Tips on Traveling with your Middle-Aged Parents
They aren’t quite elderly, but they aren’t spring chickens either. Here are tips for maintaining your traveler’s peace of mind when temporarily joined by your parental unit.
“This is the last vacation I am taking with my parents!” had been my mantra during my last family vacation. One week in Cuba with Mom, Dad, and Boyfriend. What went wrong? And now that we have embarked on yet another family adventure, this time smooth sailing through North India, what are we doing differently that eases any friction and allows us to soar?
For this trip, Franklin and I did some things differently pre-parent’s arrival, which I’ll outline below:
We sat down and formulated clear expectations of how our travel tendencies would change once my parents arrived.
This will look different for you depending on what kind of people you and your parents are. Maybe you normally never book ahead but with parental unit you’ll have everything pre-booked. Maybe you visit all the attractions you can, but with parental unit you’ll be forced to slow down considerably. Whatever the case is with your particular parental unit, try to imagine what it will be like, so you can know what to expect, and know how you might be able to shift your travel tendencies to better match theirs. Figure out a way you can meet in the middle.
We communicated our expectations with my parents beforehand.
Our conversation went a little like this: “Mom, Dad, this is what you want out of our travels...this is what we want out of our travels...do you think it might be possible to do such and such thing so that we can both get what we desire?”
In our case, my parents move a lot slower than Franklin and I, so we just have to be okay with moving slower. They also plan things out a lot more, booking things much more in advance than us and so on. We’ve agreed to be okay with those things, and my parents agreed to give us our space when we need it.
We clearly defined to ourselves how to react when things went south.
During a disagreement, you have 3 options:
Allow the disagreement to turn into an argument, letting your ego get involved and acting like a brat.
Give in and say “Okay, Mom and Dad, if this is so important to you, then we can do it your way.”
Keep a level head and clearly explain why you strongly believe that what you think will be best for the group.
If you haven’t guessed already, the last two reactions are the ones you want to to shoot for. Know when to calmly and maturely rationalize why you think you ought to do it your way, and know when to let go, give in, and let someone else take the wheel in your little Band of Merry Travelers.
We guided my parental unit to understand that we are going to need our ‘us’ time!
Yes, it’s great that they have flown all this way to see you and create these new experiences together, but if you don’t get at least 3 hours a day to do your yoga/meditation/write/watch Rick and Morty/drink at the bar/do whatever it is you want to do, then you aren’t going to enjoy the remaining ~9 hours a day spent together.
We have our own space at night.
We had an Airbnb the first few days together, which was a great way to reconnect, but having two completely separate rooms in guesthouses and hotels after that has been great for our personal peace of mind. If you have the ability to do this, we highly recommend it. We were able to do what we wanted in our 'us' time without feeling like we were being too loud, or feeling like we should be hanging out in the common areas socializing...because there was no common area!
So what did we improve on since our last trip?
First off, It’s much easier to get by with English in India, whereas in Cuba we were all wholly dependent on Franklin’s Spanish fluency. Being the constant interpreter put a huge amount of pressure on him, which eventually started to impair his peace of mind.
A Belgian couple we recently met who just saw their parents off after a month of travel had a similar experience. Their parents only speak French. This meant that every meal, every room service order, every interaction had to be interpreted by the couple. That kind of situation is a lot of ‘you’ time given up.
I know sometimes this is unavoidable. The parents of this example couple had always wanted to visit India, so they weren’t going to opt for a French speaking country like Morocco or Quebec. If you are also heading to a country where your parents do not speak a popular language there but you do, then spend some time at the beginning of the trip trying to empower them with technology, like a translation app for their phone, or just general empowerment. Help them to realize that they don’t have to speak the same language as someone to do a simple thing such as ordering coffee. Empowering them even a little will be take a lot of ‘pressure to perform’ off of you.
In Cuba, we didn’t have proper traveling habits.
Our necessary daily habits while traveling [and maybe yours too] consist of at least 20 minutes of exercise, meditation, writing, and eating at least one healthy meal. These are things we’ve realized are important over 6 months of travel. If you are traveling shorter term, some of these things may not be so important. Skipping a week of exercise may not matter to you -- you can get back into your routine once you're back home. But as we saw in Cuba, skipping our writing and meditation time for a week was detrimental to us, and was reflected in our interactions with my parents, who were probably feeling the blues of being out of their healthy routine.
Short term or long term travel, you gotta find a routine that works for you and get at it! A happy routine is a happy traveler. And a happy traveler is a happy traveling companion. You can quote me on that.
Go forth and travel wisely with your parents, Future Ecotopians. And feel the great pleasure of connecting with them on a global scale!