Independent Travel

Q&A: Easing parental worries about travel

Q&A is a series that uses questions posed by readers and commentators to address topics of travel, alternative lifestyle design, blogging, and other interests. You can expect to see this series one or two Saturdays a month right here on To send in your questions, contact me! This summer I was planning on doing a study abroad program, and now I'm waiting to hear back for responses.

I love how you encourage going somewhere if that's of utmost desire. I would die to do something like that, but how do parental worries factor into that?

Not to intrude, but do you happen to have lax parents who are chill with that? -Natalia

That's funny. You're funny, Natalia.

When it comes to my travels, my parents started off as anything but go-with-the-flow kind of people. It was very hard for my mom to come to terms with my travel desires, and she barely slept when I took off on my own in Vietnam (my first time solo in a foreign city).

Why All The Fear?

Saying goodbye to parents

Saying goodbye to parents

I've got all sorts of dramatic stories of parting from my parents for the road. And from the sounds of those stories, I seem like a terrible offspring - leaving my mother on her birthday for the next 187 days. I think parents really dread those moments of departure, feeling the weight of the lonely and troubled days in-between your safe arrival home. Of course, it's not without due cause - and, heck, I'm no parent - but I do think that's normal and temporary.

All parents are skeptical at first, fear the worst constantly, but eventually get used to you going solo the more you come back with reassuring statements about your experience. It's normal to want to take their fears into strong consideration, but my advice is to do your research yourself and not listen only to what your parents are concerned about from news and media exposure, as well as comments from their friends. Not everyone travels or sees the world the same way. Talk to other travelers who move and see the world the same way you do, and read books about the place; that will tell you whether you should be worried or not about your experience in a destination.

Curb Their Lack of Enthusiasm



Be sure to include your parents' concerns into your evaluation of future travels - doing otherwise will make you seem rebellious or immature - and be sure to follow it up with all the solid facts, research, and advice from experienced travelers/writers. The more they know you have your head on straight, the more they will trust your intuition as you fly solo.

It's also important to think about your track record and how it relates to your street smarts, travel savvy, and ability to take care of yourself. Your parents will probably always see you as a green 16 year-old, but as long as you've proven in the past you're not easily pushed over or taken advantage of, you can reason with them that you're prepared for what the world is ready to throw at you.

My parents still aren't cheerleaders for my non-professional travels, but at least they understand that I want to do it. When I had doubts about traveling around the world alone in 2008, my mom was surprisingly the voice that encouraged me to do what I want, which was against what she wanted for me. They tolerate my leisure travels these days, but my paid travel makes much more sense. It's a generational thing, as well.

Communication Makes the Difference

As a graduation present, my parents were kind enough to get me a World Edition Blackberry, which enabled constant communication via e-mail to my parents from wherever I was in the world - excluding Malawi, Cambodia, Kashmir, and Zambia, which weren't set up at the time for data usage.

While overlanding in Africa, I would wake up to the alarm on my phone and immediately receive an e-mail from my mom about the weather outside my tent flap. She was six hours behind me but still knew the weather I would experience that morning. This was certainly a way to placate her worries, because when I didn't respond to her e-mails for twelve days in a row (in Kashmir), nerves nearly sent my dad on a plane to find me.

It may be inconvenient to pay a phone bill or constantly find internet cafes to correspond from, but a quick e-mail affirming your happiness and safety are great ways to facilitate your parents' sleeping patterns.

A Mother's Perspective

It seemed only fitting to ask my mother her opinion on my travels, safety, and her feelings toward my independent travel lifestyle.

The summer before I entered sixth grade, I asked my parents if I could attend a military camp an hour north of our town, a camp my brother attended the previous two summers. Though his camp sessions were only two weeks at a time, I decided I wanted to experience the six week, intensive summer camp, which involved three different sessions of learning new skills, bunking with fifteen other girls in a log cabin, and all things military: general inspections, personal inspections, marching, etc. I went to this camp knowing no one previously.

Most ten year-olds don't normally ask for such experiences, and my mom noted this as major characteristic difference between myself and my peers. My independence was obvious at a young age.

Goodbyes at airports

Goodbyes at airports

When I wanted to travel alone for seven months through dangerous African cities and over-populated, crime-ridden regions in Asia, my mom was unnerved but also comforted by looking at my track record. According to her, I had proven myself, through my voluntary college responsibilities, multiple situations that exhibited my leadership, my friend choices, previous trip motivations, and a track record of wise decisions in life.

I've always been a passionate person, but that didn't stop me from analyzing my decisions carefully in the context of my life. Because I conducted myself well in high school, used my free time thoughtfully, dealt well with other people, I seemed like I could handle the road.

One thing that made my travels much easier on my parents, especially my mom, was the steady progression of my trips from easy to advanced: family trips, solo domestic trips, static study abroads, global study abroad, and finally solo global travel. I was weened slowly from my bubble life in northern Indiana and given the gift of time to slowly make mistakes and learn from them.

Mom Recommends...

To the hopeful world travelers in easing parental worries:

Showed maturity in what you do with your time and the people you chose to be with.

To the freaked out parents/mothers of world travelers:

We all want the best for our children and for them to do what makes them happy. If what they do to make themselves happy doesn't do the same for you, know the strong character they've always exhibited will carry over to the streets of India and help them deal with the world they encounter (hopefully they've researched!).

And don't believe, for one second, that one trip will get the bug out of their system. It never leaves their system. Trust your child, and don't make yourself sick. Bad things can happen anywhere. Living in fear is a choice.

The Bottom Line

We can't force our parents to feel the same way we do about the world and traveling through it. If it matters to you how your parents and family feel about your travels, approach the idea of changing their minds with as much fact, reason, and sensitivity as you can gather. Parents know better than anyone that college isn't the end of the learning experience. Hopefully we are all striving to be lifelong learners, and the fast track to learning is often located far from anyone's comfort zone.

World travelers aren't running from family, they're pulled by two worlds, both of which can't be ignored. To deny the movement impulse would be just as difficult as disregarding the friends and family that make us solid. Parents, we're going to be okay, and sure you remain okay. People are hoping you come back home.

My Family

My Family

Was this post helpful to you as a traveler or as a parent? Do you have any comments or anything to add? Please don't hesitate to comment below or contact me personally!

No Tour in SA? Gasp!

Have you been keeping up with our WTI journey? Yes or No. If the answer is yes, you've aced today's coolness test. It's based on hundreds of factors developed by brilliant scientists in order to accurately determine someone's personal awesomeness level. If you answered no, you can't possibly have less internet access than we have, so there's no excuse. Catch up now!...then come back and finish this blog :)

The reason I ask this hard-hitting inquiry is that if your answer was yes, then you know we've been boarding tour bus after tour bus thus far with strangers-turned-friends around the world. You'd also know that Chris and I weren't really tour people to begin with but have had experiences thus far that would need "best time ever", "once in a lifetime", "hooray for life" phrases attached to them.

But with South Africa came a whole new unplanned one! Though we had our hostels and Baz Bus reservations all set, we had open-ended days in spectacular cities along the southernmost coast of Africa in need of filling. So when STA Travel's marketing manager, Carly, joined us in Johannesburg for a lil' SA getaway, we started rambling off all the things that had to get done.

Great White Shark Cage Diving Hiking Table Mountain Stellenbosch Winelands Adventure Sports Long Street and the Waterfront

...and a healthy slew of others. With only one or two days in Cape Town to do it up right, we talked to fellow travelers (lots of the volunteers from i-to-i) and travel agents to find out the scoop, which was that adventure sports could wait until the Garden Route. What's unique to this area? The best ways to spend a few days in CT? Hiking tall, flat mountains and savoring fine wines, of course. And so we did, making sure to sample some staple and some understated restaurants around. We actually extended our time in Cape Town in order to allow for more enjoyment of this city that is idolized by her visitors and especially her residents.

What's great about the Garden Route are the landscapes, the relaxed wintertime environment, and the heaps of activities available. I see Cape Town as one of those cities that makes everything in it better because it's existing and happening in that city. Just like New York, Chicago, Florence, Paris, London, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Sydney...these places live. And when something happens there, regardless of how fun or cool it actually was, it's immediately on a higher level, solely based on the real estate mantra of location [cubed]! Therefore, we had to see the nightlife, had to shop, had to go wine tasting, had to walk up big slopes, had to take tons of pictures and wander around...not because these are things we never get to do, but because they are occurring in this booming and blooming city.

And that's how we decided on our itinerary for South Africa. Hike. Drink Wine. Shark Dive. Bungy. Sky Dive. Whale watch. View animals. And the trip was perfect...

Independent Travel vs. Tour Group: Day 21

The Jackpot of Tour Groups

The age-old debate: should we call our own shots or pay someone to do it for us. It all depends on how you value your own physical, mental, emotional exhaustion and how things like this affect your appreciation of a destination.

Last year, I traveled across Northern India alone, at time spending only $20 bucks in 5 days and living on the bottom of the tourist barrel, other times living the high life in the mountains. I met many Indians and Kashmiris I adored, which in turn led me to be a little closed off to the other tourists like me, and I had quite a bit of alone time with the things I came to India to see.

Traveling alone, as pleasurable as it can be, doesn’t easily put you in the position of being able to talk about your experiences and be understood. I had no one to turn to and say, “That mountain is stunning. Why do I live in Indiana where none of these things exist?” or “Is that chai wallah over there doing Michael Jackson dance moves?”

Our tour group for the Golden Triangle last week was just the kind of “cha-ching” blend of hilarious, fun-loving, and thoughtful travelers that can enhance the experience of seeing a destination. Without a thing to plan ourselves, we were able to react to the things we saw, discuss and be a part of them, and walk away from our trip pleased to have met good people in a place we loved. If we didn’t have this good group dynamic and weren’t on such a fitting tour for our travel styles, India would have remained a little bitter in our memories.

It takes careful planning and lots of luck for a tour to be the best route, and when it happens, you gotta smile because you’re in for a really good time.