Lonely Planet Writer

Travels with mother: the benefits of hitting the road with a parent

Type ‘family travel’ into the search engine of your choice and you will be inundated with advice on travelling with children. Advice on travelling with your parents, however, is much harder to come by. Is this because no one does it? Or because no one has ever lived to talk about it?

It was with some trepidation that in 2007 I said 'yes' when my mother suggested five days of quality time on safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. I love my mum, but I can guarantee that within five minutes of being in the same car or the same kitchen, some friendly but unprompted advice will escalate into a heated verbal exchange of passive-aggressive suggestions.

So how would we go spending a week of quality time together? Surprisingly well in fact - what I learnt is that five days in someone’s company in a completely new environment is very different from five minutes of daily life, especially when it comes to travelling with someone who has known you your whole life.

Here are some of the benefits of travelling with a parent that I took home from our time in Kenya:

You have an excuse to go slow: I am the first to admit to having a fear of missing out. I will usually try to pack too much into each day and get tired and defeated by mid-afternoon. Travelling with mother meant slowing down my natural pace and appreciating that you do see so much more sometimes by simply standing still.

You enjoy a better standard of accommodation: There is no point arguing with them about where to stay if they are paying the bill. It doesn’t hurt to say thank you and offer to get a round of drinks in.

You have the time to have conversations without being interrupted: Being in new surroundings can help take you out of the routine that leads you to having the same conversation.

You get to appreciate talents you didn’t realise they had: Mother is a bird watcher, which means that she could tell the difference between a cuckoo and a coucal. A slightly more useful talent is her ability to speak Swahili.

You enjoy shared experiences that make for priceless memories: When I look at a photo of mum enjoying a cup of tea in the middle of the reserve, I can just about forget what it felt like to be woken up at four in the morning so we could see the wildlife out and about before they went off for their daytime naps.

The author and her mum take tea in Kenya

Where once I wondered if 20-somethings and 50-somethings were meant to travel together, in Kenya I realised that I was pretty lucky to be able to count my mum as a friend. Friends that should not cook together, but can happily travel together.

Further reading: Take a look at all the great advice for family travel on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum