I recently spent a week in Europe with my mother. I survived, and dare I say, thrived. We met each other at Schiphol airport at 6 a.m., took a train to Brussels, and spent a week exploring Belgium and Amsterdam. That’s a long time to spend with anyone, whether it’s your mom, your boyfriend, or your best mate.
It might be the best thing in the world for some people to spend 24 hours a day with their mom. For me, it’s a different, sometimes taxing relationship, and takes a lot of patience. Before, our little spats would have completely destroyed a trip. Now I’m smarter and realize that I can’t blame the other person for their actions; I can only take responsibility for how I react. When I get home, I can vent and recall ridiculous situations. But if I don’t remain calm and relaxed while I’m traveling, it’s no fun for anyone.
A memorable trip that I still smile about was when I spent a week in Maui with my little sister. We alternated between beach days and active days, like driving the Road to Hana and biking down Haleakala. Sure, she likes to sleep in and stay up later than I do, but we were an instant travel match. Now, I’d go anywhere with her.
Whether you’re traveling with your mom or someone else, here are my tips for success on one-on-one trips:
Know your “No-Fly List”: When friends would say “Let’s plan a trip together!,” I used to respond with “Sure!” Now I only say it if I mean it. I won’t name names, but there are certain people I’d never want to spend extended periods of time with — especially on the road. A two-hour dinner in New York is one thing, but navigating a foreign country together? I recently had a friend I’d never traveled with join me in Argentina and Brazil. It could have been disastrous, but knowing her personality, I had a feeling we’d be okay. The risk paid off: Our trip was amazing, and I got to know her much better.
Schedule alone time: My boyfriend knows I need what we call my “putz” time every day. I need time to roam around, check food and lifestyle blogs, flip through an US Weekly, or look at the photos I took that day. It doesn’t matter whether I’m at home or on the road, this time is vital. I especially love having an hour between the day’s activities and my plans for the evening.
Don’t judge — and don’t force: Just because I want to spend as much time as I can exploring doesn’t mean that I should expect my mom to do so as well. We followed a schedule of planned activity in the morning, then, after lunch, my mom would return to the hotel to relax while I would go wander around. Another example: I don’t like interacting with people in the early morning (Let me enjoy my International Herald Tribune, cappuccino, and smoked salmon in peace!), while my mom likes to chit chat. If you and your travel partner can agree to adopt a strategy of no judgment and no coercion, you’ll be well on your way to bliss.
Avoid touchy subjects: The time to argue over hot-button issues is never when you’re together, alone, overseas. I made this mistake during one lunch in Amsterdam and tried to project a response I desperately wanted my mom to have, fully knowing it would never happen. Yet I tried and it turned into the most awkward, get-me-off-this-island lunch. Why ruin a good time abroad when you can argue at home?
Practice patience: Breathe. Wait a few seconds before responding. Breathe again. When I feel my patience wearing thin, I look down at my rings, twist them around, and then respond.
Be up front about your travel priorities: Everyone has their own idea of what they want to experience and see while they’re exploring a new place. And when you’re traveling with someone else (especially just one other person), it’s important to have these conversations long before the departure date so you’re on the same page. But, keep in mind that as nothing ever goes exactly as planned when you’re traveling, it’s equally important to make adjustments along the way to ensure both of you feel like you’ve gotten what you came for.
Check in: I tend to be the planner (a position I love to be in) when it comes to trips. But now I try to check in with my travel partner du jour throughout the process. My questions range from: “Does this still sound good?” and “Do you still feel like sushi?” to “It’s okay if you want to skip another cathedral, I’m not feeling it either.” With any hope, the other person will return the favor by communicating with you, too.
Laugh: After traveling through Wallonia together, my mom and I had to return our car and make it to the station in time for our train. This led to a comically difficult turn of events — one of those days where it feels like nothing is going right. Turns out most gas stations are closed Sundays, and the only one we found that was open had a line two hours long and a busted credit card machine. The cost of returning the tank empty was astronomically high, so we had to make it work. We missed our train. But we laughed through it — and got on the next one.