Photo: Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko/Shutterstock

11 Things You Learn When You Travel With the Elderly

Family Travel
by Sara Schneider Apr 15, 2015

1. Nobody is offended when you want to go off on your own.

When traveling with others (of any age), you always end up needing some alone time. Older folks get that loud and clear. Don’t think that they love being with you 24/7 either. It’s totally fine if you want to go to that disco the cute Italian boy invited you to; they’ll happily go to bed. Nor will they have a problem enjoying their morning coffee alone at the local cafe while you sleep in.

2. Printed maps actually work.

Are you completely lost when your cell reception is gone and no wifi is to be found? Yeah…there was a time when Google Maps didn’t exist. When you lose your way in the middle of rural nowhere, you’ll be more happy than embarrassed that your older counterpart packed the atlas (and knows how to use it).

3. But at the same time, our tech-savvy-ness is appreciated.

Don’t let your lack of map-reading skills discredit the fact that you can get almost anything you need instantly at your fingertips when connected. Trust me, your elder travel partner knows this and is counting on you finding the top rated seafood joint according to that new little thing called the world wide web. They’re also hoping you’ll show them how to get all the photos off their camera and organized onto their computer.

4. Good old-fashioned etiquette goes a long way.

Don’t let the fact that you’re “on vacation” get in the way of your manners. Respect for your travel companion and all the people you meet along your journey is the best method to make lifelong memories. People are the deciding factor for a lot of things that affect your trip. Who knows what being nice to the chef might get you for dinner…but Grandma is sure to find out.

5. Being old doesn’t mean being boring.

Sure, they might not be taking the crowded public bus over rough dirt roads like they did back when they were young, but the “elderly” still know how to find a bit of thrill when exploring some place new. In fact, I’m pretty sure my 73-year-old expat aunt is way more daring than me when it comes to food. Morales fried worm tacos in Tepoztlan, Mexico? Thanks, but no thanks.

6. Senior discounts are endless.

Once you’ve lost that student rate, you’re on your own until you’re old. Traveling with elders allows you to piggyback off all their fantastic AARP card benefits, not to mention potential early flight boarding and preferential seating if you’re lucky. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the fact that they can save 20% off rental cars (and endless other discounts).

7. The right museum can be just as exciting as the rainforest zip line.

There’s more to travel than just adventure. Taking in the culture, food, music, landscape, and history of a place can often be more rewarding than paying lots of money to bungee jump of a giant bridge that, let’s be honest, looks and feels the same as jumping off any other giant bridge elsewhere.

If you’re a thrill seeker, let yourself get lost in the seemingly mundane every now and then. The boomers might just surprise you with what sort of “adventure” they find themselves getting into on their journeys. (This is not to say that they aren’t up for a good zip line every now and then, though.)

8. A slower pace doesn’t mean you experience less.

It’s no surprise that older travelers need a bit more time to get around, but a slower pace often lends itself to a more fulfilling experience. Us young travelers feel the need to see and do everything…in a day. But, it’s okay to skip the caves so you can fully enjoy the winery tour. Being young means you can always come back again, so take a deep breath and enjoy embodying the tortoise for a change.

9. Honest expectations and open communication are key.

Just like any good relationship, communication and honesty are the most important things to remember when traveling with someone older than you. Both people are well aware of the differences that come with the age gap, so don’t be afraid to voice those differences. Talk about what and why and how. Remember each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Keep an open dialogue, and your travels together will be immensely more satisfying.

10. Sometimes it’s the simple things that you remember forever.

Do you remember that epic highline you walked in Yosemite? I’m sure you do, but I bet you also won’t forget that long weekend you spent with one of your favorite relatives exploring Mendocino. If you listen carefully to the stories of your elders, you’ll quickly learn that the memories that seem to stick into old age aren’t always the ones you’d expect.

11. They’ve been there, done that, and you should listen up.

If traveling to a place your older half has already been, you’re bound to learn something beyond what the tour guides are telling you. They will already know it’s not worth it to take the elephant ride in Bali, but that you absolutely must stay at the one hotel at the top of Machu Picchu (even if it’s WAY more expensive than they remember it being 20 years ago), just to experience the ruins at dusk and dawn without all the tourists. They’ve seen a lot in their lifetime, and it’s worth it to listen as they take a stroll down memory lane.

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