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.

Family
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. 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. 🙂

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

    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!

    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!

    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.

    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! 🙂

    Glenn
    Singapore

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

    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!

    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!

    Jennifer

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