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Last summer, I had a chance to take my 70-year-old dad, a lifelong auto racing fan, to the Indy Racing Experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We had gone to the Indy 500 together several times when I was a kid, and I knew that hurtling around the track at 180 mph in a professionally driven race car was on his bucket list.


Planning a special trip for a parent can be an extremely gratifying activity. Besides creating memories together, I enjoyed the chance to give something back to my dad, who has sacrificed so much for me over the years. It's a vacation that will stay with me, long after the actual thrill of riding in the race car is gone.

About 10 years ago, former flight attendant Anabela Salvador George (http://jet-laggedjourneys.blogspot.com) asked her mom, then 76, where she would go if she had the chance. Her mom answered Paris and Hawaii, and George made both wishes come true -- at the right time, it turned out.

"She now has Alzheimer's and doesn't really remember," says George, who now works as her mother's caretaker. "But she enjoys it when we review the photos together."

If you'd like to plan a special trip with one or both of your parents, here are a few things to keep in mind before you begin:

Check the physical requirements. You may be spry enough to bound up the Pyramid steps in Egypt. But will your dad? Having limited mobility won't necessarily stop your parents from seeing all the major sights. But it might not be the same way that you'd travel on your own.

"I had to keep reminding myself that this trip was about us," George says. "When we went to Kauai, I wanted to do all of the adventurous things, but instead did things that we could both enjoy together." That meant going to a luau, visiting the botanical gardens, and driving around the island to check out the views.

New Orleans-based travel writer Millie Ball recommends cruises as a good option for family members who might need a less strenuous itinerary. "Everyone can do what they want, then gather together for meals and shows. And the bed is near for naps." Ball suggests booking cruises within driving distance to avoid problems with flights and working with a travel agent to get centrally located cabins near each other.

Work out finances ahead of time.
Although I don't remember the first time I picked up a check for my parents, I'm sure my dad does. Money can be a sticky subject with anyone, let alone your parents, but it's best to decide who is going to pay for what before you get on the plane.

Make it about the two of you.
My husband voiced interest in coming to Indy, and my dad tried to convince my mom to drive down with him from Minneapolis. But doing the trip as a father-daughter event, where we had time to talk without interruption from other relatives, made the vacation even more special.

Take some time apart. Just because you're on the trip of a lifetime together doesn't mean that your parents still won't get on your nerves. Make sure that you build in some time apart, so you can both recharge your batteries when you find old arguments rising to the surface.

Do it before it's too late. When doctors told Ball that hospice was the next step for her mother, who at 87 was battling cancer and mid-level Alzheimer's, Ball's response was to sign them both up for a cruise.

"We wheeled her to dinner, where waiters made pink Kleenex carnations for her hair and rolled her chair like they were dancing, to shows, everywhere," Ball says. "Her cabin was near the dining room. She napped. She loved every second! Three months later, she died."