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. 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!

    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!).

    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 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. 🙂

    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.

    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!

    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!

    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!

    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’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.

    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 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. 😉

    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?

    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!

    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!

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