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. 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!

    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!)

    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!

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

    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!

    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!

    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.

    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!

    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!

    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 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? 😉

    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!

    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.

    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.

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