Service Irons Out Travel Wrinkles for Senior Citizens

An adult child’s older parents travel to warmer climes each winter, but the father’s arthritis has worsened, and they might not be able to make the trip alone. An elderly mother wants to visit her sister in Virginia, but she’s fearful of getting lost in the airport when making a connection. A cousin has special needs, and family members believe there’s a better care facility for her in another state, but getting her there without stressing her beyond her ability to cope provides a challenge.

Many families face these kinds of worries when it comes to travelling with someone who needs extra assistance, and taking time away from work and family obligations, including young children, to travel with them can be problematic. Even knowing exactly how to be helpful can be a stumbling block.

This is where former attorney and current experienced caregiver and fiduciary Carol Giuliani of Eden Prairie steps in to help. Working in that capacity for over 35 years, Giuliani had many clients who were, for one reason or another, in need of extra support in their day-to-day lives. She eventually discovered that she was frequently helping clients with travel planning. At times, planning wasn’t enough. Her clients need more assistance, and she traveled with them to ensure the trip went smoothly and safely.

After years of stepping in to organize travel for her clients, Giuliani founded Senior Travel Companion Services in 2015, a full-service company providing planning and traveling companion services. Giuliani has a wide range of experience, including navigating through airport security with wheelchairs and making sure transportation aids (scooters, wheelchairs, etc.) are available at the destination.  She’s also adept at traveling on a commercial flight with oxygen and securing multiple medications in luggage and carry-on bags. Clients’ needs are unique, and she’s adroit at handling whatever is tossed her way.

Giuliani loves to travel and wants her clients to love it, too, so she plans every trip down to the last detail to reduce clients’ concerns. “I plan all these trips like a military operation,” Giuliani says.  “The taxi will be here at 7:30 a.m., we’ll get to the hotel at 7:55 a.m. [The] lunch reservation is for noon, so we’ll leave the hotel at 11:45 a.m.” That type of attention can create an atmosphere
of trust.

Jennifer Mader is also a fiduciary, and she has a client in her 70s with many special needs, including autism and obsessive compulsive disorder.  Her client wanted to travel from the Twin Cities to Missouri to deliver her mother’s ashes to be interned and to attend a memorial service.

Mader met Giuliani at a conference and knew that her company was just what this client needed to make that trip happen. “When I called Carol to set it up, I explained what a challenge this would be to deal with.  Carol said, ‘No problem,’ and she meant it,” Mader says. “She took the time to have many meetings and phone calls prior to the trip to put my client's worries at rest. Carol spent days getting my client comfortable with the idea of getting into a car with her. [My client] won’t fly, so there was never any question that they would drive, but she was still very anxious about getting into a car with Carol. It took them an hour and a half  just to get out the door, and then along the way, Carol sent me email updates with pictures. You can tell she’s very passionate about what she does.”

Not all of Giuliani’s trips are intense, but she gives  them a high level of attention to detail. That’s a must since she’s travels throughout the country. Giuliani traveled to 13 states last year with clients. She accompanied a client to New York City and traveled with a gentleman who wanted to see Graceland  and attend a classic car show.

A lot of her business is recreational travel or accompanying a client to a family event, like a graduation or wedding. She also helps families relocate relatives to care facilities. Giuliani assisted a family who needed to move their mother (in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease) to a facility in another state.  “I have a lot of experience with folks with cognitive difficulties,” she says. “Also, since I'm a ‘neutral’ in the senior's life, they tend to be more polite and accepting. I enjoy hearing stories the families grew tired of years ago.”  

Cognitive disabilities can present one set of problems. When the challenge is to work around a physical limitation, the answer might be to just broaden the options under consideration.  “I can be pretty creative,” Giuliani says.  “A senior in Florida wants me to get him and his wife to New York this summer to visit their son. The wife has a bad back and can't sit much at all, so I figured out how to get them there in a [recreational vehicle].”  
With all her travel experience, Giuliani is an ace at packing, and she advises against overpacking. “Whenever possible, bring just a carry-on and a purse or briefcase,” she says. “You avoid lost luggage and waiting at baggage claim.”

And what should you always bring in that carry-on? Pack enough medications to last the entire trip, a change of clothes, an empty bottle to fill with water before boarding, reading materials, a microfiber towel (they pack small and double as a blanket, wrap or pillow), an eye mask and earplugs, snack and gum, and the currency of the destination.

Once through security, if the boarding pass says “TSA Pre-Approved,” go straight to the fast lane. If traveling with a senior in a wheelchair or who is otherwise unable to wait in a long line, ask to use the special needs line. Seniors do not have to take off their shoes, jackets or jewelry for security. Once on the plane, place roller bags in the overhead compartment wheels first, in order to grab the handle to pull it out quickly  when disembarking.

Giuliani offers up another useful tip: “If you've rented a car and don't want to leave your senior at the terminal while you return it, you may be able to go directly to the return line and have a rental agent drive you all back to the terminal,” she says. “Hertz’s program is called Quick Ride, and they might not even charge for it. Phone the rental agency’s local number directly because the general customer service people aren't always in the loop.”

Aging, at times, is associated with a narrowing of the person’s world. A perception is that older people have less confidence in their own ability to navigate in the larger world. There can be a  tendency to stay  closer to home. Giuliani works to dispel those notions. Travelers, no matter their age, can go wherever their heart desires—they or their families just need to spend some time making a solid plan before they travel.