People are often shocked that both my husband and I choose to take vacations with our respective parents (and parents-in-law). I know that my dad is definitely reading this, but I will write that going on holiday with your parents isn’t always easy. Since moving to Europe, I’ve take a annual trip with my parents as it’s my favorite way to see my parents. Why? I find that we get to enjoy beautiful cities and we get quality time without the awkwardness of me staying in my bedroom from my teenage years. Keep reading for tips for traveling with your parents or parents-in-law.
Choose your battles wisely
It’s good to also remember that it’s not always worth fighting over every detail when traveling with your parents. Sometimes, you just need to go to with the flow and let your parents lead with their preferences. My husband and I travel more often than my parents, so I have learned to let go a bit when it comes to traveling with my parents. It’s not worth arguing over one restaurant although it’s good to tell your parents if you’re on a budget.
Make a list of what you want to do BEFORE the trip is booked and discuss it.
My dad is similar to me as I love to plan trips. We both get excited about what we want to do on vacation, but we don’t always agree on how to spend the trip. When planning our trip to Scotland, my dad really wanted to explore the cities while I really wanted to take a road trip up to the Highlands. We struggled a bit with this, but we ended up planning to have a few days in the major cities prior to taking a trip up to the Highlands for three days. This was perfect as I felt that it was a good compromise. It’s best to compare your lists to ensure you’re on the same page!
I swear by vacation planning excel spreadsheets are essential for planning travel with your parents or parents-in-law, especially if your parents are planners too. I find that a spreadsheet helps you figure out what you’ve already planned and/or what still needs to be planned. I use a travel planning spreadsheet with multiple columns for each day of the trip to figure out when my parents will arrive, what activities we’ll be doing together (and if I need to book them in advance), if any transportation needs to be arranged, and if I booked the hotel yet. Sometimes, I keep track if my parents have booked something yet in case it’s something that we both need booked together (e.g. a day tour). I find that Google Sheets is the best option as both parties can edit it as needed.
Follow up talking with emails, especially if you’re not in the same place
I find that it’s paramount to discuss your travel plans on the phone or Skype, rather than over email. I find that having an email chain and/or a spreadsheet with different things that you discussed on it helps to ensure that you don’t forget about what you researched/discussed on the phone. I often document different attractions, interesting hotels, cool blog posts, information about transportation in the city, or anything else that you might want to do together. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to remember that ONE place that you talked about, but you can’t remember the name of.
Different travel styles
I write this as my parents have very different taste in accomodation than I do. My husband and I are all about homestays, quirky accommodations, and cheap places to stay. My parents prefer to stay in a modern Western-style hotel. I forgot this fact when researching accomodations in Marrakech. I found a gorgeous, cheap, and quirky riad in the middle of the Medina. I raved about it to my dad who liked the price. My parents booked the same riad as me in Marrakech and absolutely hated it. My dad arrived one day before me and called me asking how quickly he could leave. On the phone, I helped my dad find a new hotel. I ended up booking him a room at well-known French 4* hotel. My parents absolutely loved the hotel and they finally were able to relax staying at a place that better suited their tastes. Meanwhile, my husband and I absolutely loved the riad.
On the other hand, my parents-in-law love bed and breakfasts and when we took a road trip together, it was much easier to cater to their tastes. That said, they typically rent a room rather than a whole apartment, so they were a bit weirded out by our private apartment off Airbnb in Brussels. My mother-in-law asked me if the owner would drop by again that evening.
Depending on your parents, you might need to change your travel style considerably if you want to take a trip with them. Keep in mind that although it’s still your money spent on the trip, you need to consider what your parents want to get out of the trip and compromising for a few days (or longer) might be necessary. Similarly, it’s important to voice your priorities for the trip beforehand.
Have separate accommodations close to each other
It’s so important to ensure that you stay somewhat nearby to your parents. During our trip to Glasgow, my parents stayed close to the center while we stayed out in a cheaper airbnb in a residential neighborhood about forty minutes away. Between the amount of time required to get my parents’ hotel and their desire to not wait for us to get up any longer, they left for the day. Lesson learned. It’s also nice to have a break from each other at night rather than having to worry about being too loud talking in the other room while your parents-in-law are trying to sleep.
Different time schedules and paces
My parents are morning people, often up before seven a.m. My husband and I …aren’t morning people. We love staying up late and sleeping in while on vacation. That said, it’s caused some issues as my parents often get impatient waiting for us. As a result, I always plan to be up by 8:30am if I’m traveling with my dad as I know he’ll be frustrated to wait for me past nine a.m.
My dad is one of these people who starts his day at 7am and tries to pack in as much as possible. I try to be easy going (with varying results), but his intended schedule can be too much for me and my husband. As a result, I always ask my dad to lay out his intended schedule on the day before, so my husband and I can figure out if we’d rather meet up with them later the next day.
On the other hand, my parents-in-law are the kind of people who can spend HOURS in one historic place. In the case of the Mauritshuis, which I brought my mother-in-law to see the Girl with the Pearl Earring, I ended up finding a comfy bench and the WIFI network as I had seen the art at my own pace while she was still going through the museum at her own pace. My husband and I started doing a crossword on my phone, which helped a little. Try to be understanding and have games or books to entertain yourself with while waiting for relatives who prefer to take their time.
Even if you prefer a faster pace, it’s good to take into account that your parents might not want (or be able to) handle such a hectic pace and/or as much walking as you might do on your own. Try not to overdo it and try to build in breaks in case a family member wants to take it easy while you continue on.
Embrace new technology and don’t be afraid to take charge
I tend to stay up-to-date on travel trends, so I’m often utilizing new airlines, new hotels, and new experiences within the sharing economy. My dad is pretty good about staying up-to-date on travel trends, but my in laws go old school. My parents-in-law usually buy a map for road trips, so they weren’t sure about using Google Maps for directions during our family road trip.
I’m a huge fan of using various apps, especially offline Google Maps, to get around. During our Belgium road trip, I ended up routing us around as my parents-in-law ended up loving having a GPS that would bring them around as it gave us a lot more flexibility. (They typically use maps to get around.) Similarly, Airbnb was a new discovery for my in-laws during this trip. They ended up loving Airbnb as they prefer to stay in traditional bed and breakfasts. Airbnb isn’t always like this, but if you find the right host like we did in Durbuy, it can be.
Think about your phone before you go!
Depending on your destination, you might want to look into cheap phone plans that will cover your phone usage while traveling with your family. You can contact your parents cheaply within a foreign country if you both have local SIM cards or a good international roaming plan for your phones. This way, you can split off and not have to worry about figuring out a good meeting point later. I love the geolocation feature of Whatsapp, which makes it easy to send your exact location to the other person! This was very helpful in Marrakech, where it can be tricky to find a street name in the Medina.
Introduce your parents to some things that YOU enjoy and include something they’ll love
This is a general tip to add some fun to your vacation, but I find that it’s fun to introduce my parents to something that I often do while traveling (or at home) that they may not do on their own. While we were in the Netherlands, I took my parents out to a game cafe where we played board games for two hours and drank tea. It wasn’t typical, but they had fun seeing what my husband and I like to do while visiting new cities. Similarly, I knew that I had to bring my parents to the beach as they always love walking along the boardwalk.
For my parents-in-law, I made sure that we visited a flea market as I knew they’d love browsing the stalls for souvenirs although we also brought them to some of our favorite brown bars in Amsterdam. My parents-in-law don’t drink, so they weren’t sure how much they’d enjoy sitting in a bar, however they ended up really enjoying the atmosphere and their tea!
Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself
Vacation should be fun, but sometimes you’re brought to a place that is really something that is more for your parents. It’s important to be patient, but if you’re traveling with your parents, it’s important to remember that not every moment needs to be spent together. It’s fine to take a break to explore a different neighborhood, stop for a tea, or reconvene in the evening after you take the afternoon off from sightseeing instead of going to a museum with your parents. You’ll come back refreshed and in a better mood. On a related note, there’s nothing wrong with getting a beer at the end of the evening on your own if you need to relax.
A tour can be a good thing
I generally advocate independent travel without a tour, however a tour can really make it easy when you’re having a long discussion about a destination. My dad and I went back and forth for a while about the best way to get up to the Scottish highlands. I wanted to do it as a road trip although my dad wasn’t comfortable with driving on the “wrong” side of the road. While we were in Scotland, we went on a three day tour up to the Isle of Skye from Edinburgh with Timberbush Tours.
I actually loved the tour as it meant that we could all sit back and relax to focus on spending quality family time together. It took the planning component out of the trip as it covered many of the main destinations that we wanted to see. I don’t generally like tours, but it was really relaxing to just sit next to each other chatting, admiring the views, and learning about history from our knowledgeable local guides. My mom absolutely loved the trip as Scotland had been on her bucket list for a while and she said the tour was one of the best decisions we made in planning the trip.
Take some good family photos together and make a scrapbook
A vacation is a great memory as a family, so don’t be afraid to ask a waiter or a fellow tourist to take a photo of you together! My parents have the top photo framed in their house and it brings back great memories every time they look at it! I often try to take photos of my parents together, which is a nice momento. After the trip, I often make a scrapbook that I send to my parents for their birthday or a holiday summing up our family vacation with photos. It makes for a great coffee table book to show off to their family and friends!