We at Beyond Our Horizons just came back from a whirlwind tour of Spain, Switzerland and France with Yoda’s parents and it was an eye opening experience to say the very least.
While we were on the trip, we saw so many families taking organised tours with their elderly parents. Although that’s convenient, it’s much more fulfilling and interesting for the parents if the trips are personalised to their interests. However, if you and your parents are living in separate countries like us, arranging a whole trip might seem overwhelming. But fear not, here are some tips to help you plan and execute a trip to remember with your parents. These, and a few deep breaths will get you sorted in no time.
Short background: Yoda’s parents have lived in India all their lives, and this was the first time they were visiting Europe. Needless to say, they were very excited! Dad is an avid fan of football and loves being in natural surroundings, and mum loves literature and food – so this was a perfect opportunity to organise a small, personalised tour of some of our favourite destinations for them. We’re pleased to report that the trip was suitably eventful, and they’ve returned to the UK with us safe & sound and very happy with their experiences!
Tips & Tricks
- Start planning about 2 months in advance (if any of you need a visa)
If your parents need a Schengen visa, you need to start planning atleast 2 months in advance. Let us explain why. Firstly, your parents will have their own busy schedule, and visa appointments will need to align their availability. Secondly, you need major travel and accomodation tickets and an itinerary to support a Schengen visa application – which takes quite a bit of time and effort, especially if you’re doing it by yourselves like we did (i.e. not using a travel agent service). An incredible amount of paperwork needs to be filled, printed out, collated and submitted to the consulate, so the sooner you start planning, the better! Plus, this gives you a cushion of time in case processing the visa takes longer than usual.
- Involve the parents
Involve your parents in planning an itinerary, right from the beginning. Gauge their interests and try to map attractions to those interests (like visiting the football stadium of dad’s favourite team FC Barcelona). You’ll be surprised to find all sorts of hidden interests that you had no idea about (turns out mum has an insatiable interest in French cuisine)! This is even more important if your parents are unfamiliar with the country they’ll be visiting. Fair warning, this will take a few Skype / phone sessions , but trust us it’ll be worth it.
- Make an (personalised) Itinerary
This is probably the most important point after the visa stuff. Have an itinerary ready as soon as possible in the process. Doesn’t need to be complex – just probable dates and destinations. For us, showing the destinations on a map of the country we were planning to visit worked best. Make sure the parents are happy with the plan – after all, it is their trip, you’re merely the guide! 😀 Also make sure you’re considering your parents’ physical fitness level when planning the day trips and such, we had alternating busy days on ours so Yoda’s parents could have a relaxing trip.
Tip: To achieve expert level, plan what attractions you’d like to cover on each day at this stage and watch your parents roll their eyes and ask you to chill out. 😛
- Set Expectations
Let them know what visiting each attraction entails. Visiting Versailles palace or Louvre, for example, involves standing in queues and walking with crowds. Visiting some places may require quite a bit of walking. Some beaches may allow nudity. Although this seems obvious to us, these factors may be challenging for parents, especially if they have a phobia or are from a conservative cultural background. Be as open and honest about the destinations as possible, so they can make an educated judgement about visiting specific places/attractions.
- Pre-book as much as possible
Buy advance tickets as much as possible to save to you time and hassle during the trip, especially for popular destinantions. We bought advance tickets to top attractions like Louvre, Versailles palace and of course, major transportation – flights, trains. We even made a few dinner reservations, most notably at Xiringuto Escriba, Barcelona, to ensure the parents could enjoy their food! Most restaurants happily take bookings by email, some may prefer a phone call.
- Google Maps is your friend
Use it. Not only during the trip itself, but also as a reference during planning. Having a handy reference about local transport schedule will help you make your journeys as efficient as possible.
- Carry lots of water and snacks
Okay, I know this sounds very mumsy, but it’s always a good idea to carry ample water and high-energy snacks with you, especially if you’re out during a hot summer day. When four of you are travelling together, this is an practical thing to consider. And if you’re going to the beach, a bottle of sunscreen always comes in handy!
- Be Flexible
During the trip, be flexible with timings unless you have reservations. It’s surprising how the most random things can give us the most joy. When we were visiting Sitges, mum enjoyed swimming around in the warm sea so much that we actually extended our beach time to cover most of our day, only getting out to stuff our faces with patatas bravas! In Paris, we spent an afternoon just strolling around the city, stopping at calligraphy supplies shops, creperies, parks, book discussions…basically wherever our heart desired. In Champagne, we drove around some of the most beautiful villages, tasting champagne from the local producers we could spot. I’m not ashamed to admit that we even spent a rainy evening having KFC fried chicken and debating about whether their UK counterparts are crispier, right in the heart of Paris. Although they didn’t involve any attractions, these memories will always be treasured.
- Take silly/embarassing pictures (lots of them)
For memories, ofcourse. 😛 Perspective pics, posing with sculptures, weird selfies – take them all, you know you want to. Enjoy yourselves (but be mindful about not being disruptive – travellers’ code!).And when the trip is over, thank your partner for being a sport and putting up with your crazy family. Maybe even give him an extra icecream and cook him a nice dinner.
Do you have any tips for travelling with your parents or experiences that stick out? Sound off in the comments below, we’ll love to read them.
© 2017 Beyond Our Horizons