Mobility and multigenerational travel – what does it mean and what can I do about it?

Last week, I started a conversation about mobility and multigenerational travel. You might ask yourself, what does mobility mean? And what can we do about it so that we can have the best vacation possible with our family?

Let’s start with a definition. According to Webster’s Dictionary, mobility is defined as the ability to move, or the capability of moving or being moved, from place to place.

When you are traveling with one or more generations you may have individuals traveling with you with different needs to get from Point A to Point B. For example you might be traveling with:

  • Infants who cannot walk on their own and need a stroller or a carrier;
  • Toddlers or young children who may be able to walk, but, may not be able to walk for long distances;
  • Grandparents or great-grandparents who can get around but may need to use a cane, wheelchair, a walker, or even an adult scooter; or,
  • Members of the family with chronic diseases that need to carry medical equipment like an oxygen tanks or other medical supplies.

Once you understand the mobility needs of your group, then you can start to plan your trip. Here are some of the things we consider as we plan for our multigenerational vacations:

Planes, trains, or automobiles

One of the first things to think about is which travel option will work best for you and your group. If you are traveling to another country, within a country, or within a region/state you might ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will you use an airplane, car, hired car, bus, or train to get to your destination?
  • Will you use a combination of these travel options?
  • If you need to fly to get to your destination, how important is your physical space when traveling?

As I shared last week, it is important for my father-in-law (who just had knee surgery) to sit in an aisle seat with additional legroom when he flies. He is willing to pay a little more for his flight in order to have the extra space. He also feels reassured knowing that his cane is easily within reach in case he needs to move around the airplane cabin during his trip. The key thing is to be an informed planner and traveler. This will enable you to choose the travel option that works best for your group.

The gear

With multiple generations and potentially multiple mobility needs, your group may need to bring gear with them on the journey. Since the gear are must-haves you need to understand how you can take it with you. For example:

  • Are there specific airline rules that apply to traveling with mobility gear or medical equipment?
  • How will you stow the gear and equipment during travel?
  • Can you bring the gear and equipment on the airplane like carry-on luggage or do you have to check it?
  • Does the airline charge a fee for carrying it on or checking it in? How much is the fee?
  • Are there limitations on the amount of medical equipment you can bring with you on an airplane?
  • Is it possible to rent the gear or the equipment at your destination?
  • Is your car rental large enough to accommodate all of the gear, equipment, luggage, and travelers on your vacation?

Packing light

We have learned the hard way that moving through an airport with an eye on the little one, the grandparents, plus juggling all of the gear and our carry-on bags can be very stressful. Throw in a collection of drinks, snacks, and magazines picked up at the airport by just about everyone in your group and your nerves may start to fray before you board that flight. I highly recommend shared backpacks and tote bags with a little space for everyone. And for your larger pieces save yourself the stress and check those bags in!

Home base

Whether you are renting a house or staying at a hotel you need to understand whether it is mobile friendly. The last thing you (and others in your group) want to do after a long day of travel is climb stairs with everyone and everything in tow. And keep in mind the reality that some members of your group may not even be able to make the climb. Seriously, I almost broke down in tears staring up a three flights of stairs at a vacation condo in Colorado recently. Having an understanding about whether your temporary home base has an elevator or if you will need to use stairs is critical.

Another thing to think about is the floor plan. Are the bathrooms and the other spaces in the home or hotel easy for everyone in your group to use and navigate? If you don’t know the answer to this question, you will want to ask before you make your reservation.

Advance planning is a must

Once you arrive at your destination, I recommend identifying where you go and how will you get there. While tourism by foot may be the preferred approach for some in your family, it may not work for everyone. If you find yourself in the city center of Lisbon with nothing but cobblestone streets in sight, the bumpy path may be too hard to navigate with a stroller or may be too difficult to travel on for someone using a walker. You may want to consider other options to get around and see the city like using public transportation, hiring a car, calling a taxi, or using Uber, if it is available.

Flexibility is your friend

When you are touring the city remember to stay flexible. My advice is to not be afraid to mix things up. Let’s say you are in Paris and your group wants to visit Notre Dame. After having a conversation you learn that some may prefer to see it with a tour group while others may want to see it solo. That’s ok. One great alternative approach to consider is picking a common time to time to meet at Notre Dame, seeing some of it together, and then sharing a picnic, lunch or snack together nearby. The key is to create an itinerary that works for everyone.

Plan for the unexpected and make your moments count

It happens to us all, you have just arrived at a historic site, museum, gardens, or a cathedral or you are in the thick of a tour and for whatever reason it is just not working out for one of your travel mates. What do you do? Take a deep breath and detour to that nearby coffee shop, park, or restaurant. And while you are at it, pat yourself on the back for remembering to bring that book, game, notebook, crayons, toys, or iPad to help pass the time. If that doesn’t work, give yourself a break and head back to home base. It’s ok, really!

I am just scratching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mobility and multigenerational travel. There are a lot of terrific resources on this topic out on the internet by a whole host of organizations and fellow travelers.

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned a little bit from it.

Thanks for stopping by.

Dorothy Hoffman is the creator of the travel blog, Squirts and Seniors. She is a Gen X-er who writes about traveling at home and abroad with her young son and aging parents.



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