Part 3 in our 5-part Summer Travel Series
Traveling with other people can be both exhilarating and exhausting.
Case in point. In the summer of 2018, when our family of six visited England, Wales, Ireland and Italy, we had a lot of moving parts. Other than our 17 year-old almost adult, all the rest of us were already adults, and this made the dynamic quite different than it would be for someone traveling with little kids or teens in tow.
Still, in addition to our own family, we had seven other people who would connect with us at various points during our travels, making it vital we communicated well ahead of the trip concerning each person’s expectations.
Because human dynamics is not always fluid nor predictable in real life, the potential stresses of overseas travel added to this can make a simple set of actions clouded due to misunderstandings and miscommunications.
Most of those misunderstandings arise from mismatched expectations. These often evolve from different perceptions and a lack of thorough communication beforehand.
And, when you add the history of any given relationship to the mix, the likelihood of clashes along the way grows.
After some obvious things such as keeping hydrated, fed, warm/cool and rested, are there some principles you can follow when you travel abroad with others to make the experience the very best it can be? I believe there are.
1 | Define the purpose of the trip for each person involved.
That purpose might be as simple as “going for fun / pleasure.” That’s okay. But make sure each person understand why he/she will be spending x number of days on this trip in the first place. For younger kids, take a trip to the local library (or a little spin on Amazon) and let them “discover” books related to the place you’ll be going. Then ask them questions like, “What can we see?” “What can we learn?”
For older children plus any adults involved, this is where a discussion of expectations is critical. Not just “What do you want to see?” but, even more, “What do you want to come away with from the time in X?” You may even go as far as exploring how people want to change as a result of being in X-place.
2 | Plan and discuss the trip beforehand together.
Emphasis on the together. True, this will vary depending upon who you are traveling with. If you’re a parent traveling with small kids, you will be designing the trip and the helping your children understand what they should expect. After all, most kids up to about 15 or 16 years of age don’t have much choice but to go along with their parent(s), right?
But the older the child is – and I would suggest you could creatively bring the child into the planning process as early as age 4 – the more you should involve him/her. Let the child dream. Let him/her take some ownership for some part of the trip. Encourage him/her to problem solve. “So, how would we get from X-place to Y-place?” for example. The more ownership the child(ren) has, the more likely they will be enthusiastic about the experience.
If you are doing this with a group of people who are not all living in the same location (as was our case), you can plan using Google Docs and even Skype or Zoom (for free) to discuss some of the finer points.
3 | Give each other space.
This is a critical concept to implement when you travel, whether it’s with little kids, big kids, in between kids, non-kids / other family members, or friends.
If you are traveling with little kids, the key is for each parent to give the other some time away from parental duties, an opportunity to explore the city (or wherever) by him/herself. I realize if you are single parent this would be near impossible, but I suspect most single parents would travel with another adult, especially if they have multiple kids.
Sometimes in between and older kids will just want to stay in the room where you are staying, not wanting to venture out. This is especially true for kids when they’re in those “grunge” years. How do you handle that?
Well, if the child is old and responsible enough (12-ish), it may be a possibility to leave him/her behind for a few hours, especially if you both have a way of being in touch. But, if not, you might need to strike a deal: “Okay, we’ll stay here for another hour for you to have your time to just veg. Then you’ll need to come with us for a couple hours. Then you can have another hour to rest and do whatever when we come back. Deal?”
But if this is an all-adult group, my suggestion is always to make time for the larger group to split up in groups of two or three to go their own ways, but then reconnect at lunch or dinnertime at an agreed-upon restaurant or other location, for example. Or, at least, make this some of your days. I’ve found trying to keep the group together just for “togetherness’ sake” can prove quite counterproductive.
4 | Make a plan to review each day and discuss the next every day of the trip.
How will you do this? Over dinner? Late at night before bed? Early in the morning together? There’s no right or wrong way, and it’s likely you will vary this throughout the trip. But checking in regularly is bound to enhance the overall trip, so try to make it a priority.
Asking people’s highs and lows can be an effective way to review. Or simply ask others what they learned or what surprised them. Another way is to ask the questions “What went well?” “What didn’t go well?” “How would you do it different next time?”
5 | Keep accounts short.
This is a general principle you should follow in life, but it is especially relevant when you travel. What, exactly, does it mean.
Simply put, when you are having an issue with another person you’re traveling with, make every effort to resolve that issue within a short period of time, ideally within the day. Don’t let the issue persist and become something you blow up over later.
My husband and I learned this when we were engaged. An older married couple gave us some useful imagery. They told us not to stuff our backpack with grievance after grievance. Eventually, they said, if you’re not careful the backpack will become too heavy and will break.
A couple caveats here: (1) You need to evaluate whatever the “problem” is to determine how much of it is you (and maybe in your head or due to your stubbornness) and how much of it is the other person. If too much the former, then maybe you have to resolve it yourself. (2) If you do address the problem with the other person, make sure you do it privately. This is the respectful way to deal with anybody.
When it comes to travel, there are so many times when stressful issues can arise. But resolving these as quickly as possible provides for a better trip overall. There may be times when you have to agree to disagree, but usually you can meet the other person in the middle on any given issue, with some intentional communication.
Remember your purpose in traveling in the first place: to grow. As you see different places, eat different food and see different people, you are growing. Make sure to grow in your relationships with those you’re traveling with, too. You won’t regret it!
How might you turn a travel experience into a relationship-growth experience?