I grew up as the single child of an overworked single mother. Cue the Gilmore Girls theme song, am I right?
When I was a kid, my mother liked to do three things with me: reading, watching Disney movies and traveling.
My mom was and still is a high-powered, hard-working lady and the way she liked to relax was to grab her kid and see Europe.
In my 24 years, I’ve seen almost all European capitals at least once with my mother, as well as a portion of Egypt and Gran Canaria. My mother was never a solo traveler and I know that it still makes her nervous when I travel by myself (i know because she keeps reminding me).
Maybe that’s why she wanted to drag a child through Europe. Maybe she also just wanted to spend time with me. Who knows?
Now that I’m an adult, I’ve started thinking about how family vacations have changed for me since I was a child. My mother and I still travel together about once a year (see my Travel with me: Lisbon, Portugal) and our dynamics have – obviously – shifted now that I’m six years out of her house. Or have they?
1. Choices, choices, choices
One big change from traveling with my mom as a kid is definitely how much more say I get in planning our trip.
That ranges from choosing where to go to picking out flights and accommodations and writing down the minute details of our trip.
I remember going to London with my mother in 2010 and returning kind of dissatisfied because, except for buying a travel guide, we were wholly unprepared and thus missed a lot of what makes London beautiful. I returned to London in 2015 with a friend and a plan – the difference was staggering.
This time, I took up planning when my mother and I decided to go to Lisbon. I picked out hotels and self-service flats, yelped restaurants and read travel blogs up and down to get the best recommendations of where to go.
Most of my work, however, ended up completely worthless because my phone didn’t have internet and my mother dropped her phone in the ocean our second day there. Whoops! One thing was different this time though: we still had a lovely time (and a valid reason to return!).
2. I got bills
Let’s be real here: one of the big upsides of traveling with family is how much money you save. There’s no shame in that, I’m a poor university student, too.
If you are a foodie like me, you can use your parents’ kindness to try out restaurants that would have been too expensive for you otherwise. I spend so much money on food when I travel and having my mom pay for a lot of it definitely helped. I offered to pay every once in a while and took care of desserts, drinks, and our shopping cart at the supermarket. It ended up working out beneficially for both of us and I didn’t have to feel too bad for letting my mother pay for so much stuff.
3. Friendship is magic
Depending on how you grow up, your parent is either your parent or your friend. With my mother’s busy work schedule and my spending most of my childhood with my grandparents, we just kind of “slid into” friendship.
That makes traveling significantly easier. Traveling with family can be connected with a lot of pressure to perform. It’s not just a vacation, you’re supposed to spend “quality family time” together. Even if you love your parents, there is always going to be some sort of tension, and that doesn’t particularly bode well when you look yourself in a tiny hotel room with them. Yikes. As I grow older, it definitely feels like my mother is treating me more like her equal than her child (although not all the time), which opens up many opportunities to connect to each other that have been closed off when we used to stand on a firm “mother-child” footing. Traveling as friends, even when you’re related, takes some of the pressure off. You’re just two separate people trying to have a nice time together. And isn’t that the point?
4. Dirty talk
One of the more unsettling parts of being an adult is recognizing that your parents aren’t aliens who entered this world in their mid-thirties. You might even have to admit that they are real human beings with pasts and fears and feeling and dear God make it stop.
You may find yourself connecting with your parent in a way you would never have expected. It’s weird to think that somebody we got to know partway into their lives had a complete life before we existed. The older I get, the more I crave hearing my family’s stories, especially that of my grandmother and grandfather. They both had interesting and impressive lives, but I feel that I know only snippets, which is very unfortunate. So far, every deeper conversation I had with my mother about her childhood and the way she grew up, I had while taking a trip with her. I mean, you’ll be stuck with the other person for quite a while. Why not get to know them better?
As we grow up, getting out of our parents’ houses and having families of our own, we learn to cherish what our parents did for us. My mother provided me with a roof over my head, food, every book I’d ever want to read and many memories of travel. I’d like to think I took away at least a little bit of every place I ever got to see, everything I ever got to experience. More than anything, traveling with my mother showed me how desperately human she is. It’s a reality check many of us may need at least once in a while.