How to tell your parents you are going travelling can be one of the hardest situations to face when planning a long-term trip. This post was updated in August 2018, reflecting on those difficult moments I faced when I left home six years ago, and where I am today.
“Mum, Dad. I have something to tell you… I’m leaving to go travelling.”
Saving for a round the world trip? Want to take a GAP year after school? Want to travel after graduating from university and taking your first steps on the career ladder? Randomly want to fulfil your dream to travel?
There’s that selfish moment when you decide to travel for a long time when you really couldn’t care less about what people think regarding your decision. Why? Because for once this is solely about YOU. You are growing some balls and doing what some people only sit and day dream about, you are changing your life to accommodate this ambition and you are realising the dream that many file under impossible.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore the reactions of others though, especially from those that mean well, like your parents. So, how to tell your parents you are going travelling? I’ve been lucky that my parents have been very supportive. I’ve always undertaken much smaller travel stints before and they saw my big one looming, which meant it wasn’t so much of a shock of them.
But it doesn’t mean that my parents didn’t ‘have their moments’ once I announced my plans a year before I left. And by moments I mean questions, questions and more questions, sad conversations and the dramatic and inevitable: “Will you ever come back?”
I’m confident, independent and determined, but I’m also their only daughter and I was doing this alone. Telling my parents I was leaving for a round the world trip was one thing. Telling my parents that I was leaving to travel as a solo female was another.
Realistically, I can’t blame them for not having something to say on the matter. Other reactions from people, aside from kind words from friends, have mainly been the result of ignorance or jealously and so I’ve ignored them. Afterall, the only reactions you should be responding to are the ones that matter.
So here is my low down on some of the parental scenarios I have come across as I plan to leave and how I have told my parents about my travel plans and helped them to deal with it.
Parents – A Different Generation of Travel
Your parents are genuinely worried and they care about you. Full stop. You have to remember that our parents are not from a generation that could drop everything and backpack around the world. Your mother and father probably left school and worked, stayed at the same company for years, married young and had families – because security was the normality. And that’s what made them happy.
You could say we are extremely lucky to be a part of a generation where we have the confidence to walk away from something if we don’t like it (because deep down we know it will be OK) and to build up a career and qualifications so that we have something to fall back on. Where to delay getting married and having children is actually not that frowned upon by those around you. More importantly, where the opportunity to see the world is both cheaper and easier. So don’t blame them your parents for asking you a multitude of questions about your travels, or simply not understanding at all. They are trying and they do mean well.
How to Tell Your Parents About Your Travel Plans
Keep them updated with your itinerary.
When I had a new addition to my destination list, I let them know about it and talked to them about why I was choosing to go there. If they know you are confident about your choices they will have less reason to worry. For example, my mum was not best pleased when I mentioned these two words: North Korea. But she was a little calmer when I explained why and how. That I was joined a reputable tour company for example. That I would be with other people. That I wouldn’t have any means of contact while in the country and therefore not to worry.
You are probably thinking that I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. But then why lie? It would only make it worse if I announced it while I was in China, without being able to talk to her properly, where she would worry so much more.
While you have the time face-to-face, explain travel to your parents
What you plan to be doing when in particular countries that to them are deemed a little unsafe/off the beaten track/different/unknown.
The reality of any misconceptions that may lead to unease. My dad told me he wasn’t sure if he could visit me in Cambodia because he ‘likes to stay in hotels’ – he soon learnt otherwise!
How you find and book a hostel and how you might get from place to place. Again, announcing from a country afar that you are about to board a night bus for 38 hours with a bunch of strangers may be best announced (and explained) now.
How you can (and WILL) meet people along the way and that you really won’t be completely alone 100% of the time.
That you will take measures to stay safe. I once had a 20 minute discussion with one of my parents about the use of motorcycle helmets. It was painful but I was glad it was 20 minutes before my trip than 20 minutes during my trip when time to catch up was more precious.
A discussion with your parents, before leaving for travelling, will save you having to explain it all when you are on the road when, quite frankly, you won’t have the time or patience.
Use modern technology and practice with them. A few months before I left, my mum bought a microphone for her PC and we set it all up , raring to go on Skype for future chats. My dad is a gadget geek and knows his stuff, but my mum got her practice time in. Because that’s what made her feel better, and I felt better knowing she had the resources to stay in touch.
Spend time going through the absolute basics of travel with your parents before you leave, if you absolutely have to. There will be times when you only have 10 minutes to chat when on the road and you don’t want half of that to be a tutorial.
Make sure they realise that there may be countries where mobile phones it won’t work or you can’t find a sim card. Or wi-fi, or even an old PC with decent internet connection. Explain to them and troubleshoot, even before you get to the next country, that contact might not be as easy, or quick running, as it is at home.
Tell Your Parents You Are Going Travelling By Getting Them Involved!
There is knowledge in life about certain things that your parents would trump you on, 10 times over, like finances and wording in policies. Therefore, ask for help when you need it as parents feel joy when they get to help you. And there are things in life that you know a lot about and they don’t, like volunteering, flight planning and adventure activities, so get them reading and interested!
Parents and financial insights
I know my dad gets mad at me if I don’t make correct financial decisions and so I got him involved from the very start. He might not have known much about half of the things I had planned on my 15 month trip, but he sure has helped me find the best ISA and savings accounts which I had used to save and help fund my trip and he even helped me to lock down the best prepaid travel card. In the end, at least he knew that my money was going to be well spent as it was being well invested.
Do your parents have friends abroad?
If you parents know people in different countries or have friends who have been to certain places on your list, ask them to seek out further information and advice for you. Or even someone to visit or a place to stay! I am sure they will love knowing that they have contributed to your travel plans and decisions.
Take your parents travel shopping with you
I found that taking my parents with me to travel shops was also a handy way for them to learn about your expenditure on certain items, why you need particular things and that, all-in-all, you really are well equipped for your time away. It gives them another reason not to worry.
Send them documents for reference
Send them links to websites, PDF’s of travel itineraries – anything they can read to fully understand some of the things you are doing and where you are going. I know my mum felt a lot better about my pending volunteering stint in Cambodia after she had a good read of the charity’s website.
Be brutally honest with your parents:
Lay it ALL out now. You won’t be texting back straight away, you won’t be calling from every available phone and you won’t feel the need to Skype every time your heart skips a beat at arrival of decent Wi-Fi.
You love them, but you will love your travel life a whole lot more.
What NOT to Tell your Parents about Going Travelling
Tell them horror stories. Really, don’t. Shit happens and if it happens to you, you will deal with it, unless you really and seriously need help. I didn’t tell my mother about a serious incident travelling until around five years later. At the time it was something very personal to be and which shaped me. It wasn’t something for her to worry about from afar.
Dwell too much on the potentially dangerous. It’s not really a word to use in a conversation with the parents, is it? Dangerous to you may translate into an adrenalin fuelled activity or driving along the world’s narrowest mountain road, but to them it means instant death.
Promise them set times to catch up. Plans always change and missing a catch up will only make them worry that something has happened to you. Not that you are just out sightseeing or having a another beer in the bar with your new friends.
Lie. Do what you have to do and do what you want to do. It’s your life and your unique travel experience so enjoy every moment and let them react to it how they will. My plan was to travel for 12 months, increased to 18 months and then to two years.
The reality is, I never came back. Well, I did and still do for a week or two, but once I had left, I found homes all over the world before eventually settling in Vienna, Austria.
What do I tell my parents now about travelling around the world?? That I am happy. That this is my job now and I will never stop. It’s a passion and a career and a part of my personality.
What do my parents see? A happy, well-rounded, well-travelled, incredibly curious daughter who adores people and culture (and crazy adventure activities). Their child who got to do the things they never could. Or one who is pushing them beyond their own boundaries.
A reaction from a parent, however extreme, is just a sign that they care. Work with them, not against them – because with more knowledge will come greater support and the chance to go travelling, on your own terms.