5 Tips for Traveling With Family (As Adults)

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A year ago my dad and I took our first international trip together. Hopefully there will be many more, but if not, this trip was amazing enough for a lifetime. I feel indescribably lucky.

Traveling with family can be interesting. Loving someone doesn’t always translate into liking to travel with them.

But somehow that’s assumed. As if applying the same rules for selecting travel companions would be offensive. You wouldn’t insist your mountain-loving outdoorsy friend go on a shopping/laying on the beach vacation and yet family members find themselves trapped in those situations all the time.

Dad's first wine pairing dinner!

Dad’s first wine pairing dinner!

Dad and I thought we were ahead of the curve. When deciding to take a trip, we decided we’d be most compatible somewhere we’d spend most of the day eating great food, drinking good wine, and staring at beautiful scenery. We normed on doing one or two “big” things a day and leaving time in the schedule for things to happen spontaneously.

Spain was chosen and were good to go!


Or so we thought. We enjoy each other’s company tremendously. We wanted to see and do similar things. But it turned out we both had strong, unrealized assumptions about the trip.

My parents had taken a similar trip to Spain nearly 50 years ago and my dad was unconsciously defaulting to those expectations. Aspects like resisting getting a rental car with GPS or even a map — if we got lost we’d just stop and ask the policía standing in the roundabouts for directions.

And turns out I had an agenda! When we’d talked about eating good food, etc, I’d had a vision of at least 3 meals a day at Barcelona’s many amazing restaurants, not taking into account dad has preferred 2 meals a day for several years — a big breakfast and a light early supper.

Two days in, things were friendly, but our schedules weren’t compatible, and we were both feeling a little unsatisfied with the trip.

Ignoring my first impulse to lapse into childhood habits and become sulky, I decided to communicate instead. What a novel idea! Neither of us are passive aggressive so if things weren’t working out, we just needed to get on the same page.

So we talked. Once dad knew that getting to try local cuisine was really important to me, he had no problem going out to a restaurant once a day. And I in turn was fine with fresh bread and cheese from the local grocery as a light third meal. We talked about driving. About schedules for down time/naps. It was civil, it was helpful!

Terrible selfie on a hill in Penedes, Spain

Terrible selfie on a hill in Penedes, Spain

The rest of the trip was even more fantastic and helped us understand each other even more as adults.

It was so special in fact, I’ve struggle to put the trip reports in words, but at Dad’s urging, hope to finish them soon.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, here are the valuable lessons I’ve learned. Not everyone is as easy going and reasonable, so your results may vary, but it’s worth a try!

  1. Push for the right destination
    The desire to please is often stronger than the desire for self preservation. But if a family member is pushing for a place you have no interest in, let them know why upfront and hopefully they’ll be reasonable and want you to enjoy the trip too.
  2. Talk about expectations
    Don’t assume blood is stronger than travel preferences! Do the same as you would when traveling with a friend and get into the nitty gritty about schedules, budget, itineraries, etc.
  3. Build in personal time
    Everyone needs their own space, particularly when traveling. Minor irritations can become major if you’re always together. Create time each day, however brief, to do whatever you want.
  4. Assume it’s not intentional
    When most people react, it’s about them, not you. And if you told someone their actions were ruining your trip or making you feel terrible about yourself, they’d be horrified. If they wouldn’t have that reaction, you shouldn’t be traveling with them! So don’t take things personally, but do communicate the impact such things are having.
  5. Talk about differences in preference
    Don’t let even small things fester. Bring up (calmly) any differences in expectations. “I know you wanted to visit that monument half-way across town today, but I also wanted to visit the gallery which closes at 4, how can we make this work?”
  6. Send them this article
    I’m mostly just kidding, but sometimes folks are more receptive and open to advice from people outside the family. 😉


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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world. www.twitter.com/klatravel


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