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Traveling with Family: 5 Things I’ve Learned

In Big Ideas, Travel by Tom @ Abroad AmericanLeave a Comment

Frustration, waiting, disagreements, and even arguments are all things I associate with traveling with family. On the other hand, so are all the inside jokes, laughter, shared experiences and love. Families have different dynamics, and my family has always been full of independent characters. We all have our own preferences and interests and need – as all families do – to work with each other to keep everyone content.

Traveling with your family is no exception. Actually, I’d say that cooperation and being conscious of each other’s needs and preferences are markedly more important when traveling. With everyone out of their normal circumstances, it’s easier to get bent out of shape and irritated with each little thing.

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In this post, I’ve got 5 tips for people traveling with their families to make sure no one blows a gasket in line at some train station in a foreign land. I want to help those of us who might get frustrated traveling with family to have a harmonious trip. And because opportunities to explore new places with our families are rare (at least at my age), I want to help everyone really take advantage of the chance to make lasting memories with their loved ones.

5 Things I Learned Traveling with Family

Through the years, I’ve actually done quite a bit of traveling with my family. When we were kids, we took the very American annual trips up to an aunt and uncle’s cabin in the Northwoods. We’ve traveled to family in Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, and D.C. We even spent a Christmas and New Years in Japan visiting my sister during her time studying abroad. Most of that took place when I was younger; since I went to college in 2009, family trips together have been pretty limited. Hence why I was a bit nervous before traveling to Dublin, London, and back here to Munich with my family last year.

Putting my experiences from that trip and all of the others from the past together – here’s 5 things I learned traveling with family.

1. The Great Compromise

Look, it’s different strokes for different folks. Your idea of an upcoming trip, and what to do with it, may be vastly different from what your family members expect. Differing opinions might pop up when deciding what to do on any given day, too. Some might want to hop on a tour bus and see some nearby sights, but others might prefer a relaxed day in town exploring the city streets. How do you deal with these kinds of disagreements? Compromise.

Traveling with Family to Neuschwanstein

My sister had picked out a bike tour of the area around Neuschwanstein (the Disney castle) during my family’s visit to Munich. I was initially hesitant, but hey, I compromised and went along for the ride. Turns out, the tour was fantastic and constantly gave us amazing views like this one.

If you have extra days to plan, then alternate between the activities. Maybe split the day up, spending a shorter amount of time doing both activities (just don’t rush them – it won’t be worth it!). If you can’t come to a compromise, then, if possible, have everyone simply do what they want. Traveling with family, especially with a wide range of interests and expectations can be difficult. Learn to compromise and come up with solutions so no one feels left out or ignored. That goes for everyone!

2. Be Patient, Young One

You know how stressful it can (sometimes) be visiting home for the holidays? Well, take that experience, and box it up into hotels, bustling train stations, tight tables at restaurants, flying aluminum tubes and speeding shifting trains. People are people, and your family is no different. We all find ourselves annoyed and irritated by the little things others do, especially those close to us, and especially people we grew up with.

Through that frustration and urge to shake your loved ones into understanding, just breathe. Be patient. Everyone handles new situations – something travel is sure to be full of – in different ways.

From my own experiences traveling with family

One of my strongest memories of family-related travel frustration comes from our visit to Japan. Picture me as a high school senior, already ready to move out and stereotypically frustrated with his parents. This is how it looked to me. Whenever my parents stopped to find their way, they always seemed to stop in the middle of literally everything and everyone. Mind you, in Japan, there are marked walking routes showing the way to exits and between connecting lines.

To me, the angsty teenager, my parents seemed totally oblivious to the people around them as they stopped. They squinted at signs I knew they couldn’t read with looks on their faces that seemed precisely formed to annoy their teenage son. But alas, I was an idiot. In new places, especially with entirely different languages, you need to be patient.

Traveling with Family in Japan

Ok, not exactly inside a train station in Japan, but just outside one. In any case, the streets and transit lines in Japan are jammed pack with people, or at least very busy. I’m not a total idiot for being frustrated with my family for getting in the way, but I sure could have helped instead of just complaining like the angsty teenager I was. Image credit: Addy Cameron-Huff on flickr.


I wasn’t doing any better than my parents, though. Maybe I was a bit more observant of all the polite Japanese people that rerouted themselves around us. If that was the case, I’m sure I only noticed it at times when my parents didn’t. Conveniently, I never seemed to take note when I was the one being oblivious.

Still today, this is one of the things most annoying to me about “tourists”. Walking slowly and stopping often and abruptly in the middle of the walkway trying to figure out where they’re going. Look, I get it, new places can be confusing as all hell. But please, step off to the side and take your time figuring it out. In hindsight, I cringe at how impatient I was with my family.

Don’t make yourself cringe down the line. Be helpful and patient, not irritated and snarky.

3. Embrace It

Beyond simply learning to be patient while traveling with family, I think it’s important to learn to embrace it. Like I said at the beginning of this post: as we get older, trips with the people we grew up with seem to become fewer and further between. I’ve learned to embrace traveling with family, to deeply enjoy opportunities to spend time in new places with such “old” relationships. I’ve known my mother, father, and sister since my toddler brain began forming long-term memories. Exploring and interacting with each other in new environments is actually a really interesting and entertaining way to spend the little time we do have together.

Traveling with Family, taking pictures can be hard.

“No, DAD! Tap the screen ANYWHERE BUT the center ring! That focuses the shot, it doesn’t take it!” – approximately what I was saying just at this very moment.

By “embrace it”, I also mean something a little broader with respect to your family. If you haven’t already, embrace them – and all their quirks – for who they are. I think this particular tip might belong on a Things Normal Humans Should Do list, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to mention it here. Traveling with family and life generally are more pleasant and enjoyable when you’re not wasting energy being exasperated by those around you.

4. Really Unplug

When traveling around the world, especially as a solo traveler, it’s hard not to notice that it seems to have actually become incredibly small. I’ve read and heard countless complaints about the expansion of cell phones into every aspect of our daily lives – and travel is no different. Unplugging is a great way to ensure that you can actually embrace traveling with family. By “unplugging”, I actually mean two things in this case, and both are important to getting the most out of any kind of travel.

Traveling with Family Unplugging from Our Phones

Bad form, my phone’s on the table! I believe it was at this pub in London when I realized I had been spending far too much time peering into the magical device in my hand and not nearly enough time into the faces of my family. I think someone else mentioned it too, and we tried to stay off our phones for the rest of the dinner, with success 🙂

First, unplug from the stress and concerns of your daily life. Second, is to almost literally unplug from your electronics, mainly phones and laptops. Obviously, using our mobile devices less gets us on the way to unplugging from our day to day stress and worries. Of course, phones are almost indispensable nowadays for accommodation, transport, translation, and entertainment to boot. However, that doesn’t mean that we need to spend every waking second sunning ourselves in that eerily luminous blue glow.

5. When Traveling with Family, Just Let Go

No Frozen GIFs, I promise! Anyway, I want to use this last item to build off of and sum up the previous 4. The key thing that I’ve learned traveling with family is to just let go. If you learn to compromise, be patient, embrace the opportunity and your family, and be present with them during your travels, you will have learned to let go. Traveling with family can be difficult at times, but it can be downright depressing if you don’t learn to do this.

More than just travel tips

Looking back at the past 1,300+ words I just typed, I’ve noticed a trend. In fact, I hinted at it a few times throughout the post. All of these “things” I’ve learned traveling with family are really just life lessons. Most of them are things I’ve learned that also make living and getting along with other people easier. I think this demonstrates the benefits of travel more generally – whether it be with family or solo. I think travel has this effect on us because it pushes us out of our comfort zones. At the very least, travel means physically going to a place we have not been before. On the other end, travel brings us to places where we don’t understand the society, culture, or language on a basic level.

Traveling with Family in the Alps

Who better to experience new things with than your close friends, family, and loved ones? I’m all for solo travel, but I think traveling with family and discovering new parts of the world with them is just as important.

Through travel experiences like these, we learn to compromise when our personal preferences aren’t available. We learn to be patient with ourselves and others as we solve problems. Traveling shows us other parts of the world which can give us a new appreciation for where, and who, we came from. It can also connect and reconnect us with the people around us. Finally, through all the new experiences and situations that travel can give us, I think it ultimately teaches us to let go. Let go of prejudices, misconceptions, daily troubles, and biases. With all that junk swept out of our hearts and minds, life becomes a lot more delightful.

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