Travel Tips for Caregivers

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Due to a variety of different issues, I have gone from not flying until I was 30, to being a white-knuckled flier in my 30s and 40s, to now being a relaxed frequent flyer in my 50s. I have flown several different companies but my favorite airline is Southwest and I appreciate them HUGELY. They are not perfect but no airline is. However their prices are reasonable, their people are wonderful, and their policies work great around my caregiving schedules.Those are all wonderful travel solutions for those of us in the Baby Boomer Generation of caregivers, otherwise known as the Sandwich Generation!

When one friend had to cancel a flight with American Airlines due to illness, they would only allow her one year to use her ticket and she wasn’t allowed to transfer the credit to anyone else. If she had not been physically able to fly during that year, she would have had to get a doctor’s note and MAYBE get a refund. With Southwest, I can cancel tickets right and left and they make it ultra-easy for me to deal with the credit. It goes into my account and I can then use it to make new arrangements for anyone I want, whether myself or someone else. When you are dealing with health issues for more than aging parent, not to mention grandkids, cancellations can be more common than the actual trips, so that is a very important option.

I have learned a trick or two to make flying easier for myself as well as for others who might be traveling with me. This is the first of an occasional series listing some of those tips. Hopefully they will be a help to you if and when you take off into the wild blue yonder.

1. I like to wear comfortable shoes that are easy to slide off and on. When I am going through the security checkpoint, juggling luggage, laptops, and maybe even a fellow passenger, whether grandkid or senior parent, I’m so glad not to have to stress over getting my shoes back on.

2. I try to be sure to put everything that would normally go into my pockets inside my purse or other carryon before getting into the security line. That way I don’t have to stress because I accidentally set off the alarm over my car keys or cell phone. Also, if you haven’t flown recently, be aware that in addition to removing your shoes, you will have to take off sweaters and jackets, and you will have to remove your laptop from its carrying case and put it in a separate plastic bin.

3. Don’t forget the newest security requirements. I like to keep a couple of quart-size plastic bags in my carry-on at all times so that if I do forget, I will have them anyway. (If you are traveling with others, make sure they have put their liquid items – 3 oz. or less – into a plastic bag as well.)

4. I always bring a snack and a water bottle, which I purchase after going through security. That way, if we run into turbulence right away and they can’t bring food around, I don’t regret being too busy to eat before flying. A good friend of mine practices excellent frugality by bringing an empty water bottle. Once she is past security, she fills it up from a water fountain. Just be sure the water at that airport tastes ok. There is one airport I used to fly in and out from that had the worst tasting water!

5. After years of lugging a purse and a backpack, I changed over to a rolling backpack and find that so much easier. Because some planes are smaller than others, I’ve learned to pack the stuff I am going to read, along with my snack, pens, and iPod into a big nylon tote that fits nicely into my rolling backpack. That way, when I get to my seat, I lift out the nylon bag and stick it under the seat in front of me. Then the bigger bag goes up in the overhead bin. If I am going to work on my computer, I pull that out as well. If it is a full flight and all three seats are going to be taken, I usually leave it in the bag that goes up above. It’s just more cramped than I like in that situation, especially if the person in front puts his seatback down.

6. I like to bring my MP3 player with me on the plane. I started doing that back when I was a white-knuckled flyer. I discovered if I listened to praise and worship music on the flight, it kept me a whole lot calmer. Now that I am flying so much and doing better, I still like to have it so I can listen to audio books, classical music to help me sleep in spite of the noise level around me, and yes, if it gets turbulent, I often pop those praise and worship songs back on as well. (Word of warning in case you haven’t flown with one before, you cannot have any electrical device on for take-off and landing. This includes the MP3 player, as well as a cell phone set on flight mode, a DVD player, a computer, a video game, etc. Fortunately, you reach the necessary altitude quickly, and then you can turn any of those on.)

7. There is a great site called Seat Guru, , which can give you a lot of useful information on what seats are best on each airline. For me, I’ve learned that if I fly alone I love the emergency row as it gives you a bit of extra room. Due to arthritis and tight seating, I get very achy on a long flight. On those rare occasions I get to sit in the emergency row I’m a happy camper! And I am such a caregiving nurturer by nature, as most of you probably are, I have no problems agreeing to help any and all if there is a true emergency. It’s what I would do no matter where I sat.

When I fly with senior citizens who need extra help, or grandkids who need supervision, I pick a seat in the last couple of rows. I avoid the last row because it doesn’t recline at all, but I love the last two or three rows. I am close to the restroom and the flight attendants. That way, if I have to leave a little one, I know they are safe. And if my companion has to go to the restroom during the flight, it’s easier for them to get there and back when it’s so close. I usually avoid the front because you are no longer allowed to form a line for the restrooms and it can get a little frustrating trying to deal with that and taking care of others.

That said, I do make one exception. If I am traveling with a grandkid, I will often look for an unaccompanied child around the same age or a family with a child around the same age. If I can find someone, I’m very glad to sit up front and let that child and my grandchild have fun talking to someone their own age and keeping each other company on the flight. (I always ask the flight attendant first to make sure it is ok.) We’ve met several nice kids that way and it makes the flight so much more pleasant for the kids AND the adults with them. Instead of “whennn are we going to gettttt there,” we hear, “oh no, we’re there already. I’m having way too much fun to land!” Now that is music to my ears!

8. When it’s time to land and pick up the luggage, I have found it is a piece of cake finding my luggage, which looks like everyone else’s, by tying something bright that will catch my eyes onto the handle. It can be yarn, a bow, a hair ribbon, or whatever. Don’t make it too long, though, or it might catch on something and get stuck.

Well, this article is quite long, so I’m going to end it now and start saving up more tips for the next one. I will leave you with one last recommendation, if you fly often. When my flying started to increase, I read the book, Guerilla Travel Tactics, by Jay Conrad Levinson and Theo Brandt-Sarif. It has many excellent ideas and suggestions. My copy is dog-eared and underlined like you wouldn’t believe! It has suggestions for cheaper tickets, picking out seats, wisely using your frequent flier miles, and more. There’s even a chapter on how to complain properly. Hopefully none of us will need that! You can find used copies of this book at Amazon and

I hope that all these travel solutions that have worked well for me will be a great help to you. And now, to quote those great singers of yore, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

The Wright Stuff
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    • Carol O'Dell
    • January 12, 2009

    Great blog post about traveling–for seniors and for everyone. I write on caregiving based subjects and cared for my mom (who had Parkinson’s and later, Alzheimer’s) for the last 15 years of her life with the last two years being in my home.
    I too, didn’t fly on a plane until I was almost thirty–and while flying just “ain’t what it used to be,” (in terms of service, quality), I love the fact that I can go, see the world, and be there in a relatively short amount of time.
    I do recommend for those who are traveling with seniors who might have walking issues to go ahead and request a ride or wheelchair–before you get to the airport. Some airports are so huge that it’s difficult for a fairly young/able bodied person to trek (with baggage) through a large terminal. Swallow your pride and take the ride, I say. Save your energy for your destination!

    Thanks for adding to the caregiving info that’s out there helping families care for loved ones.
    ~Carol O’dell
    Author, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon

    • Kaye
    • January 12, 2009

    Hi Carol, Thanks for visiting. Great point on the wheelchairs. You aren’t joking about the “swallow your pride” either. I’ve had to deal with that with loved ones a few times over the years. It is hard for any of us to give up our independence and use a wheelchair, cane, walker, etc. I had to do it when I broke my ankle so I know how it feels, but I’m a big one for “better safe than sorry!” Excellent advice! Thank you! 🙂

    • Nona Nita
    • April 15, 2009

    Great information I will be sure to use next time I fly! When I hurt my ankle, I just loved scooting around the grocery stores and Costco in those little scooters, but I guess having to use them for an injury is not the same as having to use them due to frailty.

    • Kaye
    • April 16, 2009

    Hi Nona Nita, I broke my ankle a few years ago and had to use those scooters as well. They are great to use in those situations, but not nearly as easy to maneuver as when walking, that’s for sure! 🙂 I have one dear friend who loves them. She has to use them each time, so she’s gotten quite skilled with them 🙂

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