The first time mum and I travelled together, I was around 21. At that stage in my life, I felt like other young people would be happier on a drunken Contiki tour than exploring Europe with their mum. I was happy about it, though. I didn’t drink, I didn’t party, and I knew my mum would be a great travelling companion. I was looking forward to travels with my mother. It was a year after my first big trip overseas. Mum was so interested in everything I had done, and dad wasn’t interested in going. I was more than happy to go with her and show her the big wide world. We happily set off on our first trip together to Singapore, France, Germany and Switzerland.
Mum and I have since travelled to around 12 countries together, over a series of trips. I don’t keep taking these trips out of pity, or any sense of obligation. We travel together because it’s fun. We get along well, and we have common interests. Mum is a patient traveller. Although she likes things to be well organised, she is happy to go with the flow once we get there. As long as she knows she is safe, she is good to go.
The most dangerous risk of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.
I don’t actually have a favourite trip that we have taken, but a few stand out. When dad knew he wasn’t long for the world, he told mum to go on holiday – wherever she wanted – after he passed away, to thank her for all the care she gave him when he was unwell. Mum and I went on an epic five-week journey the year after he died. We started in London, went on to Amsterdam, and took a cruise through the North Sea to Warnemunde, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, St Petersburg and Copenhagen. We then visited Hungary and Austria, and travelled home via New York. It was an amazing experience, and one I will always be grateful for. The quote above rings particularly true in the case of my dad. He toiled his whole life, for many years doing six days a week of work, to pay for a retirement that never came. If I learnt something from his death, it was that life is too short to wait for that someday. This is why I travel, and why the time that mum and I can spend together travelling is even more special.
My other favourite holidays with my mum have been shorter, but special in different ways. While I was musing whether to move to Dubai, my sister, brother-in-law, mum and I went to Melbourne. It was just a weekend, but I enjoyed being able to spend time with them, knowing I would possibly be off to the sandbox soon. To me, to be able to travel with your family as an adult is a real luxury. The same goes for the trip that mum, Matt and I took to Jordan. Floating in the Dead Sea, seeing the lights of Jerusalem, and visiting the rose city of Petra with your family was an amazing experience. We even got to celebrate a special milestone birthday for mum.
Best of all, since starting to travel with me, mum has grown more interested in travelling with others, too. She has been to many places she never dreamed she would visit. Today, she returned from a cruise around Iceland and the North Atlantic/Arctic Ocean. Last week, she posted a photo off the coast of Svalbard, of all places. In addition to her travel with me, she has visited the Netherlands, Japan, Hong Kong, Panama, Mexico, Guatemala, and many places around the USA, including Hawaii. You can follow her on Instagram, if you want to see her latest adventures.
I know many people who travel with their parents, or a parent, and have a wonderful time. Others seem to struggle a bit with the concept. Now, a lady never reveals her age, but I think I can safely say that this blog provides a guide to travelling with someone over the age of 50.
Sometimes, you need to slow down – and we all have our limits
This isn’t universal. My mum is pretty able, and I’ve dragged her all sorts of places – massive walking tours, through cities in the Snow, miles through the streets of London – without complaint. However, it wasn’t until we were trekking up Ouen Toro in New Caledonia that I noticed mum was slowing down a bit. It wasn’t a huge hill, but it was 27 degrees out, and I’d been running six times a week prior to my holiday. Mum wasn’t having a great time. I was going too fast. I sat her down in the forest, offered her some crackers and water and quickly dashed to the top, checking how far it was to go. It wasn’t too bad, so we slowly made our way up and back down to the bottom after we had taken a break. This goes for every time you travel with someone – make sure they are doing okay. We each have our own limitations. Mum, in turn, promised to be more honest if she was struggling in future. A sensible outcome for both of us!
It’s okay if they don’t want to do everything you do
When we visited Petra, we knew it would be at least 15kms of walking. Mum was fine with this, and knew about it before we went. However, once inside, Matt and I decided we would climb to visit the Monastery – around 800 steps. Instead of making a fuss about it, mum happily parked herself at the restaurant to people-watch for an hour or so. This meant a lot to us – we still got to experience what we wanted to see, and she didn’t complain about being abandoned while we did our thing. Compromise is important when traveling with anyone. I think it becomes even more important when some of your travelling companions are older.
Their travel preferences will probably change over time
As you age, I’m pretty sure your patience for cheap hotels and noisy bars will probably dissipate. Hell, I’m already over both of these things, and I’m only 31. Once you’ve reached a certain stage in life, some people won’t want to go on a camping holiday, or stay in ‘rustic’ lodgings. Don’t offer to take your family away on a holiday that you know that they won’t enjoy. They might feel obliged to come, and it’s probably not going to end well. Mum is now into cruising. Yes, it’s not everyone’s idea of a great time, but it’s safe, comfortable and means you get to see lots of different destinations. While a cruise wouldn’t be my top holiday pick, I’d be more than happy to go on one with her, because it’s what she enjoys. I can still enjoy the destinations!
Book central accommodation
Although it’s never been an issue for me, one of the key sources of friction when travelling with parents seems to be this: one person is ready for a lie down, and another wants to be out exploring. The easiest way to deal with this is to book centrally located accommodation. Then, if someone does want to go and rest for awhile, others can stay out and maximize their sightseeing time. It’s very simple, but can save a whole lot of stress!
Your guest is not a walking ATM
I’ve been lucky that my mum has helped me out when I have travelled with her. She has helped to pay for food, accommodation and/or attractions. But, I have also paid at least some of my way – commensurate to what I was earning at the time. I am also mindful when she offers to pay for things. Your parents, or parent, are not there to pay for your holiday. You are accompanying them. You aren’t a child. If they are kind enough to pay for some of the trip, don’t be that person that orders a $40 glass of Champagne and a $100 lobster. Be respectful.
Ask what they would like to get out of it
As I’ve said, my mum is a great travelling companion. She is usually so excited to see a new destination, she will tag along to wherever I want to go. Whether it is visiting a grim German concentration camp, the city of Amman, the beaches of Anse Vata, Versailles Palace or going to a musical in New York City, she’s keen to go. However, not all parents are quite like this. Find out what is it they would like to do, and try to do things you are both interested in. This doesn’t mean you have to spend your whole time doing only what they prefer. Try and get a balance of activities in there. I don’t agree with it when people go on a holiday with their parents, doing everything they want to do, and knowing that they will hate it because there is nothing interesting in it for them. Again, a little compromise will go a long way!
Sometimes tempers fray – and that’s okay
Travelling can be stressful, despite our best efforts. My mum has always been good when drama strikes, like that time we discovered our airline booking had disappeared from the system during a blizzard in Zurich. Fun stuff. Not everyone is like this. I’m a bit of a stress pot when things go wrong travelling, as Matt can attest to. Just remember – spending time together travelling is a unique and special situation. It also puts you in closer proximity that you would otherwise expect, and this can lead to some friction. Even when Matt and I travel, we often take an hour or two in the afternoon or evenings to chill out, read a book and get some quiet time. It’s not a bad idea when travelling with anyone. If things do get a little heated, try to step back from the situation. Remember, tomorrow is always another day. One day, you will look back and laugh at all the silly little arguments, but the wonderful memories of your trip will last a lifetime.