I’m convinced that a switch is flipped during adolescence and/or young adulthood that acts like a headlight on an orange traffic cone in the rain, cautioning and repelling any parent or authority figure who approaches.
While I’m not a parent, I can only imagine there’s a little bit of hurt experienced when a young adult, who used to enjoy family vacations, litters the road with traffic cones and detour signs, warnings to their parents to proceed with care or to take another road altogether to avoid bumps and potholes.
Until my 40th birthday, I didn’t think much about traveling with my parents. We had great times when I was younger–weeks in the Outer Banks and day trips to historic places like Jamestown and Williamsburg–but the switch flipped in my 20s and I wanted to see the U.S. and elsewhere on my own or with friends. Back then, parents were no different than the added weight I used to throw in my hatchback to get through snow, ice, and other dangerous road conditions.
It was when I was contemplating a trip to Norway two years ago that I stepped back and thought about asking my parents if they wanted to travel overseas. Naturally, England (specifically London) came to mind because none of us had ever visited, and there’s a comfort in going somewhere where there aren’t language barriers.
England is also a great primer for individuals who want to dip a toe into overseas travel. It’s rich with history; has a diverse landscape; a comfortable climate; and depending on where you live in the U.S., isn’t too difficult or expensive to get to. Seemed like a perfect segue for them into international travel.
When I broached the subject, my mom was instantly on board. My dad (like me) asked dozens of logistical questions. I get it. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
With a little persuasion and reassurance, they agreed to go. I was floored, excited, and a little nervous.
Having now traveled with my parents twice overseas as an adult, I have some tips based on my experience (in no particular order):
#1: Include them in the planning: My parents don’t have access to the Internet on a regular basis, so trip planning rests on my shoulders. I don’t mind; I’m a natural planner, down to the laminated checklist I keep in my suitcase of “things not to forget”. However, our trip wasn’t all about me. Since my parents prefer to touch and leaf through books, I sent them a few London guides via Amazon. This made creating a loose itinerary easy because all three of us were able to give input on what to see and do while leaving room for unexpected changes in weather, rest and relaxation days, and unforeseen holidays (e.g., bank holidays).
#2: Pay attention to physical limitations: My mom had had surgery months before we left for London. While her doctor had given her a clean bill of health without any restrictions, the plane ride to London was agonizing. Our initial flight was canceled and we were put on a later flight. I begged and pleaded with United Airlines to provide her with something that wasn’t a cramped middle seat, which was what she had been assigned with the rebooking. United came through and she was given a middle seat—in the front row of an aisle in the middle of the plane cut off by lavatories. She had more than plenty of space to stretch. Silver linings.
#3: Speaking of, get space!: Cities such as London and Paris are very expensive to visit and accommodations are usually cramped. We decided to stay in the East End of London and rented a two-bedroom apartment with creature comforts. While not expansive by any means, separate rooms helped the three of us decompress and re-collect after a long day of touring.
#4: Respect differences: Traveling with anyone involves a lot of negotiating. Traveling with family can add another layer of stress because there’s history. A lot of it. For example, my mom and I wanted to visit the Tate Modern. My dad wanted to visit the Churchill War Rooms. Maps in hand, we parted and no feelings were bruised.
Furthermore, spending can be tight especially if your parents are retired and/or on a fixed income. The same can be true for a son or daughter who is saddled with college debt or other expenses that come with adulthood. Set a daily spending limit that is agreeable with everyone and try to stick to it. Chances are, anxieties will be lessened and everyone can get on with enjoying the trip. There’s no use fighting about money while traveling.
#5: Recognize when the road is rough: There may be times during the trip when nerve-racking, parent-child interactions from decades ago rear their heads. There may be bickering. There may be immature behavior. There may be days ruined as a result.
Get away or recommend doing so. You may be traveling with one parent or two. Plan your itinerary and let them plan theirs. Agree on a place to meet later over a meal, beer, or coffee. Mutually share the day’s experiences, sights, and impressions. The breathing space keeps nerves from getting frayed and makes for good conversation.
If you’re able to travel with your parents, I highly recommend it. Parents bring a different perspective and years of personal experience to the table. They see things differently and may challenge your opinions or world viewpoints.
Don’t be afraid to remove the traffic cones and deal with a few bumps in the road during your trip. You may discover a new-found dynamic in your parent-child relationship that had never been there before.
Do you have any suggestions on traveling with parents? Feel free to leave them in the comments.