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Traveling with Parents

National Lampoon's Vacation - Courtesy of NYMag.com

National Lampoon’s Vacation – Courtesy of NYMag.com

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.

Experience: Flying Solo

"The Lonely Planet" - Southwark, London

“The Lonely Planet” – Southwark, London

A year ago today, I was wrapping up a trip to Munich that started and concluded in London.  It was the second trip overseas by myself, or as I like to refer to it:  flying solo.

I have to admit that I’m split 50/50 when it comes to my level of enjoyment when traveling by myself or with other people.  I’ve found there are benefits and drawbacks to both.

A short while ago, I read an article that gave seven keys to traveling alone.  It was a pretty insightful article, although a little too spiritual for my tastes.

Since I like to strike a balance between my practical side and my adventurous side, I decided to add a few more “keys to traveling alone” based on personal experience.

#1 Learn a Few Phrases if Traveling to a Country that Doesn’t Speak Your Language.  

Getting around by yourself can be a little frightening especially if you aren’t with someone who is fluent in the language spoken in the country you are visiting.

It’s important to learn a few phrases before you go even if it’s “please”, “thank you”, or “pardon me, my (insert language here) isn’t too good, can you help me?”.  Don’t be afraid of “toddler-speak”;  it will help you get your point across.

For example, when I visited The Hague in September, I tried my hand at a few Dutch phrases and was met with surprise.  I would apologize for not knowing much of the language, but I was commended for trying.  Ask how to say or pronounce something.  You’ll be surprised at what you’ll start recognizing.

Chances are, you’ll also feel a bit more confident that you’ve attempted something new.

#2 Ask a Local.  

As a solo traveler, you will find yourself alone at a market, restaurant, bar, or somewhere else where people congregate.  Don’t be afraid to ask for tips on fun things to do and see that may be “off the guidebook grid”, so to speak.  Obviously, safety is key and should never be discounted.

I struck up a conversation with someone who lived in The Hague and was introduced to Jenever and the best broodjes anyone could ever experience.  Was I little weirded out eating a cow’s udder?  Sure. However, it was something new to experience and travel is all about experience.

#3 Research and Plan, but Be Flexible.  

I’m notorious for booking a trip to a certain destination months ahead only to tweak my itinerary a little to accommodate my desire to see and do something else.  As a solo traveler, you have the flexibility to do so.

My experience has taught me that you can enter and depart in one country, and experience other destinations in between by train and plane.  Likewise, if you’re in the states, you can usually fly to a certain destination and drive, hop on a train, or take a short flight to see something else not too far away.

For example, my trip this time last year originally involved flying into and out of London with a train ride to Edinburgh, Scotland for a few days.  I scratched the trip to Edinburgh not because I didn’t want to go; rather, I wanted to visit Munich because I had heard so much about it and learned that Salzburg was a short train ride away.  Therefore, I weighed my refundable train cost to Edinburgh versus my flight to Munich and it was about the same.

How do you remain flexible?  Many Websites such as Orbitz and Booking.com have deals that allow for hotel cancellations up to a specific date before your arrival.  You will need to review the restrictions when you book, but if you book a refundable stay, chances are, you’ll be able to make a change if you need to according to the hotel’s policies.  However, it’s important to note that changing flights can be tricky, and many airlines impose a hefty fee to change in addition to the fare difference.  Weigh your options if you want to remain flexible.

Renting an apartment for your stay?  Be sure you speak with the owner and confirm his or her refund guidelines.  I’ve often found that a downpayment for a reservation is not refundable.

#4 Save, Spend Wisely, and Just Take It In.  

You may be traveling to a place where your currency is crap, to put it bluntly.  Furthermore, traveling alone can be costly because you aren’t splitting expenses.  Check out apartment rentals if you have identified a specific place to stay and don’t think you’ll make changes.

Travel is all about experience, right?  Budget for your trip ahead of time, but plan for unexpected expenses.  If you live by yourself, you’re probably already used to doing this.

Chances are, you can go a whole day just seeing and exploring for free and only spend a little money on inexpensive meals and snacks you’ve thrown in your bag.

Do you have positive and negative experiences to share regarding “flying solo”?  Please share in the comments section.

Weekender: Baltimore’s Fun House

Pretzel Bites - Mr. Rain's Fun House - AVAM

Pretzel Bites – Mr. Rain’s Fun House

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit and write about my new favorite art museum: the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.  I made mention of Mr. Rain’s Fun House, the museum’s café located on the third floor.

When I was a growing up outside of Washington, D.C., my parents took every opportunity they could to expose my brother and me to all of the free museums and exhibits the Smithsonian had to offer.  I’m a richer person today because of it.

What I remembered aside from the exhibits was the cafeteria where we’d sometimes stop for lunch. Back then, it seemed like the Smithsonian outsourced all of their food services to a cardboard factory.  Dry burgers served in styrofoam for eight dollars were not a meal.  We learned to brown bag it.

Museum food has changed and now caters to distinguished palates.

On Friday after a train ride, walk, and photo shoot, I was famished.  I knew I couldn’t appreciate any of the mesmerizing visuals at the AVAM without something in my stomach.

Roasted Apple Salad - Mr. Rain's Fun House  - Baltimore

Roasted Apple Salad – Mr. Rain’s Fun House – Baltimore

Enter Mr. Rain’s Fun House.

The “fun house” offers fresh ingredients and imaginative lunch, dinner, and brunch choices served on proper plates with proper cutlery. They also serve booze, so you can complement your meal if you get into that.

I opted for the Roasted Apple Salad that’s oddly not on the online menu.  It should be because it was sweet, light, and well-dressed.

I asked for a wine recommendation and the server suggested the Ciderworks Kingston Black Cider.  At first, I thought it was a hard cider, but it was served in a wine glass and tasted like a succulent, apple-flavored white wine.

Ciderworks Kingston Black Cider - Mr. Rain's Fun House

Ciderworks Kingston Black Cider – Mr. Rain’s Fun House

Whatever your mood, skip the tourist traps at the Inner Harbor and treat yourself to lunch or dinner at Mr. Rain’s Fun House. Don’t forget to order some pretzel bites and brown mustard.

Who said museum food had to be boring?

Weekender: Baltimore’s Visionary Art Is a Charmer

@travelreider

From Nancy Josephson’s “Gallery-A-Go-Go Bus”

I haven’t visited the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) since the late 90s, shortly after it opened. The only thing I remember was the towering statue of local celebrity Divine that greeted visitors on the first floor.  It now resides outside. The museum’s three floors and basement are packed with stimulating visuals and thought-provoking works from its current exhibitions and permanent collection.

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, who was doing development work at the Department of Psychiatry at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, opened AVAM in 1995.  Taken from its mission statement, visionary art “refers to art that is produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training”.  This type of art has been connected to the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Throughout my self-guided tour, I noted on more than one occasion pieces of art that were created by individuals who had been institutionalized in mental facilities.  “Horse Dress”, for example, is an intricately crocheted garment created by schizophrenic patient at the Sheppard Pratt Hospital.  The artist is listed as anonymous.

“Recovery” is a sculpture created by another mental patient.  The artist is also anonymous.  The sculpture is slender and was carved from the trunk of an apple tree.  What struck me was the concave chest representing the artist’s battle with tuberculosis.

Is there a connection between Hoffberger’s vision and her work at Sinai Hospital?  I’d like to know. What I do know is that pieces such as these further support the museum’s mission of showcasing art by self-taught individuals who are not bound by the “rules”.

The Federal Hill neighborhood sits adjacent to the AVAM.

The Federal Hill neighborhood sits adjacent to the AVAM.

The American Visionary Art Museum is located on Key Boulevard near Federal Hill and the Inner Harbor.   The museum is not free, but well worth the affordable cost of admission. Be sure to include stops at the Sideshow Shop and Mr. Rain’s Fun House, a café located on the third floor.

Also be sure to check out AVAM’s current exhibitions including Frank Bruno’s apocalyptic A Life Devoted to THE END.

Note:  Photography is not allowed inside of the museum.  However, if you want to check out photos from my trip as well as several taken outside of the museum, visit the photo gallery.

Welcome to Travel Reider

Lausanne, Vaud - Switzerland

Lausanne, Vaud – Switzerland

Are you new to travel and feel overwhelmed by where to go, how to get there, and what to see?  Are you a solo traveler or a curious explorer who likes to eat, drink, play, and stay a bit off the beaten path?

You’re not alone.  In fact, you’re in good company.

Join me as I wander, reflect, review, and photograph my experiences abroad, in the U.S., and in my hometown of Washington, DC.

If you have a question, comment, or need more information, leave a reply.  Want additional updates?  Follow me on Twitter @travelreider and on Instagram @bdennisr.

Safe travels! – bdennisreid