Valerie Grubb and her then-80-year-old mother had traveled more than 300,000 miles together over a 20-year span when things changed about four years ago.
Suddenly her mother wasn’t as mobile and confident.
“She had transitioned to a wheelchair (for walking long distances) and she wasn’t sure she could get from Indiana to New York and meet me (at the airport) like she usually did,” Grubb explained in a phone interview from her home in Manhattan. “I looked all over for information on traveling with older people and couldn’t find any books out there.”
Grubb also figured that there were plenty of others who could use the same sort of help, so the human relations consultant who also travels extensively for work decided to be that source of information. She wrote “Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel” (Greenleaf Book Group Press; soft-cover; $16.95), but the book “was soundly rejected 16 times because editors told her that she ‘didn’t have a platform.’”
This is publishing-industry speak for “you need an audience,” so Grubb went about creating one.
Knowing that there were plenty of people out there who could benefit from what she had learned during her two decades of travel with her mother, Grubb began writing a blog.
Called travelingwithagingparents.com, it currently has 11,000 followers and addresses concerns like safety issues when traveling with an older person; medications and health insurance; selecting an appropriate destination; necessary travel and medical documents; and how to slow your pace and like it.
“The time is right for this book,” said Grubb, who is 49. “I have so many friends who are in this position with older parents or who will be in this position. Their parents are getting older and they want to know how we continue to travel as things change. They also want to know about multigenerational traveling.”
Grubb knows about that, too. She has taken several long-distance vacations with her 52-year-old brother, his wife, their now-4-year-old twins, as well as mother Dorothy.
The group recently returned from Yellowstone National Park and have been to several overseas countries, including China, Thailand and Australia.
“We are a slow-moving bunch,” she admits, but there are rewards.
“I have learned more about my mother since we have been traveling than I ever thought I would,” she said. “I call my mother every day, but never knew that she got kicked out of school for roughhousing, or that my father lost his pilot’s license for a while after flying a plane down an alley because my mother told him she wouldn’t marry him if he were the last S.O.B. on earth. When you are relaxing on vacations, things come out. You can’t get that in phone calls.”
Here are some of Grubbs pearls of wisdom when it comes to traveling with older people:
• Be prepared with all necessary information on medical history, physician contacts and list of medications (generic names will be the same in any country).
• Understand the older person’s medical needs and physical limitations. Pick larger hotels that have a physician available.
• Manage your expectations and slow down. Do one big event a day, then plan a rest. It can be in a restaurant.
• Don’t parent your parents. Try for a balance between decision-maker and assuming the parental role. Don’t tell them; invite them. Ask their opinion. Treat them like a friend.
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at firstname.lastname@example.org