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!

A Gracious Thank You on Mother's Day

My mother, Margie - I've certainly put her through a lot, especially in these last four years:

Evelyn, Ian, Olivia, and Margie

Evelyn, Ian, Olivia, and Margie

Mom has had a hard year, probably the hardest of her existence, watching her own mother deal with a fate arguably worse than death.

Losing the Matriarch

While I was lounging in a Delhi hotel room on the World Traveler Internship, Mom told me via Skype the dentist had found cancer under her tooth. As I literally watched shooting stars over Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania from my tent, Grandma Evelyn was being wheeled out of a surgery that tested the limits of human strength to recover from. And while Mom learned of her nearly certain fatal situation, she still supported my desire to go to Fiji and implement a humanitarian project.

Margie, Lindsay, and Evelyn

Margie, Lindsay, and Evelyn

Having been paired with my father since she was 15, I often wonder how it's possible for her to understand my desire and need to be alone, to travel the far corners of the world without anyone at my side, to be comfortable in near squalor altogether. It certainly wasn't an easy realization to come to, as I was firmly encouraged to correspond constantly on my Big Journey via Blackberry.

However, on this last trip to the South Pacific, my mother surprised me with her understanding of my desires, my abilities to survive completely out of her arm's reach, and my competency in dissolving extreme issues with differing minds. When Garrett returned early from Fiji, he had a long talk with my mom over the phone and reported back that even in the wake of our ridiculous stories, she knew I could handle myself and trusted I'd be okay (without even a hint of her normal "Ooohhh, Lindsaaaaay" sigh and stress-induced headache).

Whether she listened to history and assumed everything would turn out fine or our issues were relatively trivial in comparison to Grandma's, Mom proved to me that even though she'd rather I stay stateside and safe, she knows if I must pull my global stunts, I will...and it will be okay.

Margie, Phil, Olivia, and Evelyn

Margie, Phil, Olivia, and Evelyn

And what was most surprising from this shift was the timing of it all. Though I did plan the Fiji experience around what we thought would be Grandma's easiest battle through chemo and radiation, the status of her health and aggressive cancer affirmed the entire war would be a tough one to weather and even witness. Mom wanted me to be around for it all, even though Grandma (in her classic understating tone) told me it was fine to go and even miss her funeral (since she wouldn't be there to miss me anyway).

Grandma was selfless, and so is Mom, and I see this hereditary link now more than ever in the hindsight of this winter (thought not as if I didn't realize this before).

The Parental Support of a Nomad

Phil, Margie, and Evelyn

Phil, Margie, and Evelyn

I get a lot of messages from young travelers worried about their parents' impressions of their journeys, and they wonder, "How do your parents deal with you being alone and all over the place?" Though they're not dropkicking me out the front door (nicely, that is), my parents certainly have proven to be understanding of my insatiable and sometimes indescribable desire to move. Fear is always a factor, but as I continue to show more maturity in my reasons for travel, they continue to feel more comfortable with my choices, especially since I've managed to survive this long.

All kids make great stress inducers for their parents in some fashion, and those of us who like the road can certainly create extreme moments of fear on a daily basis. But the road to gaining understanding and support from a worried parent isn't very long at all.

My mom was actually the one who nudged me toward taking my Big Journey, against her own wishes to have me close by. She knew I wanted and needed the experience. She allowed me to be selfish and traipse around the Earth, while she woke up early to check and e-mail me the weather of my destination before I even arose.

On this Mother's Day, I wanted to say thank you, Mom, for understanding, even in the midst of your hardest hour. I think you'll fill the shoes of the Matriarch to the tippy toe.