5 Things My 86-Year-Old Grandmother Taught Me About Travel

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I feel like I, as a young traveler, am always turning to other young travelers for lessons and tips on the best ways to see and experience the world. Where should I stay in Bangkok? What's the best way to get around New Zealand? How much money should I really budget for a summer in Europe? What should I do, see, try in this or that locale?

It's the whole reason we travel bloggers carry on with blogging for so long — we hope to help others out by sharing what we've learned about traveling.

But I think we sometimes forget to consider the lessons we can learn from others, too.

Chicago weekend getaway

In the past few years, I've gone on a few family vacations that have included my grandmother. My 86-year-old grandmother. And, in watching her on a recent trip to Chicago for a family wedding, I realized that we young travelers could learn a thing or two from her about embracing travel and all it has to offer (and no, I'm not just talking about pocketing all the sample-sized shampoo bottles from your hotel room).

Here are 5 things my grandma reminded me about travel:

Ask for and accept help. My grandma can't walk as far or as long as she used to be able to. When we go to an airport with her these days, she always asks for a wheelchair and someone to get her from Point A to Point B. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that.

As you travel, things are bound to challenge you or perhaps just be outside the realm of what you can cope with on your own. Never equate asking for help with defeat. Sometimes, we could all use a hand or some friendly encouragement.

Sometimes it can be about comfort, not money. I read a lot of blogs that equate true, “authentic” travel with cheap travel. Sure, there are lots of ways to save money when you travel — staying in hostels, traveling in less-expensive parts of the world, walking instead of taking a cab… But if that's not your travel style, you shouldn't force it. If you know you can't sleep well in hostel dorm rooms or that you're going to be miserable for days after taking a 16-hour bus instead of a train that costs a little extra, then go ahead and splurge once in a while. Sometimes, your comfort and peace of mind are worth it.

In Chicago, we ended up taking a lot of cabs so that we could travel as a family with my grandma. Sure, it would have been cheaper to just take a train or walk a few blocks, but it wasn't worth sacrificing her comfort to save a few dollars.

Me, my parents, and my grandma.

Explore what you are able to. As I've said, my grandma can't walk for long distances. But that doesn't mean she stays locked up in her hotel room when we travel. In Chicago, when my parents, sister and I went out for an afternoon walk for a couple of hours, my grandma took a walk 1 block up the street in each direction from our hotel, stopping in a few stores to rest.

There are plenty of constraints placed on us when we travel — even those of us in the best physical shape. Maybe it's time or money that hinders us. Maybe we get sick. Maybe the weather doesn't cooperate. Whatever the obstacle is, you should never let it keep you from exploring what you're able to, even if it means just traveling in your own hometown.

Slow down. We young travelers often try to do and see too much too fast. We zip through cities — or whole countries — and barely even pause long enough to take in what we've just experienced. Some travelers, of course, take the “slow” approach — but not enough.

When we were out walking with my grandma in Chicago, she kept reminding us that we needed to walk slower. In doing so, I think we all noticed perhaps one or two things about our surroundings that we would have missed had we been going at our normal clip.

Talk to strangers. On the afternoons when my grandma stayed in relatively one spot while my family went out to explore the city, we always came back to hear stories about the people she'd met. There was the doctor and his wife from India whom she'd met while getting tea in the hotel lobby. The woman who had decided to come to Chicago last-minute with her sister, and who hadn't even bothered to bring a suitcase. And the various hotel staff at two hotels who'd given her free goodies because she was so friendly.

If you're like me, you probably grew up listening to the “don't talk to strangers” mantra. But perhaps we should rethink that rule. My grandma is proof that talking to locals and fellow travelers alike when you travel can only enhance the experience.

And here's my family with my grandma on my wedding day in 2017 – she's 92 here!

Perhaps I won't be following my grandma's lead to stuff everything in a hotel room that's not bolted down into my suitcase (because “you're paying for it!”), but there are some things to learn from her, and from other travelers like her.

READ NEXT: 10 Ways to Travel More with Limited Vacation Time

What sorts of things have YOU learned from observing others when you travel?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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81 Comments on “5 Things My 86-Year-Old Grandmother Taught Me About Travel

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  1. This is interesting.. I’ve never travelled with my grandparents. But I seem to use the above lessons a lot anyway (I am a guy, and I still ask directions) – maybe, it’s a cultural thing, I don’t know. Very interesting, nevertheless!

      I think travelers SHOULD employ these tips when they travel — and many (like you) do. Which is great! But sometimes it’s good to be reminded, I think. These aren’t lessons you necessarily have to learn from grandparents, but I was reminded of them by traveling with mine. 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

      I am now retired and love to travel. I have no interest rushing from one tourist attraction to another. I did that on a trip with 2 sisters and a brother-in-law. I have traveled on my own before but never talked much with stranger. Your grandmother has inspired me to try. Thanks for sharing her story.

    Wise grandma you have. It’s hard to slow down when most people have limited time to travel for vacation. Many try to squeeze in as much as they can while exploring abroad. Yours truly is guilty of this. But taking your time and soaking in your surroundings does actually make a difference and reminds you why we travel in the first place.

      Oh, I’m guilty of trying to cram in as much as possible, too. It’s almost impossible to want to slow down when you only have a couple of weeks per year (and limited funds) to travel. But it’s an important aspect of appreciating travel and the places you’re visiting, and I’m making a conscious effort these days to take things a bit slower when I can.

    Go, Grandma! Maybe the real lesson is that lots of different approaches work. Bloggers and others give lots of advice as to “the right way” to travel, but I like to think that there are lots of “right ways.” As I always say, just remember to keep having fun.


      You are so right, Nancy. There’s no one “right way” to travel — there’s only a right way for EACH PERSON to travel. And those “right ways” can vary greatly!

    I love this! I’m incredibly close with my 84-year-old grandmother–she is honestly probably the person I miss most from home, just because I know that she misses me so much and wishes that I could just be a “normal” granddaughter and get married and have babies already! However, I know that she’s uber proud of me–and I love to travel and live the lifestyle I do because I know that she would have LOVED to do this if she could have and if it was acceptable when she was young. Our family goes to Hawaii every year–can’t wait to see them for Thanksgiving this year!–and I think what I’ve learned most about watching her travel is that she simply soaks up the moment. It’s tough for her to fly, she has to take lots of naps, and it’s just so much harder for her to travel than it is for me–but when she’s there and she can look out at the water and the palm trees and the sand, she’s just SO happy…she really does live in the moment and enjoy it! Also, she does whatever the hell she wants because she’s over 80 and everyone can just write it off as a crazy old lady 🙂

      That’s awesome that you have such a close relationship with your grandma — and that she still travels with your family! It’s always fun to have a “crazy old lady” around, right? 😉

    Your grandmother is one wise woman. 😉 I’m definitely taking her travel advice!

      That she is! I think we could all take advice like this to heart when we travel!

    I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with my grandma several times over the years, and I’ve always been impressed with her tempo on the road. She’s excited by adventures and up for trying new things, but she’s also quite content to know her limits and kick her feet up and rest. Must take notes. 🙂

      We should all take some notes! That’s how my grandma is, too. She gets really excited by everything new, but also knows when things are going to be too much for her. Knowing your limits is important, no matter what your age!

    What a lovely post. I especially like the last part about talking to strangers. Some of my best travel experiences have come from chatting to strangers and I think we often worry too much about talking to strangers.

      I agree. Meeting people (whether locals or other travelers) when you travel is one of the most rewarding parts, in my opinion. Sometimes, it’s totally acceptable to talk to strangers!

    Love the sentiments here. She’s a wise lady!

      Yes she is! I wonder what she’ll think of this? Lol, I’m sure my parents will show her.

    This is such a sweet post! 🙂 My grandma taught me to take risks and travel when I get the opportunity. She always regretted having turned down opportunities to travel abroad.

      I’ve heard of a lot of grandparents being supportive of their grandkids traveling because they didn’t have the chance to when they were younger. It’s a nice thing, and great that you learned that from your own grandma!

    It’s funny I hadn’t thought about how my grandmother just talks to everyone we meet when we travel together. I guess it’s just the wisdom that comes with age, knowing that other people – travelers and locals – aren’t a source of stranger danger but rather a great way to have a richer travel experience. I guess now it makes even more sense than ever that she was excited to join the AARP network on Tripping, since it’s all about those connections. It’s so interesting the way technology is re-facilitating what our grandparents knew.

      Number one, it’s awesome that there’s an AARP network on Tripping. Number two, it’s great that your grandma is up on her technology! Mine can barely use a cell phone, but yes, she sure does like to talk to anyone and everyone!

    What a sweet post! Love it. Your grandma is a wise woman 🙂

    Indeed! There’s more to travel than racing around and doing it all!

    Now the rest of us can learn from your granny, too!

      Racing around and trying to do it all is fine sometimes. But not all the time. That’s how you get burnt out and start to hate traveling!

    Cute post- my grandmother was very travel savvy and always told me to get a receipt (never know if you you want to go back or return something) and ask for directions. I always am the first one to say- wait, we should just ask someone where we are going!

      Very wise advice from your grandma! (Especially about asking for directions… goes right along with talking to strangers!)

    Great post! We travel with my mother quite often. She’s only 66 and is very active, but we do still make some considerations when we travel with her. For instance, I’m pretty cheap, but sometimes she persuades us to splurge a little and we are always so glad we do. And we take things slower and enjoy the little things. She doesn’t care about cramming in as much was possible like I try to do. She’d rather just take time to enjoy things and soak up local color. The difference in our approaches really comes through in our photographs later. Hers are always so much more interesting than mine.

      It sounds like you mom could teach us all a thing or two about travel, too!

    Your grandma has some great tips on how to really get the most out of traveling, no matter what age. My two favorite: slow down and talk to strangers. These are things that some people over-look or forget when they travel, but they can actually make all the difference in a trip!
    Pursuing Pleasure in Thailand

      I think the “slow down” and “talk to strangers” lessons are probably the two most important on this list. Though, there are probably many more I could add here!

    What a lovely, lovely post! This is obviously something very close to your heart. Has your grandma read this? I’m sure she’ll be very proud of you if she does 🙂

      I don’t think she’s read it (she’s not the Internet-savvy type), but I’m sure my parents will show it to her. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

    I agree with all of these! Especially the part about slow travel. I spent my first few months rushing around trying to see everything as quickly as possible and ended up exhausted.

      I can understand traveling a bit more quickly if you’re the average American stuck with only 2 weeks of vacation per year. In that case, sometimes it’s really difficult to convince yourself to slow down (I should know!). But yeah, if you go on at breakneck speed for months at a time, it definitely would get exhausting. I hope you’re going to slow down for a bit now?

    I agree with your Grandmother. Travel isn’t only about the bucket-list destinations, but it’s also about the people and the culture. You can find out just as much from a city be exploring the streets to staying in one place and meeting the right “strangers”.

      I couldn’t agree more! Though, I still really enjoy exploring the streets, too. 😉

    You grandmother will be proud of you. What a lovely, lovely post! This is obviously something very close to your heart. I’m also fond of traveling and will keep your grandmother’s advices with me.

      Thanks for the kind words, Jason. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for reading!

    I’m certainly guilty of looking to young travelers for nearly all of my travel advice. I forget that my own grandma visited dozens of countries during her lifetime! Thanks for the unique perspective!

      Sounds like your grandma probably would have a lot of travel advice to share, too! Perhaps you should interview her about what her travel experiences have been like.

    So true about talking to strangers. I find it easier to talk to just whoever happens to be around when I am a tourist, for some reason. And you do meet interesting people who have stories to tell.

      Travel does certainly open you up to meeting some interesting and amazing people. I don’t always find it easy to talk to strangers at first, but it’s definitely worthwhile to make an effort to do so.

    I really like your point that sometimes it’s about comfort instead of money… why travel if you’re just going to be miserable in awful accommodations and eating peanut butter sandwiches every day? If you don’t mind hostels or PB&J, that’s awesome, but people shouldn’t feel bad about spending money on what’s important to them. Save where you can, but then have a good time!

      EXACTLY! I’ll admit that I sometimes spend with reckless abandon when I travel (OK, I never go into severe debt or anything, but still…). But this is just because, right now, travel is not my lifestyle. It’s a treat for me to travel, and I don’t see why I should have to sacrifice comfort just because someone else out there says budget travel is the only “real” way to travel. I don’t like hostel dorm rooms, so I usually stay in private hostel rooms or cheap motels/hotels instead. Having a comfy, quiet place to sleep is important to me, and I don’t care what anyone else says!

    As I become more and more “wise” and travel with those that are “wiser” than me :), I have noticed that they are less and less tempered when asking for a deal. Just about every hotel room I’ve stayed at with a senior, they ask if they can have the senior discount off for the room and especially at restaurants (when appropriate). They are definitely not afraid to ask for help, but they are even less afraid of saving money :). Thanks for your post!

      Haha, this is so true!!! In Chicago, we were already getting a discount on our hotel rooms because we were in town for a wedding. But my grandma was still asking about all sorts of discounts. Lol. Always out to save a penny!

    There is nothing like a good old advice from an elder in the family. I always seek them, even if they are wrong it helps me understand things from another perspective I never thought about.
    As for traveling, all I know I’ve learned from my parents and that is, as closer to nature you get, as better. And when I say nature, I mean wild mountains…

      Well, it certainly seems like some of that wisdom has rubbed off on you, Cristian!

    What a lovely post! Your grandma sounds like the kind of person I’d want to hang out in a hotel lobby with too!

      She’d certainly be willing to chat! She’d probably try introducing you to others, too. Lol.

      Thanks for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

    I really like this post. There is so much we all can learn from our grandparents and other elders, and I think asking them questions and really listening to them is becoming a lost tradition in our society. Your grandma’s advice is not only applicable to travel, but to life in general as well 🙂

      Yup, it’s not just travelers who can learn from this advice! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

    Very good tips!! I’ve experienced so much by taking my time, asking for help and talking to strangers! All make the travel unique!

      Yup! Proof that talking to strangers isn’t always a bad thing! Glad you liked the post. 🙂

    I love these tips! I have traveled extensively with my grandma, and you really do have to take into account comfort along the way. Good stuff!

      Yup! And I think keeping comfort in mind is important, no matter your age (at least, as far as I’m concerned… I hate being uncomfortable just to save a few bucks!).

    Hey it is great reading ur full blog.I am a software engg so frankly speaking cannot be a full time traveller. But yes I always is part time, SIP type traveller . Once in 4 months I go to travel with my best pal. It is realy interesting to read ur travel. And the way u write is smooth as Italian cheese……

      Well you certainly don’t have to be a full-time traveler to travel!

    Definitely great advice! I’m also close to my grandma but she doesn’t travel, so great luck you have to be able to share a bit of that with her!


    I agree with your second point completely. Back when I was traveling at age 19 or 20, it was all about stretching my dollar as far as I could while sacrificing all comforts. At the time it was fine because I didn’t have a lot of money and I wanted to see more of the world. But nowadays, I find my comfort to be very important while traveling. Sure, I can take the 12 hour bus ride to Bangkok for $20, or I can fly there in less than an hour for about $100. Now that I’m older, wiser and have more money, there is no chance in hell I am sitting on another bus for 12 hours.

      Haha, yup, I totally understand! That just goes to show that a travel style can change over time – and there’s nothing wrong with that!

    Love your point about talking to strangers. I always believe if you really want to get intimately close to a foreign culture, having conversations with the local people is the big step forward. Coming from a conservative Asian culture, I used to think it is “common sense” that the states should just ban the ownership of guns. But when I was having my own “I need to be away for a long while” solo trip in the states, I then realise through many engaging conversations with the locals that this situation is nothing less than complex – it runs way back to how the ownership of guns is so intricate with the history of the States, and the constitutional rights. It really blew my mind away and I was laughing embarrassingly at myself on my so called “common sense.” But oh well, that’s why we travelled! 🙂


      I agree – talking to strangers often sparks some really interesting conversations and cultural exchanges!

    What a lovely post! We can always learn so much if we pay attention to things we may typically ignore.

      I agree! Sometimes the big lessons can be learned from very small gestures.

    Granny has some good tips! I sometimes have to force myself to slow down too – hard to do when you want to ‘see it all’ on your vacation. I also prefer comfort – no hostels for this gal. 😉 Since I travel solo quite often, I’m always talking to strangers; you can meet so many interesting people!

      I totally understand how tough it can be to just slow down sometimes – I’m like you; I always want to see and do as much as possible!

    I have been poring over your blog for the past few hours. I really appreciate all of your posts and wise words! My grandma is currently 91 years old and it sounds like your grandma has a very similar spirit to her. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I will have to ask if my grandma has any travel advice!

    I have a question that is a little off topic, if that’s alright. I am just now starting to plan a two month Europe adventure for next fall (yes a full year in advance, but it sounds to me like you share a similar attitude and eagerness). At the beginning of this post you mentioned asking peer travelers “How much money should I really budget for a summer in Europe?” Could you tell me after your experience what your personal take on this question is now?

    Thank you so much for everything! You’re great!

      Hey Catherine! So happy that you stumbled upon my blog! 🙂

      As for your Europe question (and no, it’s never too early to start planning!), it really depends on which countries you’ll be visiting and whether you plan to stay in hostels or hotels. If you’re going to most of the “famous” big cities in Europe (you know, like London, Paris, Rome, etc.), you’ll need to budget more than if you’re traveling to places like Budapest or Prague. And of course staying in hostels would make it cheaper!

      There’s no real solid answer. I know some people who have scraped by in Europe for $1000-$1500 per month, and others that have spent upwards of $3000-$4000 per month! It all depends on where you’re going and how budget-conscious you plan to be!

    I love this, I relate so much to it because I live with my nan and these are her lessons too!

    I like this post so much! Your granny is just great. And you too, because you learn and accept things from experienced older people.
    My grandma (she’s not alive anymore, she was 93) was a solo traveller too. At that time it was not common that women travelled alone.
    Sometimes, when we visited grandpa, (home alone 😉 ) she was often gone…;-) (finally sometimes he didn’t remember where she was at that moment, hahaha..).
    My father had the same genes… and his children 🙂 too. That’s what I recognize in your stories too.

    SO how is your grandma now?

      My grandma is thankfully still alive and well! Traveling less these days, but still has feisty as ever. 🙂

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