Ask Kate: My Parents Don’t Want Me To Travel

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This week’s question is about how to help your parents adjust to the idea of you traveling — long-term or short-term, solo or with someone else.

Hi Adventurous Kate!

I’m planning to travel abroad for an extensive length of time (most of 2013), and my parents are very nervous about this. I’m 28, single, financially independent, and two years ago I spent five weeks traveling around SE Asia (4 weeks with a group, 1 week alone) and survived just fine. For this trip I’m planning to start in New Zealand / Australia to get my feet wet, and then continue on to many places in Asia and Africa.

All of this is concerning for my mom and dad. They say they support my decision to travel next year, but they’ve vocalized how anxious they are and the topic has created somewhat of a rift in our relationship.

Do you have any tips for making parents feel more comfortable when their adult children decide to go globetrotting?

In short: communication, communication, communication.

Be prepared to talk extensively about how you plan to stay safe while traveling.  Safety is likely your parents’ biggest concern.  Talk your way through worst-case scenarios — if all your credit cards are hacked, if you end up severely injured, if you’re robbed, if you run out of money.  Familiarize them with your travel insurance.  Talk about not drinking too much and the prevalence of date rape drugs in party destinations.

Be in touch with people who have done the same thing you are planning to do.  One of my big influences before I started traveling was Lillie from Around the World L — she traveled Southeast Asia for several months on her own at the same age as me two years before I did.  (And it didn’t hurt that she was from Boston as well!)

Showing my parents that a girl like me had done the same thing successfully gave them more reassurance.  (This is especially important for North Americans, as we don’t have a gap year culture like the rest of the world.)

Encourage them to ask you questions.  They might be worrying about things that never crossed your mind.  Your parents might believe war is still going on in Cambodia or the Balkans, while those conflicts have been long over.

Have a long-term plan to talk about — even if you’re not sure.  Protecting your career is probably your parents’ second-biggest concern. Even if you’re not sure what you’re going to do, have at least a rough plan post-travels, whether it’s going back to work in your hometown or finding a job abroad.

Long-term travel has a way of changing you, and don’t be surprised if you have an entirely new plan once you come home.  But your parents don’t need to know that before you set off.

Most importantly: promise to communicate frequently.

When I planned my initial six-month Asia trip, my parents requested that I email them once a day.  I thought they were crazy and that once a day was far too often.  They insisted, and I agreed to do it, sending off my first dispatches from Bangkok.

Then, to my great surprise, I grew to love it.

Every day, I emailed my parents and sister a few lines about my day.  And I still do — not every day when I’m in London, but every day when I’m on the road.  Now that I take most of my pictures on my phone, I email them a few pictures from the day is well.

If I’m going someplace where internet is limited, I let them know in advance.  (And the only places where there has ever been NO working internet was Don Det on Laos and on the Blue Train in South Africa.  You’ll be hard-pressed to be cut off from the internet!)

This communication reassures them that I’m safe and keeps our communication lines open.

There are lots of things you can do to help put your parents’ minds at ease, but don’t expect them to feel completely better until you’ve been traveling for awhile.  Many of their fears are based in the unknown and they won’t be able to understand until they experience it themselves.

Still, sometimes, that’s not enough for some parents.

And that’s very difficult and hurtful.  In that case, all you can do is tell your parents that you love them, that you appreciate what they have to say, that they raised you to make good decisions, and that you’ve decided to travel.

Good luck.  And go have the time of your LIFE!

Got a question for Kate?  Email it to kate [at] adventurouskate [dot com] with the subject “Ask Kate.”  Your question could be next!

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30 thoughts on “Ask Kate: My Parents Don’t Want Me To Travel”

  1. Great advice! I think it’s normal for parents to be nervous about their kids traveling solo (especially when those kids are female and American – it’s not “normal” here!). But your tips are spot-on, and are in line with the advice I would give, too.

    The preparation and communication are both SO important. My parents were worried about me traveling around Europe on my own this summer (apparently my mom was convinced I was going to get kidnapped in Istanbul), but I kept them clued-in throughout the whole planning process of my trip, and explained everything to them, from my travel insurance, to how I was going to hide back-up credit/debit cards throughout my backpack. And then, when I was on the road, I tried to e-mail as often as possible. If I didn’t e-mail every day, I would be sure to post updates on Facebook (since both my mom and dad use it regularly) as a way for them to be able to easily make sure I was safe and having a good time.

    1. My parents did the same thing like chose destinations that are safer like Honolulu, London, Sydney, Hong Kong, and so on. Despite on my parents’ perspective, I will communicate them (Church friends and families) through Facebook and Twitter about my upcoming plans where will I want to do there. Rather than confront me (sounds like a bit childish) don’t go anywhere, I will listen to parents about where I want to go and why I want to visit there. In addition, I should keep in touch with my emergency contacts and updates with information in case of emergencies.

  2. This is a great topic! While I have been lucky enough to have very supportive parents who are proud of my adventuring all over the world, I know many people are not. I was recently chatting with a friend who has never done much traveling and is finally considering going abroad, but her parents were very critical of the idea. They thought it was a frivolous idea, that she would be hurting her career path, and that it was just an “escape” from facing the real world. Of course, you and I know differently! I suggested several of the things you mentioned in this article, but I think I’ll also forward this post on to her for more encouragement. 🙂

  3. Great advice. I’m 33 and my parents still worry about me traveling alone. They definitely feel better than they used to. This year will be the first time I have a smartphone with the Skype app, so I should be able to have better communication.

  4. I totally agree that communication is the key. After a few weeks of sending my dad short email updates every other day, and skyping when it worked, he relaxed loads. Make sure you inform your parents when you’re about to go somewhere that might not have internet though. I met a girl whose parents reported her missing while she was volunteering in an animal refuge! You’ll also find you meet loads of people when you’re travelling. I’ll always tell my dad if I’m hanging out with a group or about to get a long bus with people I met at the hostel. That helps put his mind at rest.

  5. Great advice! When I traveled alone for the first time last summer, I was an emotional wreck the night before I left because I felt like my dad didn’t support what I was doing. Definitely not the case, he was just worried about me and I was anxious over his worry. Once the rents know all communication isn’t lost, they won’t be so worried!

  6. I remember this problem. I left a week after I turned 19. I didn’t promise to email or call with any regularity, but I did finally accept my mum on facebook, and I let them book me two nights in a hostel for when I first arrived. I was perfectly happy to wing it but they wanted me to have that safety net that first day at least.

  7. I will be having the same problem. Well, not problem because I will be traveling without the need of a parents approval. As you said it’s important to inform them about the places we go but not to much because they will worry more :D. My case is a bit different because I will start with Africa. Been to Asia which is considered safe; talking to them daily? Hmm I would not agree on that; the charm of traveling might be lost, my humble opinion.

    Happy traveling!

  8. I’m SO SO SO grateful that my parents have been so supportive of my travels–but I know they would certainly prefer I stay safely within the confines of Western Europe or the USA! I do think it’s important to take their concerns into account: i.e. I don’t think I’m comfortable with traveling Northern Africa by myself (especially after reading the accounts of other female travel bloggers), and I appreciate their suggestion that the first time I travel there, I should go with a male friend or in a group tour. Other times, I just book the ticket and tell them later, as was the case with a jaunt to Colombia and my one-way ticket to Southeast Asia. I know they’re proud of me, even if my career path has been a little roundabout: my mom is my blog’s best PR! And like you, I ALWAYS tell them if I’m going to be unreachable for a few days and email them more days than not 🙂 Pet peeve: when I come home and they want to know where I am at all hours. Hello, you had no idea what I was doing in Southeast Asia for days on end!!!

  9. Great tips! I’ve been on the road for a year now and my parents still don’t support my travels, as much as I stay in tough and try to ease their worries.

    There is a point where you have to try to understand where they are coming from, be respectful and agree to disagree. If it is truly your desire to travel and see the world – get out and do it now. Just because they don’t support what you are doing – doesn’t mean they still don’t love you!

  10. Totally agree with you on all points. My parents grow more used to me traveling as the years go by. I skype with them when I travel more regularly than when I’m the same country with them, so in a way we feel closer when I’m abroad. They’re actually excited about my indefinite travel plans and my dad keeps adding countries to my list. Go figure. But I do detect they are aging slightly faster these days.

  11. Great points! The first time you take off on your travels, is the hardest for parents. Once they see that you can look after yourself, after your first trip – the rest will be so much easier for them.
    I think the factor that I would stress is like Kate said communicate and keep in touch.

  12. I went on two practice trips on my own in Europe this summer to see how I would enjoy/cope with solo travel. I had the time of my life! I think my parents saw how happy I was after these trips which decreased any anxiety that they had about my year long trip. It also made them see how responsible I was and able to look after myself!

  13. I am so, so glad I come from a place where ‘going walkabout’ is just part of our culture… I got airline tickets for my first solo trip for my birthday when I was 10 (to go visit a family friend) and have been ‘going walkabout’ periodically ever since.

  14. Good for you. Mine is just being hard on me. I know she worries alot. Sometimes way too much till it’s really suffocating. Convincing parents to have us to travel locally is already a dream when taking buses to next town that is just 2 hour apart. Asian kids life is like total lock out especially girls. They prefer us go in tour when all tours bring us to is tourist area. I once told my mum that I might one day go backpacking with friends to Japan she just brush it off harshly saying I’m such a dreamer when I just told her it’s only a future planning. It’s funny when parents dont let us travel locally when they’re okay us travelling oversea .

  15. I traveled solo for 2 years before the internet. It was the best thing. More independence = the more I became my own person. I only had the occasional phone call or letter to and from home. It was scary but good. After a while not scary. The #1 most important thing while traveling is NOT to HURRY! If someone is trying to hurry you – think why are they trying to hurry me. Just don’t be in a hurry.

  16. This was a good read. I’m about to tell my parents I’m leaving my job for 9 years to take a career break and travel the world for a year. I told them 4 years ago in 2010 that I wanted to resign from my job of 4 years (i still have the same job to this day) to travel the world in 2011 for a year. That never panned out, I never did take a career break. The look on my mom’s face and the anxiety. Fast forward to the current time now, I’m about to tell them again, this time I plan to leave in December 2014. Reading this blog entry really helps. I shall try my best to just explain to them how safe it is, what my plans are and most importantly staying in touch. But I don’t think they’ll ever be convinced. My folks are very traditionalist, but i’m hoping they’ll receive it well.

  17. My parents only allow me to travel in domestic places but in the future, i think i can travel abroad at least in some countries around Southeast asia

  18. Even though I’ve traveled for internships and my parents know I’m going to plan trips solo and with friends in the upcoming months, they still get somewhat nervous about me going. Understanding that they mean well and discussing my ideas and options with them has helped immensely! Like you, I also found that when I was traveling I loved communicating with them on a daily basis and have found that I don’t do it as often when I’m home. My sister says she heard from me more when I was in Peru last summer than when we live in the same city.

  19. My parents we absolutely crazy nervous before I left and in the first few months–especially when I went to Thailand.

    After over 12 months of traveling, what has eased their minds the most has been the frequent What’s App messages and Skype calls every few weeks.

    I think they had the idea in their heads that it would be like when they were younger with only landlines as a means of communication and no internet. They love they can see when I was signed online last through What’s App–even if I cannot respond to them right away, at least they know I’m alive as I have “seen” their messages.

    I seriously think these apps prevented at least 4 heart attacks over the last year! 😀


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