Carewell’s Ultimate Packing Checklist for Caregivers

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Thu Jul 07 2022.

Carewell’s Ultimate Packing Checklist for Caregivers

After more than two and a half years of pandemic-related restrictions and postponed vacations, an estimated 80% of American adults are expected to travel this summer. It’s understandable that so many are experiencing wanderlust, but if you’re a family caregiver, preparing for an extended road trip, cross-country flight, or multi-week cruise can seem like a Herculean feat.

We aren’t here to tell you that traveling with a care recipient will be easy, but with a little bit of planning and a good attitude, it can be done. To help you prepare, we’re releasing a series of travel-related articles. Today, we’re focused on packing. By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll know exactly what to bring on your upcoming trip, ensuring you and your loved one make memories to last a lifetime.

What items should family caregivers pack for a vacation?

No two care recipients have the exact same needs, but there are several items you should always bring when going on vacation, regardless of the person’s age or medical history. Specifically, we recommend packing the following items:

1) Medical records and other necessary documentation

If you’ll be away for more than a day, make sure to bring all of your loved ones’ health information. This allows you to act quickly in the event of an accident or a medical emergency. 

“Instead of packing documents and writing lists of medications and more, use an online service that lets you save and share important information like medication lists, health insurance, information, and health care proxies,” said Renee Fry, CEO at Gentreo

“Gentreo not only makes it easy to create legal documents…it lets you save and share those documents with others. The checklist is already there. And, as long as you have your phone with you, you can access all of the documents and information you need for anything that might happen.” 

Other programs, like My Travel Health and KnowAsYouGo (an interactive travel health app), provide similar services and features.

2) Plenty of comfortable clothing

Children and seniors are more sensitive to temperature fluctuations. Regardless of your destination, it’s important to pack a variety of clothing. Rick Lauber, author of The Successful Caregiver’s Guide and The Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians emphasizes the importance of strategic planning.

“I well remember a family trip to Mt. Rainier. Always one of Mom's favorites,” Lauber said. “Packing took careful attention. We took loose-fitting, comfortable, and weather-appropriate clothes for the trip.”

Pack more clothing than you think your care recipient will need. That’s especially true if they experience incontinence or mobility issues that make it difficult to get to and/or use the toilet. 

Here’s a basic clothing list to help you get started:

  • One or two long-sleeved shirts with buttons

  • A sweater with buttons

  • A clean tee shirt for every day of your trip

  • Two changes of underwear for each day of the trip

  • Numerous pairs of socks

  • A belt or suspenders

  • Pajamas or a nightgown

  • Several pairs of pants and/or shorts

Lauber suggests shirts and sweaters be button-up rather than pullovers. The latter may be difficult for seniors with increased flexibility and/or mobility issues.

If you’ll be spending time outside, it’s a good idea to bring sun protection as well, including a hat with a large brim or a visor.

3) A First-Aid Kit

When you’re on vacation, you won’t necessarily have access to your primary care physician. Therefore, if your care recipient has an underlying health problem, like diabetes, heart disease, or dementia, it’s essential you know what to do in an emergency. 

Packing a first-aid kit can buy you time until you’re able to make it to an urgent care facility or the emergency room. This article from the Carewell resource center features a list of “best products” to include in your caregiver’s first-aid kit. 

4) Mobility devices

If your care recipient has mobility issues or uses a wheelchair, take those factors into account. 

“Planning ahead is the best way to ensure smooth travel,” said Heidi Huynh, an occupational therapist who regularly works with seniors. “If the individual uses a bed rail at home, break it down and pack it with you. If there are no grab bars in the hotel room you’ll be staying in, consider bringing a toilet safety frame to provide support when they’re sitting or standing. Will your loved one need a shower chair? Often, built-in seats aren’t the proper height, so you will want to make sure you bring what works for who will be using it.”

If your loved one uses a cane, crutches, a walker, or a rollator, pack that as well. If you don’t have room in your luggage, there are various services that make renting mobility equipment easy, including WheelChairTravel.org and Special Needs at Sea

5) A wearable ID bracelet

All of the hustle and bustle at the airport, train station, or cruise port can be incredibly distracting. So much so, that you could lose track of your care recipient. Don’t let this happen! A wearable ID bracelet provides an affordable and effective way to achieve peace of mind.

“ID bracelets are especially important for seniors who become lost or confused or may wander away from home,” said Maria Shriver, an award-winning journalist, Alzheimer’s advocate, and co-founder and CEO of MOSH

“Just like a medical ID bracelet, a dementia ID bracelet serves as a form of identification and can be helpful in emergencies by providing vital information to first responders. You can also put iron-on labels on their clothing that state their name and your contact information. And, include this same information along with a list of medical conditions in their wallet.”

6) Mementos from home

 If your care recipient has Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or another neurodegenerative condition, traveling away from home can affect their sleep-wake cycle, increasing the risk of sundowning

Though there’s no sure-fire way to prevent confusion or anxiety, bringing items from home can help. For example, packing a few family photos, a favorite blanket, or a stuffed animal can prevent irritability and help your loved one stay calm.

7) Travel itinerary

Last, but certainly not least, take the time to plan a travel itinerary. 

Becky Moore, an award-winning blogger from the United Kingdom, and the founder of GlobalGrasshopper knows the benefits of an itinerary first-hand.

“I find that when traveling with elderly relatives, a printed itinerary is important to ensure they’re able to get the most out of our trip. An itinerary can help to plan out visits to tourist destinations, meals, and rest stops. This can help ensure everyone is able to enjoy the experience without feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Additionally, an itinerary can help make sure your loved one gets the necessary rest and nutrition they require while on vacation at the appropriate time for their needs.”

Are you ready to start packing?

Taking a vacation with your care recipient requires some extra work up front, but it’s an incredible experience, that’s well worth the investment.

“Travel and adventure are important for everyone who enjoys it, but many people shy away from taking those with special needs because of the extra struggle,” said Huynh. 

“I believe that the joy of the experience far outweighs the challenges, especially if you plan ahead and get the support needed to prepare for challenges that may come along with the trip.”

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.