do and what we could not, given our present physical conditions and current maladies. One wisely suggested we get an official letter from our physician stating our limitations. We used that documentation in Greece to ride an elevator at the Acropolis instead of climbing the steep slope to the summit. We could not have seen this ancient wonder otherwise.

Make a checklist. Write down anything you don’t want to forget. This applies to both the older visitors and the hosts. We began jotting down things to remember well before our trip and everything went smoothly. I also checked off items with the date accomplished. This included tasks such as hotel confirmations, flight information, and pausing the mail and newspaper.

When packing, fewer clothes are better than too many. We wore the same four outfits the entire stay. Take a hat, but if you want to blend in, perhaps not a baseball cap. Caps with logos tell everyone you are an American. Finally, consider buying a pair of hands-free shoes. We love them because we simply slip them on while standing.

The flight will take more planning. I use a CPAP machine. I carried it with me because, well, I need it to sleep. If it was in a lost suitcase somewhere, I would be out of luck. We decided to take the latest daily flight from Dulles so as to arrive at Frankfurt at a civilized hour. We didn’t want to begin our vacation by asking our daughter to rise and shine at 0400 to retrieve us at the Flughafen. By the way, the USO at Dulles is top notch!

Here are a few more flying tips to pass along to your older visitor.

·      Remind your senior visitors to take medication and medical devices with them on the plane, not in their checked luggage.

·      Carry on basic toiletries and a change of clothing.

·      Printing boarding passes before driving to the airport saves time.

·      Airlines allow travelers to order meals for special diets while booking. Nancy ordered a gluten-free meal for no extra charge.

·      Have your senior folks wear compression stockings on the airplane. They really help endure sitting for long periods and supposedly help prevent blood clots.

·      Walking or standing once in a while during the flight helps reduce muscle cramps.

·      Stay hydrated. Flight attendants will offer bottled water frequently, so take all you’re offered.

Make sure all vaccinations, passport dates and confirmation numbers are verified. Passport dates are important. 29 European countries, including Germany, require passports be valid for at least six months at the time of entry, according to the US State Department. No visa is required in Germany if your guests are staying less than 90 days. 

What about travel insurance? Some people will tell you this is essential if you leave the country. That’s your call. Most health insurance plans, including Medicare (as I understand it), will not cover outside of the United States, but some Medicare advantage plans will. Travel insurance is something that needs to be researched, discussed and purchased before leaving the USA.

What about accommodations? When our daughter booked our visit to Crete, she wisely rented an apartment that had an elevator. She admitted it took her some searching to find one, but what a help it was! And we, of course, truly appreciated the effort. In Greece, she obtained an apartment with a ground floor entrance. Again, wonderfully thoughtful.

Keep all important documents in one place. We each wore a zippered travel pouch that contained our passport, cards, and some cash. They were invisible under our outer garments, and we felt safer from pickpockets. Be aware of your surroundings and stay alert. Be cautious in a crowd. Remember, Grandma isn’t going to run as fast as you so don’t get into situations that make anyone in your party uncomfortable.

Access for those with disabilities is not as common in Europe. Handicap ramps, escalators, and elevators are not often seen here. So, a little assistance from an able body certainly is helpful. On a personal note, we each had a foldable cane which came in handy over uneven terrain. Walking sticks work just as well.  However, what was even better were our two teenage grandchildren who often offered their hands and arms to us to help steady ourselves. They observed our unsteadiness and helped so many times I lost count. We are thankful for their unsolicited assistance.

We spent one week of our trip simply visiting with family. We asked to stay in our daughter’s home and enjoy daily activities, instead of going on tourist trips. This was perfect to help us develop a routine. We knew we needed some rest time, and this was a perfect way to catch up with the family, enjoy our grandchild and see what everyday life is like for them in Germany.

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