Category Archives: Different Strokes

Traveling with my 92-Year-Old Mom

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Arriving at the airport with my 92-year-old mom

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This is the second time I have flown with my 92 year-old mom, using a wheelchair attendant. The packing process, with the aid of a pack-list provided by by my sister Nancy, went smoothly. Actually, verything about the actual tripwent very easily except for a problem  going through the TSA, and a rude wheelchair attendant rushing us through that process.

The two trips I have taken with my mom, of course, do not qualify me as an expert on the subject of traveling with an elderly person.  But the trips have certainly made me aware of some issues I was not aware of before.  I would love to hear from others who have input on the subject! (If you have something to add, please write a paragraph or more and submit them to the “submit an article” link, on the home page of this website.)

I packed Mom’s bag the evening before (I had flown to Mom’s house the previous day and would stay over night there the night before the trip). My sister Nancy had left me a hard-copy packing list, fine-tuned  to our mom’s particular likes and needs, divided into “suitcase” and “carry-on”. My sister had also  quite a few of the items beside the suitcase, in piles, and hanging near-by.  I checked each item off as I put things in, while Mom watched. Occasionally she would comment that she’d like to add a little something here or switch something there, and I was able to accommodate most of these little changes.

All Nancy’s prep made packing pretty easy. After we were done,  I folded  up the list and put in in the side pocket of her purse. Having the list where I could get to it easily turned out to be very helpful! The following morning, whenever she would ask, for instance, “Did we pack the black pants?” I could pull out the list and point to where we had checked it off, and say, “Look, we checked it off, it’s in the suitcase”. This went a long way in alleviating her anxiety. (She often asked several times about the same item.)

After packing the suitcase, I immediately put it (and her carry-on back-pack) , on a high shelf where she could not reach it! The reason I did this is because, on a previous trip, she had woken around 3 AM, unable to sleep, and completely re-packed her bags, but in a way that we could not take them on the plane (dividing her things into three bags instead of two, with some of the things she would need on the plane in all of the bags.) She also had gotten completely dressed, but omitted putting her bra, which was buried deep in the larger carry-on.) The result was that I had to hurriedly help her re-pack, that morning, leaving barely enough time for me to get ready myself and for us to have breakfast.

One thing that worked well,  on the  morning we were to leave on this trip. was to involve her in helping me, having her read me the items on my short last-minute “still-to”pack” list and check them off as I put them in. Asking her to help out with this last packing process of mine helped her stay involved and avoided her sitting there doing nothing and worrying about whether we had packed this or that item of hers.

Actually managing our two bags once we’d been dropped off at the airport turned out to be easier than I’d feared.  The two light under-seat bags were slung over one shoulder, and mom’s roller carry-on had a handy short strap which I could hook my rolling carry-on on-to.

After my brother Sandy dropped us off at the airport, I asked an airplane employee who was taking a smoke break if she could take our picture, so that I could use the photo to demonstrate how easily it was for me to handle both carry-on size  bags (which were strapped to eachother), with Mom’s small back-pack on my back and my cross-body under-seat purse, well, across my body. This kind African-American lady took three photos and kept saying over and over how beautiful we were, and then told us something which helped us out a lot. She told us that there was a special wheelchair counter in front of the terminal at the outside check-in counter.

I said, “I thought there was a window inside that you go to.”

“That’s only if you already have your boarding passes,” she said. (When I had checked at the window inside the day before if her window was where we should go,  the young woman there had not mentioned that we would already need our boarding passes.)

We went to the outside wheelchair desk, and the employee was in the middle of helping another wheelchair person, and told us to get in the other (non-wheelchair) line.

“We have a wheelchair reservation, I said,” with calm politeness.
“Stand right there,” she said, almost rudely. “I can’t get to you yet I’m in the middle of another wheelchair.”
A  minute later she brusqely asked for our itinerary and IDs. She made up for her lack of personality with efficiency. She took itinerary and IDs and asked how many bags we were checking and printed out the tags.  Another employee strapped them on the bags, and it all happened so fast.

Checking the bags outside had the benefit of being faster; however the way I was rushed through the process it made me feel out of control and caused me to forget a basic step: checking for myself that the employee put the correct destination tags onto the checked baggage. (In the past, I’ve had bags go to the wrong city, because the employee put the wrong tags on the bag.)

The male employee who had strapped the tags to the bags wheeled Mom into the wheelchair inside (same window where I  had been told to go to by an employee the day before but had since learned was only if you had your boarding passes)

Then came the difficult part. I know that most wheelchair attendants are niceness itself. The guy we used at the Atlanta airport on my previous trip with Mom, was wonderful. But the one I got this time  was very brusque and rushed me through TSA so fast that I again felt out of control and couldn’t remember to put everything in the bins correctly. The fact that I forgot something caused him to feel he had the right to lecture me.  However, we were soon at the gate (as soon as I tipped him I regretted it, as he had been so very rude, but having been a waitress in the past, it’s very difficult for me to “stiff” someone).

(I’ve developed a certain routine for going through the TSA over the years, and I think what bothered me the most was having that routine disrupted!)

The attendant delivered us to the gate, and things went very pleasantly from then on.  We had the nicest time talking with the three other wheelchair people, all had quick lively minds, which made for a lively conversation.

A good thing about using a wheelchair attendant is that you are automatically in the early boarding group. If you do not use a wheelchair, you have to go up to the desk and ask for the early boarding privilege, before they call for early boarding.

The actual flight was very pleasant, and as it was a short flight,  Mom did not have to use the restroom.

She did get a little irritated at the end of the flight, when I said we were waiting for every one else to get off the plane before we would get off!  (She walks so very slowly, and has a tendency to stop to and start an affable chat with a stranger, while people are “chomping at the bit” behind her, so I think it’s only polite for us to get off the plane after everyone else.)

After getting to Idaho I talked to my sister-in-law Kathy about the upsetting experience with that wheelchair attendant, as Kathy would be accomplanying Mom home for the return trip. Kathy made a really good point; she said that the important thing was not to try to isolate just where things went wrong, because these things might change from trip to trip. Rather, she emphasized, the main thing was to be assertive whenever one felt uncomfortable from being rushed by any employee: to realize that one has a perfect right to say, “Wait. Stop! You’re rushing me so fast that I cannot think.”

I thought this was a really good point that my sister-in-law made.

While it’s true that for wheelchair attendants, time is money, it’s also true that they do not have a right to make your experience unpleasant or cause it to be more likely for you to forget things!

So far I have mentioned only the negative parts about traveling with an elderly person, but I must mention something very positive, and that is the kindness of strangers when they encounter someone very advanced in age! So many times during the journey, when airline employees and others encountered my mom, they were incredibly tender and sweet to her, from the employee who took the photo above, and on through the entire trip. Maybe it’s because Mom is so friendly and grateful to everyone, but I tend to think of it as an opportunity for me to glimpse the ways that people from many different cultures are sympathetic, and even sweetly sentimental, about elderly people. Perhaps it is  because they are reminded of their own parents and grandparents.

 

My Views on River Cruise Travel

 

 

Beautiful half-timbered buildings are to be seen all along the Rhine and Mosel rivers

Beautiful half-timbered buildings are to be seen all along the Rhine and Mosel rivers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meeting some other members of the 100-plus member group at Frankfurt airport

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dawn view of the castle at Würzburg, seen through the reflections of the lights in the ship's lounge

Dawn view of the castle at Würzburg, seen through the reflections of the lights in the ship’s lounge

Wine-tasting in the wine cellar of a palace

Wine-tasting in the wine cellar of a palace

 

 

The ship's lounge

The ship’s lounge

One of the best things about a river cruise is sitting in the lounge watching the beautiful scenery go by

One of the best things about a river cruise is sitting in the lounge watching the beautiful scenery go by

My First Solo Travel, at Age 65

IMG_6293I always thought that traveling alone was something I would never do. “If a problem came up and I was by myself, I’d freak out and not be able to think clearly,” I thought.

It’s true that I’d flown to Europe, and to places in the US on my own, but always on the way to joining a group. But the solo travels of my friend Ann, (co-organizer of our Phoenix area travel Meetup*), inspired me to try a trip on my own, and even to stay in a hostel!

For my first try at this “solo travel thing” I decided that I’d keep it simple, staying in one city hostel, exploring that city (Prague) on foot, and not trying for any intra-city transportation. One evening late in the spring, I went over to Ann’s, and she went on the “hostels.com” site with me. She showed me how to read the reviews, look at the location, and how to book my stay on line. I opted for a hostel which had been given high marks for cleanliness and efficiency, and was located very close to the main Old Town Square.

 The location was very important to me. There was another hostel which had better reviews for friendliness and helpfulness, but it was a short streetcar ride away from the Old Town Square. I wanted to be able to pop out the door of the hostel, eat dinner at a nearby restaurant with lots of people-watching, and walk back to my hostel in a few minutes. No night time streetcar rides for this gal!

As I made the reservation, I couldn’t believe how cheap the hostel stay would be, compared to a hotel! Even though in both hostels, I opted for my own room rather than the dormitory.

I chose December because I really wanted to get the feel of a European Christmas season.

Buying two Prague guidebooks, a Rick Steves and a DK Eyewitness Travel guidebook, I got an idea of the layout of that city. I decided to explore the Old Town on the first day, the hilltop Castle district on the second, and the New Town on the fourth. For the third day, I decided I would splurge and contract with one of the Prague guides recommended by the Rick Steves Prague guidebook. I made a reservation by e-mail for a half day trip out to the country side to see one of the castles.

Even with all my careful plans, as summer went by I realized that I was getting more and more nervous about my solo December trip.  I decided to “dip my toe in the water” with a solo weekend trip earlier in the fall.  As I’d just taken five weeks of a beginning French class, I chose Montreal, mid-September.  This time I  booked the  hostel myself without Ann’s help. I bought a guidebook, and even printed out Google Map directions from my hostel to the areas of town I wished to explore.

Thursday night of that solo Montreal weekend, I was so nervous I couldn’t sleep, just lay in bed, straight as a board, hyper-ventilating! I would have been even more nervous had I known for the Chicago-Montreal leg of the trip, the plane would be cancelled! Even the plane after that was full, and I and most of my fellow passengers found that instead of arriving in Montreal at three in the afternoon, we got there at 10:00 PM!

I had planned to take the shuttle bus into town, but was wondering whether an airport-vetted taxi would be a safer option at that time of night. But I got to talking to a woman who assured me that there would be plenty of people taking the shuttle bus even at this hour, and that the area I was going to would be full of night life and people.  Not to mention being a fraction of the cost.

I blanched when my stop turned out to be a darkish intersection between tall buildings. I thought to myself, well, I’ll have to walk to the next intersection before I figured out where I was on my map. But a cheerful-looking young man in military fatigues whipped out his smart-phone, asked the address of my hostel, and displayed for me a bright-blue map of my three-block route.

   Well, I had a blast on my first solo weekend! The first day I did feel a bit strange being on my own, but enjoyed seeing the Old Port area and the excellent museums of Montreal’s history. By the second day I was physically exhausted but mentally energized, exploring so many different neighborhoods and hiking up to the lookout point on Mont Royal.  I was able to speak quite a bit of French, and had a great conversation with a young Asian woman (in English) from Vancouver who was attending McGill University.

The first night at the hostel, none of the young people were that friendly and the loud noise of the bar kept me up at night.  The second night, the bar was quiet, and I had a couple of interesting conversations: a rather geeky young lady (in Montreal for the Comicon convention)  was rather clueless at social small talk with her peers; I actually think she had more in common with 65 year old me! An Irishman of around thirty told me that traveling solo was “the only way to go.”

It’s true what I’ve heard, I thought, people are more willing to talk to strangers in a hostel common room than in a hotel lobby.

I found a great little cafe a block away with a wonderfully friendly owner, of Lebanese Christian descent, who made all the people in there feel welcome as a little community.

Flying home, I can’t explain how good I felt. Why did I feel younger? Was it because when you are young you do many things you’ve never done before, and I had just done just that? Or was it that pleasure one gets in conquering something which one was afraid to do?

The week in Prague was just as exhilarating.  Leaving my home, again I felt sheer terror as I rode the shuttle bus from my home to the plane. Once on the plane, everything seemed routine. On the UK-Prague leg of the flight, I had a great conversation with a young Czech man who had just been visiting a friend in Silicon Valley, about the difference in life views between young Czech people and young American people.  I do not believe I would have had that conversation if I had not been traveling alone.

IMG_5080Half way through the week I had arranged to hire a guide who had been recommended in the Rick Steves guidebook.  He took me on an outing to Karlstejn Castle. This outing was my biggest splurge of the week but it was really worth it.

As in all my trips, I tried to do some preparation which would add to my understanding of my destination. Besides listening to a CD of Czech phrases, I also read two wonderful books on the history of the area.

“Prague Black and Gold”, by Peter Demetz, which enthralled me with the history of the city. Demetz grew up in Prague (his Jewish mother was sent to a concentration camp where she died, and he spent the Hitler years in a special work camp for half Jews) and fled the country in 1949. He brilliantly fulfills his aim to show both the dark side and the brilliant side of Prague’s history.

 

“Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913-14” by Frederick Morton,  took me on a roller-coaster ride that ended up in that part of Europe being the catalyst for World War I. I also read a book of Vasclav Havel’s essays, and what an insight those essays gave me, with their glimpses of life under the strangle-hold of Soviet control.

 

A huge point Havel raised was something I had not considered: that the Soviet style  kind of government fosters the rise in society of the least ethical, most hypocritical people. Rather than talent rising to the top, the people who had success under communist heirarchy were the ones who said what they were supposed to say and played the party game.

 

It sunk into me that this was the first time I would visit a formerly Communist country. I thought of this again on the last day I was there, where, in the New Town, I stopped at a small monument to two young men who had burned themselves alive in protest of their country’s domination by Russia, only twenty years before that domination ended.

 

I learned the difference between the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, from a girl behind a counter in London’s Heathrow airport. When Czechoslovakia first became independent, she said, the two republics were one nation. I was later told that they separated because the Czech Republic wished to have more of a free market economy and the Slovaks wanted to stick more with the socialist way of doing things.

 

The Old Town Hostel in Prague was very different from the one in Montreal. It occupied the second and third floor of a three story building.  The day time receptionists were two young American women, and the night desk guy was Czech. At the end of the floor of each hall was a common room where coffee and cereal was served in the morning. I had quite a few conversations with the other people, all of whom were decades younger than I.

 

There were a large group of Japanese, who were very polite but not talkative. A young gay couple (male) one of them had a speech impediment and the other was very chatty to me.  A Brazilian guy, tall and aristocratic-looking, told me that he prefered to travel alone.

 

“When you are with others, one wants to go this way, one wants to go that way. I prefer to travel alone and see what I want to see.”

 

The rooms were quite cold, but I slept well on the little wooden bed with it’s small mattress. I wore my knitted cap every night, and two sets of long underwear. One night I even wore my coat in bed, it was so cold. I was surprised to find that none of this bothered me at all, and neither did sharing a bathroom.

 

 

 

I won’t go into the wonders of Prague here…the Old Town square with its two story high decorated Christmas tree and all the little booths with the Christmas markets. The King Charles bridge with its parade of statues over the beautiful river, and seeing the balcony where Vasclav Havel had addressed the crowd in the Velvet Revolution. The Mucha museum and architectural examples of Art Nouveau.

So thanks, Ann, for inspiring me to try some solo travel.  Next “homework assignment” for

moi is to do a solo trip that includes some intra-city transportation!

 

 

 

 

She Prefers To Stay in Hostels (And Not Just Because They’re Economical)

I was telling a friend about Ann, an interesting woman who had just joined my “Valley Fans of Rick Steves Travel Meetup”. I mentioned that this brave person, though no longer in her youth, traveled all the way to South America staying in hostels!
My friend said, “Well, that’s really interesting, because in the book Tales of a Female Nomad, the author is traveling alone, and she finds out that when she stays in hostels instead of hotels, the people in the hostels were much friendlier and much more likely to start up conversations with her.” This really piqued my interest!
 

I had always thought that hostels were only for the young backpacking type of traveler, but I decided to ask Ann what she prefers about staying in hostels. One of our other members also was interested, so we spent most of one of our Meetups plying Ann with questions about this “hostel topic” (no pun intended).


Ann has stayed in hostels in her travels for more than thirty years, starting with the many travels she made with her husband. They stayed in hostels in Mongolia, Beijing, among other places. Now, a widow, she travels mostly on her own, and she has continued to stay in hostels.

We asked her what she likes about them, besides the cost. She said that she feels much more connected to the other people. Some of the hostels have social activities, some even have a bar on the premises. She remembers one evening when the conversation (Ann’s husband was Irish, so she calls good conversation “craic” as the Irish do) was so good that no one even thought of going out!

“Can you have your own room?” we asked.

“Well,” said Ann, “In some of them you can have your own room, some have rooms for families, some have rooms for couples and in some they only have dorms. You can call ahead and ask.
“But one thing I can assure you,” she paused and looked around at all of us, “Is that maybe they will have what they say, and maybe they won’t!” She said that over and over she has found that you can’t really expect everything to be just as predicted in a hostel.One has to be prepared to “go with the flow”.

We asked if she wasn’t afraid of theft, in a dorm sleeping situation. Ann said that sometimes they have lockers, and more and more of them have safes that you can program. But like everything else about hostels, one can’t depend that these things will actually be available or actually function. Ann said she always carried everything right on her, even when she sleeps, her passport and cards are right on her person under whatever clothes she is sleeping in. She doesn’t carry a camera, or a computer.

“Oh no,” I thought, because I always carry a camera and my little Acer laptop. But I realized that all I would have to do is to plug the camera card into my computer nightly, and then transfer everything to a jump drive. The jump drive would be small enough to wear on my person.

Ann went on to say that you do often have to share a bathroom. There is usually a kitchen where you can cook. You don’t have to bring a sleeping bag, but sometimes you do have to pay extra for sheets.

Making a reservation for a hostel is the same as reserving a hotel room. They often ask ten percent down for the first night, and you risk losing that much if you don’t show up. To find hostels, just go to Google and type in “hostels in ________” (whatever city).

She said that you can ask “is this a party hostel” because some of them are, and they will tell you.

 Ann prefers not to stay in the American Youth Hostels because they have a curfew. however, she points out that the AYH are good, clean dependable places to stay.


Apparently people of all ages stay in hostels, but the predominant age is young. But Ann’s voice filled with warmth as she told us how over and over, all over the world, young people had included her, had invited her to share their company, and sometimes to share their excursions.

One step beyond hostels is “couch-surfing”. The following information was obtained by talking to a young man who is a member of “couchsurfing.com” and often participates in the program. He said that when you register, you can stipulate that you will only stay with women, only with men, or with couples. If you are not ready to have strangers in your house, you can say that you only wish to meet people for coffee.
When couch-surfers have people stay with them, those people leave reviews on the site. This builds “cred” (short for credibility).
Well, I’m not ready for couch-surfing yet, though I am considering joining the website and volunteering to meet people for coffee and give them advice about my town.

  And I am definitely considering staying in hostels!