My dad used to tell this story about how, when I was young enough to fly for free, I’d go with him on business trips to Iowa. I’d ride on his briefcase through the airport terminal and sit on his lap in the airplane. He’d drop me off at my grandparents’ house and then, I presume, go from business meeting to business meeting. I don’t actually remember these trips; I don’t know how often I went or how many I went on.
Stories of early adventures with my dad have been enhanced with additional anecdotes as the two of us have taken more trips together, and my mom and I have started creeping into the travel world together as well, most recently with a road trip from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania.
The other night I was at a mix-and-mingle event with several other travel writers, and one writer told me that she was going to be taking a river cruise in Europe … with her father, she added, rolling her eyes. “I think that’s great,” I said, and I meant it.
“Really?” she asked. “It’s the first time we’ve ever traveled together.”
A couple weeks ago, my friend, Andy, wrote a blog post about the travel lessons he learned from his mother, who recently passed away. The circumstances that resulted in the piece were sad, but some of the points Andy made in the piece were spot on. If I don’t travel with my parents now, then when?
If you haven’t traveled with your parents in a while, you might be surprised to discover it’s not nearly as nightmarish as it might sound on the surface. Though I traveled with mine through middle school, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve started traveling with both of them again. Just as there are a few tips I’ve picked while traveling with teenagers, I’ve picked up a few tips as an adult on how to travel with parents over the years as well.
1. Consider the relationship a friendly one.
There was a point in time when you were your parents’ kid. However, it’s time for both you and your parents to acknowledge that you’re an adult. Just as you don’t need to be cared for, your parents don’t need to take care of you (and vice versa). Approach the relationship as a mutual one between friends instead of parent-child so that no one feels compelled to overstep their roles or responsibilities.
2. Outline expectations prior to departure.
Though you may like to wing your travel experiences, make plans for at least the first trip you’re taking with your parents. Talk about what you want to do, at what pace you want to travel, what kinds of accommodations are most suitable and what mode of transportation you want to use. Give yourself plenty of planning time and put everything on the table for discussion. This is the time for everyone to be honest about their expectations for the trip so that no one feels slighted and problems don’t arise mid-trip.
3. Delegate duties and talk about finances.
How will you pay for the trip? Will you split all costs down the middle, one meal at a time, or will you each be responsible for paying for a bit of the trip and then evening up the finances at the end? Who will book the hotels and make reservations for pre-booked activities and tour? One of the great things about planning a trip with several people is that travel planning details can be divvied up, but one of the bad things about planning a trip with several people is that you have to rely on other people. If you talk about who is responsible for planning each component of the trip and discuss how the whole thing will be paid for upfront, you address a lot of confusion and ensure everyone is more than just an accessory on the trip.
4. Plan for medical needs.
Your parents aren’t as young as they used to be, and they may have physical or medical issues they didn’t have when you were growing up. It’s important that you know what these are if they might become an issue on the trip. Though presumably your parents don’t need to be reminded to take a nightly dose of medication, it’s probably not a bad idea to know if a bum knee makes it hard to climb stairs or certain conditions aggravate allergies.
5. Go slow.
Speed breeds stress. Feel free to slow down so you can enjoy the vacation you’re taking with your parents. Don’t feel the need to rush from destination to destination. Consider renting a condo or cottage for a few days instead of hotel hopping. Trade in quick stops for more leisurely stays.
6. Take time apart.
Chances are you haven’t spent 24/7 with their parents in years, and your parents are used to their freedom as well. They don’t want to baby-sit you, and you don’t want to be baby-sat. It’s okay to go your separate ways for a while. Respect each other’s need for alone time and space.
7. Snap photos.
You don’t know when you’ll be able to travel together again.
A lot of people love to travel with kids, but it seems like far fewer people embrace the opportunity to turn the tables as adults and travel with their parents. Even though you all may be older now, you can still have a lot of fun and create a myriad of memories together. You might be surprised at what you learn from traveling with your parents outside the parent-child relationship now that you’re all adults. The experience will be a new one, but hopefully it’s one you’ll appreciate for many years to come.