A die-hard solo traveller learns to share, compromise and laugh

For several years, I had been coaxing my mother to take a trip to Europe with me. “It will be fun to spend time alone together,” I promised. “It will be an adventure.” After resisting my overtures for some time, she finally agreed to accompany me on a trip to Paris.

In the weeks leading up to the trip, I pictured us eating cheese and sipping wine, strolling along cobbled boulevards and spending lazy afternoons at sidewalk cafes. We were going to Paris — the City of Light — one of the most beautiful and fabled cities in the world. We would be creating memories together. Expectations were high.

There were, however, two wrinkles in this plan. The first was that I had grown quite accustomed to happily travelling on my own. The solo traveller pleasures of doing whatever you want, whenever you want and wherever you want should never be underestimated.

The second was that while my relationship with my mother is very good, it also — perhaps like many other mother-daughter relationships — has its share of difficult moments. It often takes a lot of patience on both our parts to make it work. We are just too different. Or perhaps we are just too much alike.

I think it’s fair to say, though, that there was a time when travelling overseas together for weeks would have been unthinkable. But 20 years after we last took a trip together — a family vacation to Disneyland when I was a teenager — we set off for Europe for a session of overseas motherdaughter bonding.

Most things about our trip went very well. Others, to be blunt, did not. Like many other starry-eyed tourists, I fell victim to having too high expectations of Paris. The postcard perfect views are accompanied by rainy days, obscene prices and trash bobbing in the Seine. But Paris — when accepted on its own terms — is a truly wonderful city.

My expectations of the trip as a mother-daughter bonding experience were also perhaps a bit too high. Used to travelling solo, I had to adjust. But once we both accepted Paris — and each other’s travel-related idiosyncrasies — we had a very enjoyable time.

We have tentative plans for another trip together. Next time around I will keep in mind a few things:

COLLABORATE ON TRIP PLANNING

One day, as we were beelining through multiple Paris museums, my mother sat down on a bench and told me she was done looking at art. While I was enjoying the sprint to cram as many museums as possible into one day, my mother had reached her museum exhaustion threshold. The root of the problem: we had different expectations of the day.

This isn’t necessarily unique to travelling with your mother, but be upfront about what you each wants to see and experience. Everybody has their own idea of what makes a great holiday. Have a conversation about it well before your departure date. Make some plans — always keeping in mind that when travelling, nothing ever goes exactly as planned.

Be flexible. Be willing to compromise. Have realistic expectations of everybody’s time, energy and willingness to, for example, visit five museums in one day .

LET YOUR MOTHER BE A MOTHER

You may think that, as an adult, you are fully capable of dressing appropriately for the weather or applying your own sunscreen/bug spray properly. This is wrong. The maxim “once a mother, always a mother” holds true regardless of how old you are.

We held a running conversation about how I should be doing things. My simple advice for not letting maternal over-protectiveness ruin your holiday: breathe. Have patience. Wait a moment or two before responding. Humour your mother, recognizing that she really does just want the best for you — even if it drives you absolutely crazy.

Also recognize (even if you don’t really believe it) that you might also be annoying her with some of your own quirks and habits.

SPLIT COSTS

An extension of a mother’s need to correct and overprotect is the natural inclination to try to pay for everything: meals, taxis, and the “correct” kind of bug spray. As a habitual low-budget traveller, this was a novel — and initially quite enjoyable — experience for me. I ate much better than I had budgeted for and found I enjoyed air-conditioned taxis much more than smelly subways. Then guilt set in and I started to deflect my mother’s attempts to pay. Try to split costs equally. Let your mother pay for a few meals, but return the favour when you can.

FIND WAYS TO DE-STRESS

Travel, especially overseas, can be inherently stressful. Clumsily navigating through language barriers, warily tasting unknown food and dealing with unfamiliar (and often bewildering) plumbing are just a few travel challenges that can leave both you and your mother overwhelmed, irritable and prone to starting pointless arguments with each other.

Find ways to relax and take the edge off, even if it means just sitting down with a coffee and a book. Resist the urge to do and see too much. Acknowledge and accept the (somewhat disappointing, but true) fact that it isn’t possible to see everything. And, last but not least, build some solo time into your scedule.

REMEMBER TO LAUGH

Our trip had its share of comically difficult events — misreading a bus schedule and finding ourselves stranded 42 km from our weekend campsite; misplacing our luggage on a train; foregoing a proper electrical convertor and blowing our hotel’s breaker.

None of these mini-disasters, among many others we experienced, were funny at the time. Truthfully, they caused considerable friction between us while they were occurring. But having the ability to laugh at yourself and your follies is essential when travelling.

Without being too sappy, remembering to laugh is perhaps the best way to turn inherently stressful experiences into bonding opportunities.

ktaylor@cjournal.ca