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5 Tips for Keeping Your Cool While Traveling with Your Parents

Spending lots of time in close proximity, dealing with different expectations, juggling many interests and ability--any of those factors can lead to stress.
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With multigenerational households on the rise (a recent AARP study found that 44% of 45- to 55-year-olds had at least one parent and one child under the age of 21 living with them) and increasing numbers of Americans caring for an older relative (currently 34+ million according to a study by, the trend of traveling with an aging parent will continue to grow as nonelderly caregivers bring their senior parents with them. At the same time, many seniors who live apart from their families are actively choosing to travel with their adult children (or perhaps more importantly the grandchildren!) rather than travel on their own.

All of this increased family togetherness can lead to great experiences and great memories. But it comes with some challenges, too. In particular, traveling with a parent can bring up a host of emotional baggage that can derail even the best of vacations. If you're about to embark on a trip with your parents, keep in mind these five tips to help you keep your cool when emotions run hot.

1. Bring along a healthy dose of patience and humor
Remember, when they're on a trip your parents are out of their element and might need some help from you to handle all the temporary changes in their lives. Be patient with them (this includes moving at a pace that works for them; see #3 below). And do your best to maintain a good sense of humor. It's unlikely that everything will go exactly as you like or expect during your trip. So try to have a positive perspective and keep in mind that any challenges you encounter are part of the travel experience--and will make for great stories when you get home!

2. Get sleep
Although many seasoned road warriors and travel sites recommend forcing yourself to stay up when you arrive to help adjust to a time change, that's more challenging when you're traveling with an aging parent. Instead, listen to your body, and if it's begging for sleep--particularly to the point where you're feeling sick--take a quick snooze (but don't "officially" go to bed). A little power nap for 30 to 60 minutes (even while in transit as Mom demonstrates below!) can do wonders for your attitude (and your parent's). After this short rest, you'll find that your nerves are not as frayed and you'll have an easier time keeping your hot buttons in check.

3) Don't overbook
When planning a trip with your parent, resist the urge to schedule every single moment of every single day, even if that's your usual approach to travel. No matter how carefully you plan, you will inevitably fall behind--which will leave everyone stressed out!

Also, be prepared for everything to s-l-o-o-o-o-o-w down. Let go of "seeing everything there is to see" at your destination and focus instead on enjoying the small moments in your new surroundings. Take the time to have a glass of wine at an outdoor café, for example, or to enjoy a leisurely meal (including dessert!) at a local restaurant--just be in the moment and let the world revolve around you. Don't let time be your master when vacationing with your parent. Instead, take control and plan downtime into the schedule to give both of you an opportunity to catch your breath and better appreciate what you're seeing.

4) Plan activities on your own
Before you go on your trip, do some research and identify activities that you and your parent can do together as well as activities you can each do separately. Being in contact 24/7 while on vacation can tax even the best of relationships. So give each other a bit of space and some time alone. Take a walk by yourself in the early morning before your parent is up and moving around, for example. Or in lieu of a walk, visit a local coffee joint for an early morning espresso before enjoying a leisurely breakfast later with Mom and Dad. Going to the gym is something else you can do solo, and it's a healthy activity that lets you burn off stress that may be building up.

5) Pause before you speak
If you're an extrovert or someone who tends to speak first and think later, this may be challenging for you. But consciously engaging your mind first before opening your mouth can stop you from being a jerk. When things aren't going exactly as you like and you find yourself getting upset, keep the scream or nasty comment in your head and instead count to ten, then force yourself to slow down your speech as you engage your parent. This quick technique is amazingly effective at keeping you from saying things that you'll regret later.

Spending lots of time in close proximity, dealing with different expectations, juggling many interests and ability--any of those factors can lead to stress. Combine that with the usual emotional baggage that's part of long-term relationships (such as the parent-child one), and you and your parent may find yourselves just a hairsbreadth from snapping at each other during your trip together. But anticipating potential problems before they arise--and knowing how to manage them when they do--can help you and your parent stay calm and keep your lids on so you can actually relax on vacation and enjoy your time together.