Family and travel are two separate entities existing in parallel dimensions, at least for the majority of our life. Every family trip — either with your parents, siblings or relatives — becomes a chaotic mix of adventure and drama 99% of the time.
Family is a tricky concept as it is. We see one another at our best and worst, support each other time and again and share a bond that overrides our emotions and logic. This intimacy takes years to mature and changes the way we communicate and live with one another.
Whereas traveling is an instant wake-up call. Especially on a budget family travel wherein we carry our different habitual quirks and lifestyle choices together (almost) as a carry-on luggage.
For me, family travel is like being in the amusement park. I feel euphoric, happy, tired, confused, or plain bored in just a short time.
And this post gives you a glimpse into the utter randomness (lessons, really) I experienced as I skipped on one leg through Europe for two-and-a-half months with my parents.
→ My dad gets lost… with confidence.
Even with repeated advice, my dad — who’s traveled for work statewide all his life — often followed his own directions and only looked back after he’d crossed 100 meters to find me not by his side.
At first, I’d get worried. He didn’t know the language, wasn’t used to the culture or savvy with smartphones. By the end of the trip, we’d stop just to see how far he’d go before realizing he was on the wrong street.
→ You’ll break things, and the sooner you own up the better.
‘No one’s perfect.’ And in our months-long traveling days, it became our default catchphrase. During the trip, we broke a marble toilet brush holder, took down a shower curtain bar, nearly broke a lock, turned a few washcloths into a mixture of yellow and brown, ruined a brand new spatula.
Of course, we compensated our hosts for these blunders as soon as possible not only because it was the right thing to do but also to show our respect for their trust for letting us stay in their homes.
→ People aren’t afraid to lie to authorities.
A fellow bus passenger conveniently informed the border control authorities he ‘lost’ his passport just a few hours before (that’d mean he lost it at 4 am) and agreed to reissue a new one and bring it back for authorization.
5 hours had passed after we reached our transfer stop — Zagreb, and he was still standing with us at the bus station waiting for the next bus to Split.
→ You should be wary of toilet flushes.
A single, button-operated toilet flush caused the electricity panel of our Barcelona Airbnb duplex to shut down. In between messaging the host and not stumbling on my own steps, I found the panel locked away in a storage shed (without a roof) on the ground floor.
The only way to access it? Bending from the upper-level bedroom window to switch it back on with a broomstick. Which I did! (Thanks to my flexible muscles.)
→ Thieves — even amateurs — are in it to win it.
A stranger reached out for my dad’s phone (kept in his shirt’s front pocket) in Barcelona. My dad, however, could see where his hand was going as the guy was trying to steal it in slow motion, literally.
My dad didn’t even faze and slapped the thief’s hand before he could touch the phone. Seeing his attempt failed, the thief felt the right thing to do was say sorry while fleeing the scene.
→ Indian ingredients don’t work well with European kitchens.
We Indians love our spices. And turmeric is at the top of that ‘spice chain’. It’s also the evil which leaves yellow stains in its path if you’re careless. My mom used it for almost every meal. Due to which, I became a de facto cleaning lady, getting up an hour earlier than my parents to scrub the spots off every nook and cranny of our Airbnb kitchen tops and floors.
→ Listen twice before following an instruction.
We had to give fingerprints at the Croatian border to enter Slovenia (it was late in the night). The scanner wouldn’t register my dad’s prints. So, the officer asked him to lick [his fingers] and try again.
My dad went ahead, picked up the machine and took out his tongue ready to lick the surface before I snatched the machine away. I explained to him what he was supposed to do instead before bursting out laughing.
→ Timing is everything.
Budget travel may be rewarding but it’s exhausting as hell. Since we used local, economic transports timing played a crucial role in connecting the next phase of our plan to the current one to not compromise our budget. This lesson hit home when we barely made it to our FlixBus to Rome from Venice.
The thing is: We were staying on Lido — a small island in the Venice lagoon — away from the mainland.
So, to make it to our pickup stop at 10:30 am, we took a local Lido bus at 8:50 am to the boat station (Lido S.M.E.), boarded the public water bus at 9:02 am to Venice Mestre train station, took a local train at 10:08 am and finally got off at Venice St. Lucia station at 10:22 am. (Venice has two train stations, FYI.)
Needless to say, we ran and came to the stop only to find there’s no bus; it was 10:28 am. After wasting 10 mins on the phone talking to a customer rep who was convinced the bus was already at the stop, I was this close to losing my shit. It felt as though the heaven smiled on me when I saw our bus pulling in from around the corner and stopping in front of us.
→ You’ll get mixed up in local taxi hostilities.
We passed by a taxi company’s (let’s call them A company) stop to wait for a cab I’d called from a free telephone line set up by another (B company) in Northern Ireland. When our B cab didn’t show up, I crossed the street to ask the A taxi drivers if they’d take us.
Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to pass them — the number one cab company in Belfast — to wait for B company’s taxi. The drivers were more-than-enough vocal about this. Fortunately, a standby cab driver felt bad for us and came to the rescue to drop us at our Airbnb rental.
. . . .
I love my parents, and this family trip was my way to pay them back at least 0.01% for what they’ve sacrificed and provided for me.
It’s true we traveled with our emotional baggage battling exhaustion and uncertainty with every new city, especially because of my parents’ age. But we embraced the essence of traveling and found joy in exploring dissimilar places and cultures to learn how to appreciate each other in our own way.
And — if I must say — we did a fabulous job of shaping our family travel adventures, which will continue to outweigh these (and many other) erratic encounters that left me thinking ‘What the hell just happened?’.