Tips for Travelling with Parents

by Ant Stone on July 27, 2010

in Features

Travelling with your parents is something most of us reserve for our adolescent years. Being sentenced to shlep around Disneyland with your whingy little sister, when you’d much rather be at home snogging the face off rebellious girls.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

I’ve been on the road for three years now, and I’m proud of the fact that during that time I’ve travelled with my parents for a total of around seven weeks. Easily more than I have for the past fifteen years.

I’ve travelled with them across northern India and central Sri Lanka, I’ve driven them around Tasmania, and welcomed them to New Zealand. After all that, I’d happily join them in any corner of the world.

Travelling with Parents

I’ve got to know my parents in ways I’d never imagine. I’ve mothered my mother, scolded my father and introduced them both to their future daughter-in-law.

I’ll be honest β€” I never imagined I could ever do this. Since hitting my teens, I fought tooth and nail to avoid family holidays, and if my memory serves me correctly, I served my last one up aged fourteen.

I’m now in my late twenties; so what have I learned about travelling with my parents?

TOP 10 TIPS FOR TRAVELLING WITH YOUR PARENTS

  1. BRIEF THEM: Make sure your mum and dad fully understand the type of travel they’re about to experience. Do they think you’re travelling 5-star through some of the safest regions of the world? Make sure they realise your chosen style of travel. Confess all, they’ll thank you for it.
  2. ADD A LITTLE SPARKLE: Travel can often be such a black and white experience: Your Culture + Their Culture = Our Culture. Before your folks embrace you in a foreign land, have a scout around and unearth some sparkle. Perhaps they’ve always wanted to ride a camel, or your mum deserves a massage. Plan ahead, and hit them with some sparkle on the very first day.
  3. FESS UP: If you have anything you want to speak to your parents about, this could be the perfect time. I’ve spoken to mine about everything from life and love, to death and desire. These aren’t easy subjects to bring up around the breakfast table back home. Travel allows us a unique outlook; one in which we’re capable of dealing with most things just a little bit easier.
  4. BUY THEM A BEER: One thing I learned early, is to buy the first beer. Or at least try. Many parents have a natural talent to pay for everything. While that’s naturally great for the budget traveller, it can leave you feeling guilty soon after they leave. Keeping things equally split adds to the experience. This is your journey.
  5. GIVE THEM A BREAK: Whereas you might be on a pilgrimage of tiny budgets, take a step back and consider your parent’s reasons for travelling. Perhaps they’ve worked hard all year to be able to afford to join their favourite son or daughter in Outback Australia. While you’ll be ploughing on, chances are they’re returning to their day job. Splice in some well-earned rest.
  6. THE BUDGET: My parents have often been shocked by how low my budget is. They soon got used to it, but perhaps I should have warned them what comes with it. Draughty hotels and street food galore might not be what they’re expecting. Ease them in gently.
  7. HAND OVER THE REINS: Don’t let them have it too easy. If they’re joining you, give them a taste of what it takes to make the most of every day. Over breakfast one morning, suggest “This Monday and Tuesday, it’s your call folks!” If they stammer, slip them a guidebook. If they turn pale, pass them a glass of water.
  8. CAPTURE THE MOMENT: Once they’ve gone, ensure they’re not forgotten. Consider small tokens such as personalised postcards featuring you all in mid-adventure, or go all out and order a photo book. Hopefully this will be one of the best holidays of your lives, it only takes an hour to add the wow factor.
  9. GIVE THEM SPACE: It’s natural to feel like you should be looking out for mum and dad every minute of the day and night, but cut them some slack. Beneath the parental history, they’re a couple of star-crossed lovers on holiday in a faraway land. Three’s a crowd anywhere in the world, so take opportunities to take some me-time, and allow them the same.
  10. LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN: Most travellers welcome their parents with open arms, and it’s a let-down to wave them off home. If you liked having them as travelling companions, make sure they know it. They might be thinking it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend this time with you. Was it?

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?

I never thought I’d be the person to write this post. I’m an ardent independent, and I cut the apron strings in a blaze of youthful misgivings.

I’ve met hundreds of people along The Trail and I can safely say my own parents make fantastic travel partners. They loosened up when they needed to, and coughed up when we had to. The three of us made friends in a way that transcended the normal parameters of our family.

It felt like we were letting my childhood go. Casting it from the rickshaw bench. Tossing it out of night trains. For my own relationship with my parents, it was the ultimate metamorphosis.

Like a helpless caterpillar, crawling along on a plump belly, I’ve emerged as a brilliantly coloured butterfly spreading his wings and inflicting horrible insect-based metaphors on the unknowing public.

In all seriousness, there is no better way to get to know your parents than to invite them along on your travel adventures. In many ways, I wish I’d saved all my family holidays for the days in front of me. When I can appreciate them as individuals, and we can share adventures.

At least then I could have stayed at home, and snogged more girls.

Have you travelled with your parents? What was your experience? Perhaps you can expand on this post, and ensure that we get the most out of these far flung family reunions.

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{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith July 27, 2010 at 9:31 am

Great work. I grew up in a family that didn’t take big vacations – we mostly went up north or explored different areas of the same region. Since then I’ve become an avid traveler. My dad always spoke wistfully of going to Scotland (his parents’ homeland) and last year my wife and I spearheaded a plan to get my parents to Scotland with the rest of my nuclear family (brother and sister).

My parents had never been overseas and I was pleasantly surprised by the feeling of excitement this added to MY trip. We spent two weeks driving around Scotland and it was an amazingly good trip.

One extra tip I’d add: slow down. It can be rough on parents to move every day or two. Find a spot and let them relax for a few days.

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Ant July 27, 2010 at 9:55 am

Absolutely right, Keith. I touched on that in point five, and it’s a really worthy point.

Sounds like you had a great reason to travel Scotland with them as well, I’m sure that personal affinity to your grandparents homeland added to the adventure.

Thanks for the comment.

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Brian Setzer July 27, 2010 at 9:56 am

Good stuff. I’m heading to Europe with my parents for a couple weeks in December. We’ve traveled together before and all your points hit home. I’ll be sharing this post with them before we go.

I’ve found it even more enjoyable traveling with them later in life. We both have opinions, ideas, and conceptions about where to, what to do etc this leads to experiences on both sides we never would have had otherwise. It’s also fun to show them how far I’ve come and to share my passion with traveling and seeing the world.

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Ant July 27, 2010 at 10:06 am

So true, Brian. Parental responsibilities aside, they’re just two people looking for an authentic adventure, and that’s never a bad thing. Like you say, it can lead to new experiences for everyone.

I hope you all have a great time exploring Europe together this December.

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Matt July 27, 2010 at 10:21 am

I traveled quite a bit with my family growing up – but never internationally. Taking a trip to Minnesota fishing or hiking in Yellowstone is worlds apart from a trip abroad – even in a Western country.

We’ve had amazing times in Irish pubs, the Scottish highlands, and as of recent – the shockingly diverse landscapes of New Zealand. We’ve always been close, yet taking trips like these adds a sense of closeness – an understanding of each other and the greatness of the world we live in. And the memories, oh the memories. We’ll never forget the time my 1984 Toyota Hiace Campervan blew up about 2 kms outside of Queenstown.

Excellent tips by the way, all well worth considering.

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Ant July 27, 2010 at 10:25 am

We’ll never forget the time my 1984 Toyota Hiace Campervan blew up about 2 kms outside of Queenstown.

I can totally relate to stories like that! Perhaps this is when parents discover the real strengths and weaknesses of their offspring, and when dad learns to step back and let his prodigy handle it? Great comment, Matt. Thanks for weighing in.

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Andrew July 27, 2010 at 10:46 am

I have not done a long holiday with my parents since I was a teen but since living overseas when my parents come to visit we always go away for a few days somewhere plus see tourist sites in whichever city I’m in. This has worked pretty well as point 5 is spot on, they like to see things but not too much and they really appreciate point 4 when you buy them a drink, lunch first. I also try and get them to tell us the couple of things they really want to see (and do that) and then add on a few quirky things of interest to all. These days we’ve also got kids and although they like staying with us and playing with the kids at home I think it is more fun (and less tiring) for them to travel with the kids and see how they take in and explore the places they are seeing.

Good post – I expect this (travelling with parents) to happen more and more.

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Ant July 27, 2010 at 10:56 am

Sounds like you have it worked out, Andrew. Build upon their passions, and spice it up with some of your own. It’s a win-win situation.

I expect this (travelling with parents) to happen more and more.

Totally agree with this point.

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Juno July 27, 2010 at 10:58 am

Stunning post Ant! I think I am like you were before, not the person who write this kind of post. But I’m thinking about it. And your post makes me do it more! πŸ™‚
Give them a break. that’s a good point. We should.
It’s totally different era then they were live in.
Great post. Thumbs up Ant!

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Diego September 13, 2014 at 4:06 am

Superb inaoomftirn here, ol’e chap; keep burning the midnight oil.

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Ant July 27, 2010 at 11:02 am

Thanks Juno. Blogging is a great platform to explore. Write your post, and if you’re happy with it β€” post it up for us all to enjoy. If not. Keep it to yourself. I have at least three posts I’ve written and polished, but not sure I have the right platform to publish them. One day :-). Thanks for your comment.

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Cris Campos July 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm

My parents have always loved “family trips”, specially my mom, and I think she is the one responsible for my travel bug. Ever since I remember my mom would suggest swapping our Christmas gifts for a Christmas trip. Of course no one ever said no.

But even with all this “experience” travelling with them, I sometimes struggled when we spent two full months travelling around New Zealand, just the three of us.
It was awesome! Don’t get me wrong. And I think it was because of this specific trip that I know them so well, in a way that I guess very few people know their parents.
But it wasn’t easy… my dad wasn’t as open minded as I expected he would be and we had some arguments.. what in the end of the day is good, but I think the next trip would be better if we weren’t 24/7 together.

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Ant July 27, 2010 at 12:05 pm

…swapping our Christmas gifts for a Christmas trip.

Stunning idea. I really like that.

Thanks for your comment, Cris. Giving each other space is definitely something I learned. At first, I felt guilty. Almost like I was abandoning them, but I soon learned it was best for everyone.

It’s also a fair reminder that just because they’re our parents, doesn’t automatically make them like the same things. Thanks for sharing your experience, people will learn a lot from it.

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Verity July 27, 2010 at 7:21 pm

I really liked this post Ant. It was really heartfelt. It really is something special to be able to travel with your parents and make friends with them as adults. I often travel with my parents… usually try at least a two week trip a year and they come and stay with me for a bit longer (that is always a bit more difficult when I need to work during the day but I want to spend time with them). For the last ten years on every family trip we have taken they have said “we should enjoy this because it might be the last time we all travel together”. It’s a bit of a joke now since we took our last trip just the four of us (my sister with us too) in April this year. Now they have started to say “we should enjoy this because it might be our last trip together alone without grandchildren”.

I thought your tips were really great and gave me some ideas and insight I hadn’t thought of despite travelling with them so much. Maybe there will be a few less family arguments next time πŸ™‚

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Ant July 27, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Thanks Verity. I’m glad my post resounded with you, it’s a product of many years testing the theories.

It sounds like you have the opportunity to travel with them regularly, so you’ll have many more opportunities to test different styles out with each other (before the grandchildren come along ;-)).

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Ali July 28, 2010 at 12:18 am

Great post, very helpful advice! I’m planning a trip to Italy with my mom for next September & she keeps telling me she wants us to wing it & stay in hostels & that I should plan like I do for myself. I think she’s crazy to think I don’t need to make any adjustments to my normal travel style to make her more comfortable. We’ll see how it goes!

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Laurence Norah July 28, 2010 at 12:29 am

I’ve always felt privileged to have the parents I do, particularly given the holidays we used to go on when I was growing up. I entirely blame them for my personal love of adventure. That said, the idea of hosting them on one of my holidays, versus them taking me (the last big trip we did together was a five week road trip around Namibia when I was 19) is still a fairly scary one. I guess the hardest part for me would be achieving a balance between quality time with them, and avoiding feeling that they were somehow impeding me from doing whatever I wanted to do. Still, having read your post, I am kinda tempted to give it a serious go!

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Caz Makepeace July 28, 2010 at 1:00 am

Great post Ant! I can relate to it so well after just coming off a 3 week adventure with my parents around the Carolinas. It was a trip of a lifetime for them- they have always wanted to experience the history and culture of the South and I was delighted to be their tour guide. It was also wonderful for me to hear them say how much they loved the lifestyle of the South and how they could understand why we wanted to live in NC. Living in another country away from your family can be very hard, so this was a great relief for me to hear them get it.
These tips are so great to follow. I was worried about spending so much time with my family as we are very opposite in personalities, and like you I had slashed the purse strings many years ago. We had a wonderful time though and no one was killed! It brought us close together and we now have some treasured memories to always talk about.

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Shannon OD July 28, 2010 at 1:23 am

Love these tips Ant – and so glad to hear that your parents made great travel partners for you…I kind of dread the thought of my parents ever coming to meet me, but actually really glad to see that it can be done…and done well! πŸ™‚

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Claire July 28, 2010 at 2:08 am

Love your post! When I was young I hated traveling with my parents. But when I moved to Ireland I invited them for a visit and we had a great time. It was fun because they wanted to sleep in hostels for the experience. Then they came to visit me in Guatemala and I changed a bit my way of traveling for them.

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Scene by Laurie July 28, 2010 at 5:38 am

This is perfectly timed for me. I’m about to take a trip with my Dad and have been thinking about a lot of the things you touch on in this post. Some great tips and advice, I hope that my experience is as successful!

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Ant July 28, 2010 at 7:50 am

@Ali: I think your mum has the right idea. Book her into a hostel, test the water. It sounds like something she wants to experience, and who better to introduce her to modern hostels than her daughter.

@Laurence: Not a bad thing to blame parents for at all! In terms of quality time together, that’s a given. It’s quality time apart that you probably need to think about. It’s a great experience, and will be something you’ll hold together for a lifetime. Don’t miss the opportunity to try it.

@Shannon: Thanks for your comment, it’s natural to hesitate. I often thought of it as reality polluting my dreams. I guess there is an element of ‘giving back’, but above all it’s just an excellent time in life to travel with your parents.

@Claire: A classic case of give and take, I’m glad you had a positive experience. Others will read this and take a lot from that.

@Laurie: I’m sure it will be. Do something extraordinary, that you wouldn’t normally do together, and you’ll be surprised what you learn about your dad, and vice versa. Come back and let me know how it went.

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Gourmantic July 28, 2010 at 11:53 am

A touching post, Ant. I haven’t travelled with my parents as an adult so I don’t have an experience to share.

I was, however, given a surprise family reunion by my cousins from different parts of the world during one trip to France. They arranged it without my knowledge and turned up at one cousin’s place then we all spent a week together in Paris. Best surprise ever.

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Ant July 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm

@Gourmantic: That’s amazing! People can be so incredible sometimes.

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Ant July 28, 2010 at 1:01 pm

@Caz: Fantastic, sounds like you really opened their eyes to their own country. It’s wonderful to give something back.

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ayngelina July 29, 2010 at 4:21 am

My mother and sister are arriving in a week in Ecuador to travel with me for two weeks. While neither have traveled off a resort they want to backpack with me, which is so admirable. The hardest part was preparing them for the possibility of being robbed. There is a fine balance of letting them know the usual scams without scaring them so much they are completely afraid in public.

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Ant July 29, 2010 at 6:13 am

@Ayngelina: Great comment. I think communicating the risks of travel is a task we all face. But as you’ll know, just getting out there and immersing yourself in the environment will ease any fears.

While neither have traveled off a resort they want to backpack with me, which is so admirable.

That’s they message that’s coming through; parents want to. That’s a sign of the times. I can’t imagine my grandparents ever wanting to travel with my parents. Can you?

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Laurence Norah August 1, 2010 at 3:36 am

Speaking of grandparents, my dear old granny, when nearing 85, was trotted all around Rome with my parents and I. She’d always wanted to see the pope and other religious iconography of Rome, and I was amazed by her stamina. We must have walked miles. So my parents actually did travel with their parents. There must be a lesson there πŸ™‚

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Ant August 1, 2010 at 7:04 am

Rome is a challenge for the sprightliest of travellers, so big respect for your granny! Three generations, that must hold some great memories for you all.

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soultravelers3 August 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Great post! We’ve been traveling as a family around the world non-stop since 2006, so I got a kick out of this on several levels. I wonder what it will be like to travel together when my daughter is an adult.

We’ve done some travel with 3 generations on our world tour and were thrilled to share our travel experience with my daughter’s 80 year old grandfather before he passed away. He was a real trooper and even went horseback riding in Spain with us!

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Ant August 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm

@soultravelers3: Considering the amount of travelling you expose your daughter to, I’d also be curious to see how her own travel style evolves as she grows.

While most people’s experience of travelling as a family is refined to the one or two week annual holidays, yours is continuous. It must be exciting as parents to watch this play out.

And with a grandfather as stoic as he sounds, I think it’s in the genes that she won’t be an armchair traveller. Thanks for the comment.

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Camden Luxford August 2, 2010 at 10:40 pm

What a great post, Ant! I’ve loved travelling with my Mum, and she’s taken to the no-frills lifestyle waaaay better than I expected. She hardly batted an eyelid hitch-hiking in Borneo and trudging through mud in the jungle, and the next year surprised me by taking off to Cambodia with a friend. Amazing woman, my Mum.

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Ant August 3, 2010 at 1:06 pm

@Camden: Fantastic! Great to hear another positive story about travelling with our parents. She sounds like a trooper.

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Costa Rica August 5, 2010 at 9:38 am

Traveling with parents and grandparent can be some times a little hard, but it can add so much to a trip, and shared so many beautiful memories. If you can, try it!

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Jen August 12, 2010 at 7:11 am

I spent an unplanned 2 weeks with my mother in Colombia last month and totally thought I was going to hate it because my last trip with her and the rest of my family left me wanting to jump off a bridge. It’s so irritating that parents never stop treating you like a baby.

Boy, was I wrong, though. I ended up having a ton of fun (turns out my mom is hella fun) and also finding out that when she was a tad younger than I am now, she backpacked northen Colombia, eventually ending up in NYC, and so did my grandfather…could the travel bug be something embedded in our genes? Quite possibly.

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Ant August 12, 2010 at 9:58 am

@Jen: What a great turn around! I certainly think that travel is heriditary; why else would all the Westerners be travelling? We’re the nations who went exploring for new lands in days of old, and we continue to this day.

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Dom Reid August 19, 2010 at 4:08 am

What a lovely article Ant, you come across as a person who has a lot of empathy, which must be one of the best traits to have when on the road.

I must admit to being a little on both sides of the fence. I travel and work myself, but have a daughter who is at school in India who I visit and travel with too. It becomes just one of the many wheels of life as you see yourself in your children’s eyes, to know the poetry they are discovering, the wonderment.

It was one of the most profound moments in my life when I realised that my parents were frail, that I could hold my mother as she cried, to comfort her. We’re all people.

Anicha as the Buddhists say,

Lovely blog Ant.

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Ant August 19, 2010 at 5:55 am

@Dom: I believe empathy is one of the best traits, both on the road and in my life in general. It’s not something I always get across in person, but writing is often a portal to a persons soul (if we allow it to be), so I’m glad it shines through.

You have a wonderful perspective on the subject of travelling with parents; I like the way you worded it. On one hand you’re feeding off the image of yourself, seen in your daughter. While on the other, you’re feeding off the image of yourself, seen in your mother. And, as you say, “we’re all people.” Therefore there’s a spiritual line between the three of you.

That was my interpretation, a great thought provoking comment. Thanks, Dom.

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Dom Reid August 19, 2010 at 5:04 pm

And thank you Ant. I have sent the URL of your blog to my daughter, now there’s wheels within wheels for you.

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Quickroute August 23, 2010 at 4:29 am

I’ve just been reviewing your trip route – impressive! I’ve done a few trips with my folks but no longer than a week at a time. They are a tad conservative especially when it comes to food so that limits the destinations options but good tips above – thnx

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Sarah September 17, 2010 at 10:35 pm

I love to travel with my Mum, but I’m yet to get my Dad out of his comfort zone of English food. My parents love to read about my travels though and are encouraging our next plans (travelling followed by a move to New Zealand) so that they can come and stay with us out there!

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Ant Stone September 18, 2010 at 10:01 pm

It sounds like you have very smart parents, Sarah πŸ™‚

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