How to have a calm and interesting trip with Mom
September 29, 2008 8:58 AM   Subscribe

ISO ideas and hints for planning successful vacation with brainy, very (very) anxious widowed mother (mine) who is active, nervous, and 76.

I'd like to plan a trip for 2009 with my mother, and perhaps one or more of my sisters. Here are the two qualities I'm trying to find: something to appeal to my mother's braininess (history, lectures, museums, gardens, etc.), and a structure that provides limited decision-making but is not-too-cheesy. Something like an Elderhostel would be perfect, but my sibs and I are all too young, so it can't actually be an Elderhostel (at least as I understand the US rules).

My ideas so far: a history cruise? maybe a history tour of England? a Jane Austen tour of England? Or a university-sponsored tour for alumni, maybe, though we all went to different colleges. I'm not the best at planning, so I may be the "idea" person and my sister Gail may be the logistics person. Another sister is bilingual Spanish, so there's another resource.

Did I mention anxious?
posted by ClaudiaCenter to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Best answer: Are there specific things that increase or decrease her anxiety? That may help us find some nice alternatives.

Have you looked into some of the women's travel companies? I've heard really good things about this company, but it might not be brainiac enough for your mom. However, you would have other women in the group to help mom feel more comfortable.
posted by 26.2 at 9:34 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Are there specific things that increase or decrease her anxiety?

She gets very anxious about logistics and uncertainty (even the smallest item, such as where will we eat lunch). So I think that anything that is completely planned ahead of time would decrease her anxiety.

The Elderhostels are a good model, I think -- they are at a set location and have a set schedule of lectures and events.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:48 AM on September 29, 2008

I went on great a two-and-a-half week trip to France with my anxious, now-73-year-old mom several years back.

You seem like you're considering tours with a lot of movement. Dunno about your mom, but this would've made my mom a nervous wreck -- packing and unpacking and perpetually unfamiliar hotel rooms and schlepping the suitcase around again and this place has no elevator and what if the next hotel has stairs as steep as the last hotel and are you sure you know how to get around in this town? and so forth.

I would recommend a "home base" from which you can then take organized-tour day trips and perhaps one overnight or several-nights'-trip. I did this with my mom and it worked wonderfully -- we stayed in Paris, took the train up to St. Malo and stayed for four nights, then came back to the same hotel in Paris. Made flight arrangements easier, the trip was a big adventure (TGV and local rail), and while in Paris we could relax knowing that we knew the closest good brasserie, the most convenient grocery at which to pick up water, she could browse through a tourist guide and decide which museum she wanted to see that day, etc.

The other thing about more complicated trips is that it's really stressful for the person doing all the planning -- it's easy to feel like you're solely responsible for everyone's happiness and feel blamed when egads, a restaurant is closed or someone gets tired too fast.

University trips may be the other best option. It's common to allow alumni and other interested people to attend as long as there is space. I did several back in college in the 90s; a friend of mine who is a college prof has organized them more recently, so I know that the basic concept is pretty universal. The downside is that group-tour-organized meals are usually pretty blah. I'm a big foodie, so this was a HUGE downside for me -- I felt like the trip fee included food, but I had to pay out of pocket anyway to get anything truly good. It can also be annoying to be stuck with the folks on the trip in a bus. The upside is that you don't have to sweat the details and professors generally do a great job putting together an interesting itinerary, and often have great connections from doing trips over many years.
posted by desuetude at 9:51 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: PS -- Thanks for the link to Gutsy Women Travel -- the trip to Savannah Charleston looks like a possibility. Also the Austria one -- my mother is a huge classical music fan. I've sent both links to logistics sis. But please -- keep 'em coming!!
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:54 AM on September 29, 2008

Response by poster: I would recommend a "home base" from which you can then take organized-tour day trips and perhaps one overnight or several-nights'-trip.

Yes, that would be perfect. I think that's why the Elderhostels worked so great for her. I would love to *not* have to plan each day, though. So don't know if there are packages organized around a home base. And I'll check out the university tours, good to know they'll let friends tag along if there is room.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:00 AM on September 29, 2008

Best answer: Both my profs and my friend who is a prof actually seek out some non-student participants for their tours to diversify the group a bit.

If you wind up in London or Paris, check where I linked there for a great walking-tour company that also organizes day trips. The couple who runs this company are very nice and hire great guides.
posted by desuetude at 10:24 AM on September 29, 2008

You mentioned a history cruise. My parents have taken four cruises with Lindblad Expeditions and loved them. They enlist experts throughout the trip to lecture onboard on whatever topic of interest is at hand: history, botany, geology, etc. The trips also seem to be much more focused on actually getting to know the areas they go through and feature plenty of side trips with knowledgeable guides. For example, in Alaska they went kayaking near glaciers (optional in case your mother isn't the active type), visited a dogsledder's outfit and learned about native culture and wildlife. They're not cheap, but everything is taken care of and the food is reportedly wonderful.

In addition to the Alaska trip, they took one through Germany that focused on music and history, one through Lewis and Clark territory that was naturally heavy on American history, and another Pacific Northwest one that I'm forgetting just now. They really rave about them.
posted by bwanabetty at 10:27 AM on September 29, 2008

How about a stay at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland?
posted by ceri richard at 1:22 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the continued suggestions -- I don't think she wants outdoorsy or cooking. More history, museums, art, music. Probably US or Europe. The Lindblad Germany expedition might be good, but it's not listed on their web site right now. The other ones are too adventure-outdoors-y. But I'll check back -- they probably add expeditions periodically.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:43 PM on September 29, 2008

Best answer: Saga is a company in the UK that does stuff for the over 50s, and they are famed for their holidays, which range from the gentle to the crazy. I had a quick look in the terms and conditions in one of their brochures and it says that Saga holidays are for anyone over 50, but a travelling companion or family member maybe over 40. So this might not work for you, but then again it might.

If you are thinking of coming here, the UK isn't that big a place so it's probably not beyond you to organise a trip where you are based in one place, but go on day trips to other places, like desuetude has already mentioned for France. From London, you can get to Windsor, Oxford, Stratford upon Avon, Warwick, Bath, Stonehenge and loads of other places within a couple of hours. Your Mum might not be up for doing a lot of them, and you might have to do overnight stays, but depending on how long the trip is you could probably do one or two easily. Plus there are tons of things your mum will be interested in London itself: music, art, museums, lectures (the London walks desuetude linked to are great, many of the museums and galleries have a programme of talks you can attend). Sit down with a guidebook, use previous AskMe questions, and even use the TimeOut to come up with a list of things to do. Get logistical sister to put together an itinerary, find a nice hotel in central London and buy as many tickets in advance as you can, and off you go.
posted by Helga-woo at 1:46 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another company that I have heard good things about is Classical Pursuits.
posted by gudrun at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2008

Crossposted from Metachat:

JANSA is offering a tour of England to its members in the summer of 2009, and you still have a few months to become a member. The itinerary isn't set yet, but they have past itineraries on their site and the membership fee is less than $50.
posted by muddgirl at 7:47 AM on September 30, 2008

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