In my 50s, I'm an empty nester with the time and inclination to take trips with my on-the-go mom, a "power elder" at age 80. As an Audubon teacher-naturalist, she looks for excursions with an active, intellectual bent: long on historical lectures, short on sand, Jet Skis and razzle-dazzle.
Nowadays, with people living longer, healthier lives, cruise lines and tour companies are catering more and more to these joint boomer kid-power elder parent journeys.
Choose one that suits the senior in your life and start making memories.
For the physically challenged parent who craves family time
Most of the larger cruise lines make it easy for wheelchair- or walker-using guests to get around. Port Washington resident Evelyn Burack takes one cruise every spring with her 80-something mother, saying, "She looks forward to it all year."
Burack books either Oceania (seven-day Mediterranean starts at $3,300 a person; oceaniacruises.com) or Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (three-night Bahamas from $500 a person; royalcaribbean.com), and makes sure to order a wheelchair at the airport and for boarding the ship. Most seniors with physical disabilities opt out of shore excursions. In Burack's case, "we do not take excursions with the group. We organize a driver in certain locations for the two of us. It's just easier for my mom to sightsee at her own pace, and she's thrilled with us being together and enjoying each location."
The advantage of a large cruise ship, according to Burack, is that her mom can get around on her own, be independent and read in the library or relax on the deck or go to the dining room on her own if she chooses. "For me, I get to go away and spend special time with my mom and have the opportunity to see many beautiful places. We have wonderful memories together."
For the active parent/child combo seeking a learning experience
Your parents take advantage of nearby college classes, and when they travel alone it's generally through an organization like Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel). Their overnight bags always include a slew of reference books, a journal and binoculars. For these elders, you'll find that small ships with experts and like-minded guests onboard offer the perfect balance between convenience, excitement and intellectual pursuits. If Ernest Shackelton, William Parry and George Mallory are household names, and you thrill to salt-spray rides on inflatable Zodiacs, donning hip waders to cavort with wildlife in the Galapagos, or cruising in the splash zone of wild porpoises in the Sea of Cortez, book an adventure through Linblad/National Geographic Expeditions (eight to 10 days, $5,500-$10,500 a person; expeditions.com). For the American history buff who would like to stay closer to home, embark on a small-ship American Cruise Line excursion; americancruiselines.com. Pull into familiar ports on the Hudson River for fall foliage, the Mississippi River during springtime or the Chesapeake Bay in summer (seven nights, $3,750- $5,000 a person) while dining on meals prepared by top chefs, mingling with passengers during the afternoon (and included) cocktail reception, and watching the American landscape pass by from your well-appointed stateroom balcony.
For the athletic boomer and 'power elder'
If a zip line or chair lift is an essential component of your parent-offspring getaway, you'll most likely stay off boats and rent a house on a ski slope or near a national park instead. Dr. Robin Evans of Stamford, Conn., has been skiing with her now 80-something father since she was a child. "We usually go to a different place out West each year but did have some repeats," Evans said. "Snowmass in Aspen is our favorite." Providence, R.I., resident, Shari Weinberger flies to Palm Desert, Calif., where her parents rent a house (through the Vacation Rentals by Owner website; vrbo.com) for a month. "Last year we went hiking in the palm grove and to the polo matches," she said. "This year we are planning to hike Joshua Tree National Park."
Tips for traveling with a senior parent
1. For physically challenged parents, choose a well-established cruise line that is equipped to handle the frail or wheelchair-using traveler. Ask in advance about services they provide, including medical facilities and specialized tours for nonambulatory guests.
2. If there's a chance your parents might need medical attention, keep a list of all prescription drugs they take and doctor contact information with you at all times.
3. Put medications in a carry-on bag in case there are flight delays or luggage gets lost.
4. If your parent uses hearing aids, bring along extra batteries. These are not easy to find abroad.
5. Before planning the trip, have an honest conversation with your parents about their comfort level with various activities, from sedentary to strenuous. This will dictate the kind of trip you will all enjoy.
6. Make memories: Document, take lots of pictures and share them with other family members. These trips will become part of family lore.