What would make traveling with aged parents easier?
January 12, 2014 6:54 PM   Subscribe

My mum is 78, my dad is in his eighties. My mum has always wanted to go to Paris but she doesn't want to travel without Dad. I'm thinking of taking them both but there's all sorts of anxiety on their part and mine. What are some suggestions to address these worries?

My Mum and Dad don't speak French so they'll be relying on my so-so language skills. Their English also isn't that strong. So right away they are concerned that they are heavily reliant on me to do everyday stuff. Second, my mum has arthritis, she can walk ten blocks at a time but will need to rest often. She's worried she won't manage it physically.

My biggest worry is that if something should happen to me (get sick or whatever), they'll be stranded in a foreign country, helpless. My second worry is about my Dad, he is often in a rush and doesn't take appropriate care as a pedestrian in traffic. I want him to slow down and walk with my mum (who is almost too careful) but it's a habit he hasn't picked up yet.

Also, in a related vein, I haven't drawn up an itinerary yet. My folks aren't big on museums and art galleries but I am. What can they do if they don't join me at, say, the Louvre?
posted by storybored to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Can y'all do some sort of organized group tour, and you add a couple days on one end (or both) to do what you want? Having a bus driving you around seems like it would alleviate a lot of the physical issues. (I say this as someone who tends to hate group tours for myself, but they might be the right answer for your situation.)
posted by jaguar at 6:57 PM on January 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

I plan tours as a side business. I would say you should do a package tour, because figuring out all of the logistics is a lot of work, and things will come up. This way you get to spend quality time with them without worrying about the details. And you can take a day or two off and do your own thing while they continue with the tour package or stay at the hotel for a rest.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:02 PM on January 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

While you are at the Louvre, they can hang out at Le Fumoir. It's a bistro/bar where a lot of American expats hang out, so the staff speaks good English, and during the day you can sit for a long time without it being a problem. It has kind of a jazz-age speakeasy vibe and is a very comfortable place to relax and have a coffee or a drink.
posted by matildaben at 7:29 PM on January 12, 2014

It's not too hard to get by in Paris without French, though it does impose some limits. English is widely spoken in restaurants and tourist sites. Major attractions will also have someone who can deal with other commonly spoken languages. It's also relatively easy to get around Paris by métro if your parents can handle stairs; if not, the bus system is also fairly extensive, if slower. The main problem with getting around Paris if you have mobility problems is that there are a lot of places with a few steps to get in and out. If your mother can handle that, it shouldn't be too hard. Parisians are generally respectful of people with limited mobility. The last time I lived there, I had to use a cane for about 6 weeks after a bike crash, and I was routinely offered seats on the bus and métro, even though I was only 44.

Traffic in Paris tends to move slowly, though drivers do expect pedestrians to obey their signals.

All that said, I do like the idea of a package tour. You could look for a company operated by someone who speaks your parents' native language, which would deal with any communications issues, and a decent company should have options for people who don't like museums.

You should begin, though, by asking your mother why she wants to go to Paris--what she hopes to see there, anything she wants to do, etc. There are beautiful parks in Paris, from big ones like the Luxembourg and the Tuileries, or Buttes-Chaumont in the northeast and Montsouris in the south, to hidden gems like the Jardins Albert Kahn. There are the big department stores--Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette on the right bank, and Le Bon Marché on the left. There are hundreds of historic churches. There are shows and concerts, from free to quite expensive. (Pariscope and L'Officiel des Spectacles list them.) If they like old movies, Paris can be a great place to see them on the screen. They could take a cruise on the Seine on one of the bateaux-mouches, or see a magic show in a boat docked next to Notre Dame. But having a list of what they want to do would be very useful.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:44 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

My biggest worry is that if something should happen to me (get sick or whatever), they'll be stranded in a foreign country, helpless.

How long were you intending to go? How likely is it that you would ACTUALLY get sick, or that they would ACTUALLY be "stranded"? You say they don't speak French and don't have much English, but can they order food in a restaurant? Conduct a basic transaction in a shop?

Also, this is the kind of situation tour groups were meant for.
posted by Sara C. at 8:55 PM on January 12, 2014

My mother is around the same age as yours. I went with her on a month-long trip to London last year, and although we had some hiccups along the way, we both had a good time. We did about 70% of things together and 30% our own thing.

What worked well for us:

- Purchase good travel insurance.

- When you arrive, buy you and your parents cheap sim cards from a local provider. (In London, I got two sims and enough calls/data for both of us for a month for £30.) Phones are invaluable when it comes to arranging plans, meeting up places, and checking in throughout the day to make sure your parents are okay.

- Get your parents a little map of the local transport system, a fold-up map of the city (your hotel will have free ones) and a travel card to keep in their bag or purse. As long as they know the closest train/bus stop to your hotel, they can always get home.

- Read a guidebook before you go and mark the places you're interested in. Have your parents do the same. I like Frommer's Day by Day guides -- they're slim and give suggested itineraries, so they're useful rather than overwhelming.

- Take it as slow as you need. Maybe your parents' limit is two places before they get tired. So take them to those two places, have some lunch together, then let them make their way back to the hotel as you explore further. Resist the urge to try to do everything. Quality over quantity!

- American Express has currency cards you can pre-load with pounds/euros, then use at many ATMs to get cash out. We found those very useful.

- Your wallet (and especially your parents' wallets) should contain as little as possible: ID, credit card(s), cash, hotel keycard. Somebody may well lose their wallet at some point and you want to make it as pain-free as possible. Leave passports in the safe at your hotel.

- If you're going to be doing lots of touristy things, check out the Paris Pass. For us, the London Pass only became worthwhile at the six-day price point, but it worked out very well: we saw a bunch of things we had intended to see, some additional things we wouldn't have thought of, and saved some money.

Good luck and happy travels!
posted by Georgina at 9:24 PM on January 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had a Paris for Seniors AskMe post back when my parents travelled a year or two ago. Can't find it now but check out my posting history.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:27 PM on January 12, 2014

foxy_hedgehog's thread is here.
posted by Cheese Monster at 2:24 AM on January 13, 2014

My parents are in the same neighborhood, age-wise as yours. Here's what I find. They're good for one thing, and then lunch.

My mom had a knee replacement and is having back surgery tomorrow. My dad has an inner-ear/balance thing. They both move very slowly, with canes. They spend afternoons reading and resting up for dinner.

At this point, I'd do more sit in a bus and listen to a narration of what all those pretty buildings are tours. My parents enjoy museums and we can get through them, slowly, with lots of time to sit and reflect. If this is not an activity your parents would enjoy, then I'm rather at a loss as to what to recommend.

What do you think your parents would want to do and see in Paris? If they would be happy to take a few bus tours of different areas, and then sit in cafes and people watch, I'd say, go for it. But at those ages, I just don't know that they'd get an awful lot out of it, to be honest.

My parents used to be big users of the transport systems all over the world, but I don't see my folks dealing well with the stairs, correspondances and otherwise long schleps that taking the Metro would entail.

Paris is a walking city, that's why its awesome, but it can also be problematic for folks who aren't as mobile as they used to be.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:32 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I get why your mom would want to go to Paris, especially if she hasn't been before, because, come on, Paris is a great world city and on lots of people's bucket lists. But I also think people who are saying Paris is difficult to navigate for people with mobility issues are right. If you know what it is, more precisely, that your mother would like to see in Paris, that might help.

A package tour would take a lot of the planning off your shoulders, and of course would ensure that your parents wouldn't get "stranded", but it might be kind of intense for your parents - my grandparents used to do a lot of travel with Elderhostel (now called Road Scholar), and by the time they were in their late 70s/80s even the senior-friendly package tours got to be too much for them.

My aunts (two of them) took my grandmother to London and around the UK a couple of years ago (she was in her early 80s) and I think they pretty much stuck to the one-and-lunch-and-done program that Ruthless Bunny alludes to. I think they all felt like the trip was worth it, even though it was also kind of stressful - manage your expectations, recognize that this trip is not going to be *easy* but it will very likely be rewarding!

I think your best bet might be to stay in Paris, plan on taking taxis (or maybe the hop-on-hop-off bus tours?) because connections in the Métro can involve a lot of walking and stairs, and also take a few day trips outside of Paris (either on organized bus tours or in a car if you're comfortable renting and driving one), where your parents get to spend a lot of time relaxing on the ride, but they still feel like they're doing something.
posted by mskyle at 6:31 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

This might sound ridiculous but consider doing a segway tour. I went on a segway tour with my in-laws a few months ago. It was fun and easy to learn. I thought it was a great alternative to walking but you still get to see things unlike doing a bus tour. Plus it's just kind of silly and fun.
posted by kat518 at 7:28 AM on January 13, 2014

You should go on a heavily scheduled package tour, if you're going to do this. You're not going to see the 'real paris' that way, but it's really the best option given the limitations.
posted by empath at 7:59 AM on January 13, 2014

Stay in a decent hotel, and use taxis, for three people it could be about the same price as public transport (though I don't know the taxi culture in Paris - this might not work). If you stay somewhere with a concierge, they will speak English, if not a couple of other languages, and so your parents will have someone that can help them. More expensive, yes, but in this case probably worth it. Also, stay somewhere nice any central, so that more things are close.

Can you look into hiring a wheelchair? Then your dad can push and not leave her behind. Or, give your dad the map, and you walk slowly with your mum while he figures out left or right. The buses are excellent and very easy to use, particularly for the less mobile. Find a bus map before you leave.

Get really good travel insurance and get them both a phone. A sim is expensive in France, but a worthwhile expense if you're going to leave them by themselves at any time.

Hop on, hop off buses. Boat trips on the seine. Day trips out of Paris to Versailles. Naps after lunch.
posted by kjs4 at 4:44 PM on January 13, 2014

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