9 tips for how to be a badass travel guide for your parents
A friend recently told me she was bringing her parents to Bangkok for the first time and had prepared no plans. I freaked out. Shawn and I travel every year or so with our parents who are in their 60s and 70s. The very first trip I took my parents on was a hairy one with a lot of frantic mistakes I made. But your parents are team players. They aren't going to say to your face that they didn't enjoy the beef tongue taco you recommended, or that they don't want to take that rickety jeep up a volcano. You'll only hear the truth at Christmas or Chinese New Year. Take my learnings.
1. You are essentially a tour guide
So be prepared like one. You're not travelling with your parents, you are taking them on a trip. You're introducing them to everything you know about the city you're in. You're planning all the activities, all the meals, all the accommodation. Take into consideration the physical levels of the activities (remember, no climbing any mountains or stairs), their food preferences (would they try the local fried bugs? maybe with some rice?) and how far the hotels are from everything. I'd read up on additional tips about the city we're in to share as fun facts too.
2. Travel somewhere you've been to before
Don't do a new city if you can help it. Navigating a new city's sights and streets where you're completely unfamiliar with your surroundings can lead to some stressful situations. I got my parents lost in Seoul and while they were super patient about it I was frantic.
It's also more enjoyable when you bring them to a city you're familiar with and everything is an introduction to what you love. Bangkok is a second home to Shawn and I and our parents loved our sharing of our favourite places to eat and things to shop and see. We gave recommendations that were tried and tested rather than new from research, with every potential of going wrong.
3. Always have a back up activity
Mistakes happen. Like when I woke my parents at 3am to bring them to Tsujiki market, only to realise that it was too late by the time we got there. We missed all the tuna auction action but we had one of the best, freshest sashimi breakfasts that morning.
4. Mentally prepare your parents for EVERYTHING
I always share our prepared itinerary ahead of time. This gets our parents really excited about what we're doing. BUT - they're never going to remember what you are going to do, day to day. I have to brief everyone on our activities during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Usually en route to the said activity as well. Expect to do this every day. If you're going on a trip that has extra walking, make sure they know ahead of time.
5. Make reservations when you can
The last thing you want is to show up at a popular restaurant and have to queue for hours. For places that don't have a reservation, have a back up nearby. There will be disappointment some times but at least you're prepared. It goes without saying that activities and tickets should be booked in advanced when you can.
6. Figure out transportation ahead of time
Getting from the airport to the city is a tricky one if you don't want to splurge on a private transport. Hauling massive luggages onto the tiniest and always most crowded airport trains isn't fun. Once you're in the city, plan how you're getting from A to B as well. I'd be extra sensitive to this when we're in walking cities like Tokyo or London when it doesn't make sense to take taxis anywhere. Tokyo train stations were entire mini-cities underground but we navigated through shops, so there was still things to see while we walked. I used the Tokyo subway app to check stations, exits, before hand as much as possible so we're not wandering around lost.
7. Plan "coffee & cake" breaks often
Our parents are pretty gung-ho travellers. They never need to stop and take a rest when you ask them if they need one. But you know it tires them out so always make the suggestion that you all should stop for a coffee and cake every few hours.
8. Be flexible
You're never going to be able to squeeze all your plans from your itinerary. Be flexible about what must-dos they should soldier on for, and what they can potentially skip. A trip with your folks is as much about spending time with you as it is enjoying their surroundings.
9. Plan at least one or two activities out of their comfort zone
If your parents don't drink and never go to bars, plan at least one outing to a urban rooftop bar to watch the sunset. If they've never been up a volcano, arrange a jeep ride to take them around it. It may be something regular to you and not a tourist attraction but it's worth doing something fun and unexpected for them.
Have you travelled with your parents before? What did you guys do where you went?
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