A couple of weeks ago, I returned from a three week trip to Europe with my mother and daughter. Three generations, my mother is 76, and my daughter is 7. Spending this concentrated time together made me accept that my mother IS older and slower and has different traveling needs — but that shouldn’t lower her expectations.
On our third day in Denmark, my mother quietly told me that this would be her last trip overseas. To say I was shocked was an understatement. We traveled quite a lot when I was a child, and my mother has visited friends in Europe and America, where she lived for a decade, ever since. She explained it was all too much, the airports were too large, everything was technology-based, and she was just too old now.
The past few days had been tough. We flew from Australia to Copenhagen in 28 hours. Four flights, three security checks, one A380 (which is a longer walk), and goodness knows how many airport kilometers. In retrospect, I could see precisely what had demoralized my mother, and it was a big ask for a woman who has lived a life already.
However, it shouldn’t be too much, not in the high tech world that we live in. We have never had a more travel-ready and tourism-focused generation like the baby boomers. I refuse to accept they are ready to stop traveling. I can also see that at a certain point, it all becomes too overwhelming, and those longer trips become shorter ones until they peter out altogether. I was determined to change our journey for the better and prove to my mother that two hip replacements didn’t equal a homebound life — even if it did mean somewhat more invasive security checks.
I hope that these tips help you as much as they did us as you set out on your next journey because age shouldn’t be a barrier. Our trip of three generations was one of the happiest times of my life. I am deeply grateful that my daughter will have these memories of her grandmother and that I was there too.
Things to do before you go:
Contact your travel agent, tell them which destinations you wish to visit, and ask for a couple of options regarding how to get there and have them all emailed to you at once. Now, look at your end destination and decide which stops seem less arduous to you. Would you prefer a day in Singapore or is Hong Kong or Dubai more your style? Google, please google because this is the information age.
One of the drawbacks of Australia is that we have to travel a long distance to get anywhere, which means transit stops. Rather than looking at these stops as something to be survived, take a moment to do some research and see if this could be a day destination as part of your trip. You can make some lasting, and in our case, humorous memories by turning stopovers into overnighters.
Most ‘transit’ airports have hotels within the airport customs area. No need to pick up your bags or go through security. If this doesn’t sound like your jam, but you think your body would benefit from a day’s break, then book into a transit hotels and take advantage of one of the city tours without having to go through customs and back through security. Singapore, for example, has daily tours that have built-in stops to stretch your legs, get a coffee, or do a spot of shopping.
Another option is to take a few days to stop and really see the country that you’re traveling through. We went through Abu Dhabi and stayed four nights on a great deal through Etihad, who would love you to take some time out in their hometown. My 7-year-old was enthralled by the Grand Mosque and Falcon Hospital, while my mother read a couple of novels by the pool and enjoyed having time where truly nothing was expected of her.
What model plane are you flying on? This is something that many of us overlook, but it can make or break those hours you are going to spend on a plane – and one way or another, you are going to spend them. I was determined to make this an enjoyable part of our holiday, and it was. Never again seat 54ABC in front of the toilets for us.
Jump online and have a look at www.seatguru.com and then book the best seats for you. For me, that was making sure my 7 year old was close but meant sitting further away from my mother, who preferred being near the toilets and close to the front of the plane. Double-check these seats when you check-in and take a moment to mention the importance of these seats to you and your trip to the airline staff — I’ve found that they are more likely to take a personal interest if you have taken the time to check the layout too.
Book transport within the airports. Do it! Do not be vain, as my mother tried to be. Mum was pleasantly surprised that most of the airports had busses and would deliver her directly to the lounge. Airports are like large, sprawling cities, and that’s how we want them to be, or they’d be too crowded. I was amazed by how my mother’s outlook changed once she didn’t have the stress of walking too and finding the next gate.
Prebook transport to your hotels. Sounds easy, but many don’t, and it’s not something you want to worry about after 25 hours of traveling.
Lounges. I don’t have enough good words to say about lounges. They are a lifesaver and, unlike times past, they are usually situated very close to your boarding gate. Many airlines will have a day pass that can be purchased, and often, for less than the price of an airport meal, you can be relaxing in the lounge with flight updates on the boards in front of you. We had one layover of 8 hours after a 15-hour flight from Abu Dhabi, and the lounge was a lifesaver for Mum’s hips. If your airline doesn’t have this option, it may be worth looking at one that does – or has reciprocal day passes.
Credit card points. If you’re thinking about a trip, then talk to your travel agent and see if you can use points to upgrade seats, buy lounge passes, or outright tickets. My credit card points are brilliant, and most frequent flier programs will offer sharing and gifting programs. My mother doesn’t fly enough anymore to be a frequent flyer member, so she chooses to have her credit card points awarded as a gift voucher to the airline. The possibilities these days are endless.
Finally, please, whether you’re flying alone, with family or as a couple, talk to your travel agent and subscribe to a blog that you trust to update you with regular tips because things do change. I love my mother with all my heart, and it was tough to hear that she had been worrying about so many silly, inconsequential (to me) things. While the trip to Copenhagen really was arduous for her, I’m happy to say that the rest of our trip wasn’t. She was even able to enjoy the peculiarities of each plane, airport, and country — while making memories that hopefully her granddaughter will one day tell my grandchildren about.
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By Luxury Travel Diary Contributor: Juliet Fisher
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