This post is intended to help you learn how to travel with your parents. Once your parents are eligible for social security, something happens. I don’t know what it is. But trust me. Here are some handy dandy tips to make your family travel experience smoother.
1. Guidebook Dilemma
Most of us use guidebooks to prepare and use for travel. It makes sense to follow the advice of someone who has been there, done that. Unless you are my Dad. I swear by Rick Steves. His guidebooks have always provided me with helpful tips. However, a map (usually hand drawn in the books) was off/unclear during our trip to Rome. Which meant that Rick can’t be trusted to tell you the time of day. Sorry, Rick. You had your chance. No second chances with Mr. Daisy. My Dad acts like he suffers from Rick Steves PTSD. When I suggest some international destination to visit, his response is, “Did Steve Bob’s recommend that?” Because he is not going to get Rick’s name right. That’s what happens when you have 2 first names & you mess up directions.
My Mom, however, has to find every book related to the country we plan to visit. I usually stick with the big 3: Rick Steves, Lonely Planet or Eyewitness Travels. She found The Cadogan Guide to Morocco by Barnaby Rogerson on Amazon. This guide has a bit more color than usual guides. For instance, Mr. Rogerson says the following about sexual attitudes in Morocco, “”Moroccans also tend to think of themselves as immeasurably more virile & potent than Western men. However chaste your intentions, why not pack some condoms beside the sun cream and romantic fiction?” Really, Barnaby? Now I have to put an “elderly lock” on my Mom’s laptop.
Do yourself a favor and just handle all the travel and prep. Monitor their internet & tv usage because this can lead to trouble. Retired people find time to explore & become scholars based on the latest gossip from “Spacebook”. My Dad has become an international travel expert based solely on 60 Minutes reports from Mike Wallace that aired 15 years ago. It doesn’t matter if you have been there and he hasn’t. You don’t know the real deal. Don’t become a victim. You will only get confused trying to wade thru their attempt at using hip jargon. My Dad can’t grasp the concept of BFFs. He keeps saying BSFF…like it’s Best Super Friends Forever. I don’t know. See how I just got sucked into that?
2. You’re Taking Me Where?
Not all elderly parents (and by elderly, I mean anybody older than you) can handle “exotic” trips to Miami. I blame Mike Wallace. My Dad isn’t into traveling to Africa and Italy was full of too many basilicas. When I suggested London, I was met with “I don’t want to look at butter teeth.” I tried to explain that their dental care has improved since the 1800’s but Mike can’t verify that since he passed away. I then attempted to talk my Dad into going on a safari. His response? “I haven’t lost anything in Africa.” See a pattern? Don’t try to force it, kids. Let your parents go on a jazz cruise where they can fall asleep on the Lido Deck after slurping down a 189 ounce daiquiri while listening to the sleepy time music of Brian Culbertson.
Now, if you happen to have an adventurous parent, keep it in perspective. Your type of adventure isn’t theirs. There will be no backpacking or taking public transportation. Understand that now. You can’t make your mother walk 3 blocks after she spent 202 hours in labor with you 40 years ago. You are still paying on that. It’s like labor layaway. Ease them into the adventure. Morgan Freeman didn’t tell Miss Daisy to take MARTA. He made sure she was comfortable and that her needs were attended to.
3. Once, Twice, Three Times Too Much
Some parents like to overpack. You know how you grew up hearing, “You can’t ever be too prepared”? That is a lie. You can be too prepared. Don’t fall for that. And, the older they get, the more “prepared” they get. During one trip, the guidebook said we should plan to bring toilet tissue as some bathrooms may not have any. I bought a 24 pack of Tush Wipes and told my Mom not to worry about that. So why did she show up with 3 rolls of toilet paper? I don’t know. Apparently, 24 wipes + 3 rolls of Quilted Northern seemed like the right amount for a 12 day trip for 2 people. Don’t let your parents take a Sam’s Club approach to packing. You’ll be the one hauling it around. Remember, labor layaway. Some things you can’t get around. Do you remember Titanic when Rose came on the ship at the beginning of the movie and had 44 trunks and 132 picture frames? That is what you are battling against. Don’t let your Mom bring every item from Magellans…or your Dad bring his tool belt because you never know when something will need to be fixed. Have an intervention if you need to. Because if you don’t, Delta will.
4. Picture Time
I took a travel photography class to learn how to capture creative images that don’t look like Honey Boo Boo took them. This requires setting up your shot…which means you must have patience. Especially for someone new at it. I’ve got some news for you. Elderly parents aren’t patient. They don’t have time to wait on you to set up a shot. Take the picture as you are walking. Who cares if it is blurry. That’s your fault. Practice walking and clicking.
5. 25 Star Hotels
Elderly parents have a Kanye West mindset to travel. Which means that 5 star hotels may not be enough. Ask yourself this question…Would Oprah stay there? If you are not 100% certain, then find someplace else. Yeah, you might have to sell yourself on the streets but that’s what happens. Labor Layaway. That’s the Big Joker to any argument you may have. Parents will always win. You can’t make your Mom stay someplace that is 4 stars after you ripped her open and then refused to sleep thru the night for weeks.
For example, my Mom and I did the 5 star hotel option for our recent trip to Morocco. Which included an upgrade to a deluxe tent in the Sahara Desert. The tent had 2 twin beds (complete with mattresses on frames), bathroom (which included a shower) and sitting room. But, it is a tent…in the Sahara. My Mom was like, “What is this?” I don’t know if she thought there was a Ritz Carlton – Sahara or what. Now, in my mind, I had already prepared myself for the fact that I would encounter a bug or 2. I already had my Avon Skin So Soft and Off (courtesy of my Mom). The operators had the nerve to shut the power off at night so my Mom couldn’t keep the lights on for fear that bats would swoop in, turn into Dracula, and bite us. What would happen if we turned into vampires? We didn’t have any True Blood in our emergency preparedness kit (there wasn’t enough space with all the toilet paper). Around 1am, I awake to my Mom screaming about scorpions. She’s got her flashlight on and pointed towards her face like it’s the Moroccan Blair Witch Project. I’m trying to figure out what is going on. I mean, I know she isn’t serious. I must be dreaming this. Did my mint tea have another type of herb in it? I’m confused. At this point, she has moved into my twin bed and made the proclamation that she will NEVER sleep in that bed again because there is a scorpion the size of a “cow” in it. But, before I could find Bessie the Scorpion and lead her out of the tent, my Mom wanted me to see if her arm was swelling. Sigh. After confirming that there was no swelling, I check the bed and can’t find the Velociraptor-sized scorpion. I did see a big cockroach though. Lest you think we are going to sleep peacefully together in a small twin bed, I’ve got news for you…we are not. Labor layaway requires counseling sessions as well. And, my Mom had to question why there was no actual door on the tent. You read that right. And, I’m sure that will go into the survey feedback she is working on right now. See, as you get older, things don’t have to make sense. A tent in the Sahara to young people means just that. But to older people? It means a cottage with a fireplace, butler and an exterminator on speed dial.
Hustlers target older people because it’s easy. Older people don’t like to be hassled and would prefer to pay you 110% more than you deserve just to get you to leave them alone. Younger people? We will protest on basic principle. If the guidebook says that you should tip $2 to a porter for getting your bags out of the car, you can best believe that that is what you are going to get if there is nothing exceptional about the service. Are they pushing the luggage up a hill? Okay, they get extra. But to take my luggage that I lugged all the way thru the airport and just move it from my hand to the trunk? TWO DOLLARS, buddy. But, this philosophy can only work when you aren’t traveling with older parents. Just pay the man. I don’t care that you had to ask your guide to go to Lowes – Marrakesh to find a storm door for the tent. Make it rain.
7. Trying Something New
Not all parents will try something new. My Mom is really good about being open to certain things. But, my Dad? Forget it. Here are some examples of new things I tried to expose him to:
Me: Hi Dad, I brought you some boisenberry jam back from London! Try it.
Dad: *puts the jam on a biscuit…then spits it out* This is the nastiest stuff I’ve ever tasted in my life. Do me a favor and don’t ever bring me back anything to eat. This must be why they have yellow teeth that look like they’ve been chewing on rocks.
Me: I went to a public hammam in Morocco. It was a surreal experience. You should try it!
Dad: I don’t need my booty scrubbed.
Mom: I learned how to make chocolate molten lava cake at a Pastry & Desserts class in Paris. What do you think?
Dad: This doesn’t have anything on Chili’s chocolate lava cake. Where is the chocolate sauce? Why isn’t caramel drizzled over it? You don’t have any Breyer’s ice cream to go with this? Paris seems awful plain to me.
I’m sure that my Dad is finding a cooking class at the local Chili’s right now. That will be his Christmas gift for my mother. Bottom line, if you are traveling with elderly parents (or just folks that are older and like to go on Robin Leach-style vacations), do yourself a favor and take my advice above. Need further convincing, read my post from Las Vegas. Last tip for you? Pack a flask and your favorite spirits. You’ll need their guidance 🙂