I spent a month traveling around Australia and New Zealand with my mom and sister and this is what happened.
First, please know that I love my family dearly. And I only slightly dread what they will have to say after reading this, but I know that spending a month together was hard on all of us. Especially considering we have different levels of travel experience and went in with varying expectations.
Sometimes I find it easier to talk about the bad parts of a trip because it makes for a more interesting story. Reenacting arguments, or dramatic exits, makes for a better story than just saying “yeah it all went great.” However, good things happened too, and those are just as noteworthy as the bad.
What made these specific experiences stand out is that I got to share them with my family and that’s pretty special. We’ll always have the memories from this trip to reminisce on as our lives continue to change.
One of my favorites was when I saw my mom take a shot of tequila like it was (almost) nothing in a club at the end of our pub crawl. Mind you, she was the oldest one in our group (by far) and keeping up with the best of them. Well, she sat at the bar while we danced our hearts out, rather embarrassingly, and never complained about how loud it was. That’s pretty legendary if you ask me.
Or, when we all went snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef and tried not to drink the entire ocean as we oohed and awed at one of the greatest natural wonders of the World.
When my sister and I swam right above a sea turtle at The Great Reef and both nearly drowned because we quite literally screamed with excitement while underwater. I know my mom wishes she could have seen it, but it meant a lot that we got to tell her about it.
And the less epic, but still priceless moment my sister realized she put salt and not sugar in her coffee right after taking a huge gulp. My mother and I laughed hysterically as my sister frantically tried to concoct a mixture of sugar and water that would counteract the quarter teaspoon of salt she’d added. Her efforts proved futile and that one act quickly became the punch line for all of our subsequent anecdotes. Comments similar to “the ocean tasted just like your coffee” seemed to only get funnier as time went on. It was a small mistake, but I will always get a good laugh when I picture her face after she put her $6, saltwater coffee down in disgust.
It’s inside jokes like these that make families unique. And trips like this always provide plenty of fresh content. There are countless moments like these that I will never forget and I would not have wanted to share them with anybody else.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, being with family anywhere for extended periods can be difficult. Throw in the stress of being in a foreign country, and you have a cocktail of emotions waiting to explode at the slightest inconvenience.
For starters, only my sister and I had sim cards so my mom wasn’t able to do what she wanted without extensive planning. Again, because we had data, often that planning fell on us which frustrated everybody. I know my mom wanted independence, but with her limited foreign travel experience and no data, it was nearly impossible for her to navigate cities. I get it, we’ve all been there, but that didn’t mean it was less frustrating for any of us.
Second, we had different travel styles that didn’t always mix well. I am a relatively experienced traveler with most of my travels being done alone. Traveling with two other people meant I had to make adjustments which, I wasn’t always keen on considering I like to do what I want when I want (I’m working on it).
This meant I had to curb my compulsive desire to always go off and do my own thing which I found challenging. I had to switch my thinking from “this is my vacation” to this is a “family vacation.” And I’ll be the first to say I didn’t always do that very well.
However, I think there is a balance that comes with traveling with family for long periods. While spending time with them is important, so is having time for yourself. It can quickly become exhausting to constantly be with anybody for an entire month. Whether you’re abroad, or back home. There shouldn’t be the expectation to be together all the time, nor should you constantly be apart. Again, it’s a balance. One I suggest you figure out with your family before you get there so everyone goes in with the same expectations.
Out of respect (fear) for my family, this part is going to be dedicated to my ugly of the trip.
A couple of years ago, my sister and I had this grand idea to take a family trip to Australia to celebrate our 2019 graduations, her from grad school and me from undergrad. Around December 2018, I realized that graduation was approaching faster than we realized. So, I decided to make a google drive and start planning to show my family that this trip was, in fact, going to happen.
I love planning trips, I always have, so I was ecstatic to get to plan a month-long trip for my family in Australia. It took a lot of time to coordinate schedules, but we finally got our dates picked out. With my experience, availability, and passion for it, most of the planning fell on my shoulders. At the time, I didn’t mind because it’s what I live for.
However, after arriving in Australia, my planning role transitioned into me becoming the go-to for all the accommodation and transportation-related questions my mom and sister had. For a normal human, this wouldn’t matter. They would answer their questions about how we were getting from the airport to our hostel and move on.
For me, a
slightly resentful person, I quickly became irritated and frustrated that they couldn’t figure it out themselves. I mean, my god, I HAD MADE A GOOGLE DRIVE. I told them to make the files available offline before we got there so this wouldn’t happen (aka prevent my resentment). But, it didn’t happen, and my exceptionally organized google drive was left nearly abandoned (rip).
Looking back, it’s easy to see how ridiculous I was being. I was in a gorgeous country, doing what I love, with people that I love. However, at the moment it was easy for me to get caught up in my stubborn (read: irritating) idiosyncrasies. For that, I’m sorry. And I’m pretty sure my mom and sister are sorry for their own stubborn idiosyncrasies too, but they can write their own blog about those.
Regardless of all of this, it was still the trip of a lifetime. I mean, my sister and I swam with sea turtles on the Great Barrier Reef!!!! We will never experience something like that again. My mom got the trip of a lifetime and I know how much that means to her. And I got to plan it, which means a lot to me.
Going forward, for the sake of my family, and yours too if you find yourself planning an extended family vacation, I am going to offer three simple suggestions:
- Establish everyone’s expectations ahead of time
- Try to be patient with each other, especially when getting to and from places
- Take time to yourself (in moderation) and don’t feel guilty about it
And if those fail you, I can tell you with complete honesty, despite all the good, the bad, and the ugly, traveling with family will always be worth it.