Top Tips for Senior Travel: Planning Ahead, Packing Wisely, & Services to Help


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Travel always comes with its fair share of obstacles, but traveling poses unique challenges for elderly loved ones. To help ensure a safe trip for a senior loved one, you can help them gather documents, prepare for TSA, book a safe place to stay, and pack wisely. You can also account for their health conditions or disabilities, so your elderly loved one can focus on the fun and have a smooth trip.

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1. Gather important documents

When traveling with an elderly loved one, it’s crucial to prepare as much as you can. It can be helpful for your senior loved one if you can gather some essential documentation before their next adventure:

  • Valid form of identification. This could include a driver’s license, state-issued personal ID card, passport, or another government-issued document.
  • Important medical information. Ask your senior loved one’s doctor for a note outlining their health conditions, current medications, regularly used medical equipment, and doctor’s contact information. This could come in handy during an emergency.
  • Travel health insurance card. For seniors planning to travel abroad, remember Medicare and several private insurance companies don’t provide health insurance coverage outside the U.S. Investing in travel health insurance may be wise for emergency situations.

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2. Plan with time in mind

Try to estimate how much time each step will take to make it to your flight on time by considering the following:

  • How far is the airport from your home?
  • How far is the walk from your drop-off point to the terminal?
  • How much medical and mobility equipment is there to carry?
  • Will you be close to a restroom?
  • Do you need to dedicate some time to using the restroom?

Reviewing the map of your airport can help you tremendously. When you plan for frequent stops, handle any mobility or medical equipment, and adjust to new surroundings, you can help reduce some of the unique stress that comes with air travel for seniors.

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3. Account for accessibility needs

If your loved one has a disability that requires special equipment or assistance when traveling, you’ll want to make sure you consider everything that comes with it.

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Learn about airline accessibility policies and notify the airline of any special equipment

If you or a senior loved one intends to travel with any special equipment or mobility devices, the call with the booking agent is the ideal time to discuss the necessities of your senior traveler. The booking agent can answer questions regarding the airline’s approved in-flight usage devices, accessibility to these devices while onboard, and more.

You can also call the airline’s customer service line instead. Doing so allows you to discuss your loved one’s equipment needs and to learn more about what forms of assistance the airline offers, and what accommodations are available.

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Air travel assistance for seniors

Many airlines employ gate agents to arrange transportation assistance between connecting gates. This service is available to anyone in need, but is especially helpful for unaccompanied elders. Each airline is required to provide this assistance promptly and is never allowed to leave a passenger in a wheelchair unattended for more than 30 minutes. Airlines must also make pre-boarding available to passengers who need extra time to board. If you wish to take advantage of this, be sure to advise the gate agent in advance.

On the plane, flight attendants assist with storing and retrieving items in overhead bins, including carry-on luggage and medical assistive devices, and help with opening any snacks, meals, or beverages. In-flight assistance does not include assistance with eating, personal hygiene, or the use of medical equipment. Passengers who require help with any of the above should travel with a ticketed passenger who can help them.


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4. Be prepared for pre-flight screenings

As part of the TSA’s security and safety measures, all travelers must undergo pre-flight screenings. The TSA has established a special set of procedures for screening people with disabilities and their mobility aids, devices, and other medically necessary supplies. When planning how to approach TSA for seniors, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

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Call TSA Cares hotline

Calling the TSA Cares hotline with any questions regarding screening policies, procedures, and what to expect at the security checkpoint is an excellent way to ensure you’re up to speed with any new TSA rules for elderly travelers. If you need assistance getting your loved one through TSA, you can request a passenger support specialist at that time. All that they ask is that you call 72 hours before traveling.


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Security screening for seniors with disabilities or medical conditions

For travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, or who are 75 or older, some of the screening procedures may look different.[01] For instance, travelers with medical devices that are unsafe to go through the metal detectors will need to alert the TSA agent assisting them. The agent will then utilize alternative methods, such as hand-wanded scanning, to screen appropriately.

TSA officers have to screen mobility devices like canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. It is important to let the agents know if your loved one is unable to stand or walk on their own so they can screen them appropriately. If a pat-down screening is needed, they have the option to request that it be done in a private area.

Senior travelers who are 75 or older are eligible for some forms of expedited screening.[02] Jackets and shoes can remain on during the screening process, but if the alarm sounds, shoes may need to be removed. If additional screening methods are necessary for travelers 75 and older and they are unable to remain standing, the option to request a seat during this portion of the screening is available to them.


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Print out a TSA notification card

When communicating the need for an alternative screening procedure to your TSA agent, having a TSA notification card can be helpful. This card does not exempt you from security screenings, but it is a free resource if you wish to print one off to accompany any other medical documentation used to describe your travel companion’s conditions.

Lastly, you’ll want to be conscious of how you pack your medications and other medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols in your carry-on. The TSA requests that you inform the TSA officer that you have medically necessary goods prior to your screening so they can proceed accordingly. If you’re flying with TSA Precheck, some additional exemptions apply. Learn more about the TSA’s special procedures when screening medications, medically necessary equipment, and 3-1-1 liquid exemptions so you can pack them appropriately.

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5. Book an accessible place to stay

Whether you’re booking an Airbnb or a room at a hotel, there are a few accessibility-related features you’ll want to look for. Ask the following questions to help ensure the accommodations meet your senior’s travel needs:

  • Are there parking spots available that are close to the entrance? Do they need to be reserved?
  • Is the room close to an elevator? Is there one available during the time you wish to book?
  • Is the bathroom spacious enough for a person who uses a wheelchair?
  • What height is the bed? Is this the appropriate height for transfers?
  • Does the space have any rooms with roll-in showers available? What about grab bars?
  • Is there step-free access to the bathroom, bedroom, and common areas?

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6. Plan a safe and enjoyable itinerary

Travel safety tips for seniors are essential, but it’s also important to help your loved one relax and enjoy their vacation. To help them thoroughly enjoy their trip, use these tips:

  • Create a balanced schedule. Sightseeing can get tiring if it involves a lot of walking, so be sure to plan activities that allow them to rest in between.
  • Ask about senior discounts. Some places like airlines, museums, and restaurants, offer discount rates for seniors. Discounts can save seniors money and help them splurge on the most important activities.
  • Find accessible transportation options. If your senior loved one doesn’t drive, see what public transportation services are available to help them travel safely.

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7. Pack wisely

When traveling with seniors, strategically packing personal items and carry-on baggage can not only help set a positive tone for your travels, but is a vital step in assuring they have the medications and devices necessary to stay healthy on your adventure ahead.

The general rule of thumb when packing personal items and carry-on baggage is to pack anything you’d need immediately if your checked baggage is lost. For elderly travelers, you’ll want to prioritize medications, important medical documents, personal care supplies, and a change of clothes.

It’s important to note that the limit of one carry-on item does not apply to medical supplies, equipment, mobility aids, and assistive devices. However, if some of your equipment is stored elsewhere on the plane and out of your reach, it’s a good idea to keep items that you might need after takeoff in the baggage that will be stored above you.

Depending on the length of your flight or the needs of your travel companion, some extra items you may consider packing are snacks that meet their dietary needs, a cover-up for when it gets chilly, neck pillows and sleeping masks for added comfort, and some form of entertainment, like a senior-friendly tablet or playing cards.

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8. Find a travel companion

If you’re worried about your senior loved one traveling alone, you can find a travel companion for your loved one using a home care agency. If your senior is already receiving home care, ask them if a traveling caregiver can accompany them on their trip.

Travel companions can help ensure your senior loved one’s safety by helping with the following:

  • Transportation to the airport
  • Carrying and transporting luggage
  • Airport check-in and ticketing
  • Security screenings
  • Custom forms
  • Navigating ground transportation
  • Companionship
  • Personal care needs


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9. Check in with elderly loved ones periodically

Whether you’re traveling with your elderly parents, or they’re traveling alone, be sure to check in with them periodically:

  • Call once or twice a day, or knock on their door, to make sure everything is okay.
  • Remind them to take their medications on time.
  • Make sure they’re staying consistent with any stretching or exercises that are a part of their regular routine.
  • Remind them to stay cautious of their belongings and avoid dangerous areas.

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10. Take extra precautions for seniors with dementia

If you are traveling with a loved one who has dementia, you may also want to consider the following tips:

  • If you can’t book a direct flight, try to avoid scheduling flights that require tight connections. You want to give your loved one time to adjust to their surroundings without the additional stress of a time crunch.
  • Stress and overstimulation can often lead to wandering. Developing dementia-focused communication tactics is key to de-escalating in situations where you recognize the early signs of anxiety and agitation.
  • If you haven’t already used one before traveling, you may want to consider some form of GPS tracking device for seniors.
  • If your loved one tends to become tired or more agitated at a certain point in the day, avoid traveling at this time.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when traveling with elderly loved ones. Navigating an airport requires a lot of attention to detail, and the level of activity can be overwhelming. You can have peace of mind knowing that when needed, airport, airline, and TSA staff are all trained to assist you along the way.

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