Originally published in BootsNAll: https://www.bootsnall.com/articles/intergenerational-travel-10-pros-cons-of-traveling-with-my-parents.html
When I decided I needed a big overseas holiday last year, the last thing I planned to do was to go with my parents. But as a single female in her 20s, I soon found I was lacking in traveling companion options. Most friends my age can’t afford to travel overseas for an extended period, financially or time-wise, as they’re studying or trying to launch their careers.
I didn’t feel safe traveling alone – an option that doesn’t appeal to me anyway, being the social creature that I am – and I’m a terrible navigator. So when my parents announced their plans to travel across Europe for three months, I reassessed my idea of the perfect holiday and asked them if I could tag along.
It made sense. They’re seasoned travelers, both speak French, my mother speaks Spanish, and both can ask for the toilets in a dozen languages. We traveled to Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Spain, and Italy, and while doing the Grand Tour with the parents was challenging, overall it was an enlightening and rewarding experience for each of us.
Inevitably, at times we needed space from each other, so booking entire homes on Airbnb worked best for us. The rigors of travel can test everyone’s patience, but when it’s your parents you’re with, you know each other so well you know how to manage friction.
Now that I’m back home in Australia, I’ve considered, with first-hand experience and hindsight, 10 pros and cons of traveling with parents.
Quality family time:
You’ll get to spend plenty of it with the people who know you best, love you the most, but who won’t be around forever. My mother and I were both interested in visiting as many museums, galleries and historical landmarks as possible, so wandering around Europe seeing awe-inspiring artwork in places like the Sistine Chapel with her was a wonderful bonding experience that we’ll both remember. I doubt I could have experienced the places we visited as fully as I did without her, as our interests aligned (probably as a result of her raising me).
Parents are reliable:
Your friends might have to cancel at the last minute due to a lack of funds, but parents tend to plan ahead and follow through. And they’ll never ditch you mid-trip, leaving you stranded up the Himalayas just because you’ve had an argument. We had surprisingly few, and at no point was I hesitant about booking flights or entry tickets, as I had been when planning-trips-that-never-happened with friends, as I knew my folks were reliable, upfront and mature.
You won’t have to rough it:
Your parents will expect, and can probably afford, a higher level of comfort, so chances are they’ll ease the financial burden for you when it comes to accommodation and eating out. They’ll book a decent hotel or a swankier Airbnb, you’ll dine in more upmarket restaurants, and they may not expect you to chip in as much for car hire. They may also subsidize your entry fees to costly attractions. Mine were generous, viewing this trip as a form of education for me, and took pity on my just-graduated, broke self, and treated me to Parisian street crepes and passage from Spain to Italy.
You’ll have the benefit of their knowledge and life experience:
Whether they’re seasoned travelers or just take the odd holiday, over the years your parents will have learned a few tips and tricks that will make traveling a smooth and safe experience. They may have visited your destination before, in which case they can advise on the best things to see and do, and which areas to avoid. My mother was like my own personal tour guide due to her wide range of knowledge, enriching my understanding of the art and culture. My father, an ever-practical engineer, knew the best and most reliable transportation services to take, and how to fix my suitcase when the wheel become unaligned being dragged over the European cobbles.
They’ll be better in a crisis:
Whether you’ve lost your luggage, or the hire car breaks down and you need to contact the insurers, your parents will most likely have dealt with the situation before, and will be able to sort things out while younger traveling partners might still be panicking. They’ll also be better at spotting a potential issue before it occurs, meaning your trip will be relatively stress-free. Prevention is better than cure, and my parents were frequently preventing financial, practical and situational dramas that I hadn’t even considered.
What appeals to you might not appeal to your parents. Don’t expect the kind of thrilling trip you might experience with a partner or a group of friends your age. Parents probably won’t want to stay out partying on a Contiki boat until 5am. Mine didn’t. If that’s the kind of holiday you’re after, don’t travel with your seniors. Acknowledge the generation gap, and be prepared for a more sedate trip. I wandered off to explore the nightlife of Seville solo a couple of times, while my parents went back to the accommodation for an early night.
The technology challenge:
Introducing my parents to Airbnb was an ordeal in itself; I had to coach them through the basics like navigating the site, and then convince them that paying by credit card online was indeed a safe practice. I was the one left to work out everything technological, including connecting their phones to Wi-Fi and checking us into our flights online. Intergenerational travel includes elements of give and take, and this is where I stepped in to help, so be aware you’ll have to contribute in one way or another.
Parents tire more easily:
While you’re still buzzing with energy and want to climb Machu Picchu or take a Flamenco dance class, parents may not be able to pack as much into a day as you. Because I’d prepared a full Parisian itinerary, I forced mine to spend five hours wandering around the Musée d’Orsay and four hours in the Louvre on the same day with only a brief plat de fromages on the Left Bank in between. While I was trying to recreate Audrey Hepburn’s glide down the stairs in front of the Winged Victory of Samothrace as in Funny Face, mum was stumbling behind me looking for a bench. She needed to get off her feet. (note: there are very few seats in the Louvre galleries).
Illness and injury:
Older people can be physically fragile. After a lifetime of wear and tear, they can suffer from anything from arthritis to dodgy knees. My Fitbit told me we were clocking over 35,000 steps a day, and my mum was definitely feeling it. Make sure you’re covered by travel insurance.
They’ll worry about you:
Yes, you’re a fully-functioning adult and can get along more or less fine, but your parents will remain over-protective all your life. Mine tried to dissuade me from venturing out alone, and I felt like a teenager again with them continually making sure I was safe, hadn’t been robbed or lost my passport. They love you, so they’re going to worry.
So what did I glean from my international trip with my parents?
Be prepared for compromise and to feel the generational gap, frequently. But overall, I’ll remember my journey with the folks as a fantastic way to spend time with them removed from our familiar family context and to get to know them more as individuals. Ultimately it strengthened our relationship.
I would encourage others to travel with their parents or children if they can. Given the memories you’ll share, and the increased mutual understanding, the pros of intergenerational travel far outweigh the cons.