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Your Sanity Starts And Ends With You: Tips On Traveling With Your Mother

I get a queasy sensation in my stomach each time my mom enters a souvenir store during our travels. She has a tendency to buy souvenirs just for the sake of buying one.  I mean, I want to know what kind of bliss is there in buying another Starbucks mug in Malaysia (the cupboards are busting with them back home) or a ridiculously priced bag at The Ruins in Bacolod that doesn’t even bear a print of the place?  Why pay $10 for a poorly-taken group shot in Petra when I have a whole album of the group in all possible angles on my phone—not to count the shot I took with her own phone?

Somehow I feel it’s not always about bringing home a souvenir but the obligatory act of not leaving a souvenir store empty handed. Then I realized, my reaction is really a product of our travel styles and personalities. I am perennially pragmatic and always think that money can be spent in more priceless experiences like tasting a pricey giant oyster at a local market while my mother is simply enjoying a trip the way she knows how—buying souvenirs for her loved ones and friends because it is expected and that brings her joy.


The author with her mother (in hat) in Petra, Jordan


Sharing a travel experience with your mom is probably one of life’s greatest gifts especially if you witness her enjoying a place she never thought she’d visit in her lifetime.  But the fact is travelling can be a tricky activity for two or more people especially when familiarity kicks in and the age difference between you and your mom compounds the situation. So here are some tips and tricks to keep your wits about as your mom asks you to accompany her to the bathroom for the nth time.


Your sanity starts and ends with you

While you are entitled to enjoy the trip as much as she does, have the mindset that your enjoyment is really anchored to hers. If she refuses to climb the stairs at the Phnom Bakheng temple in Seam Reap, then stay with her at the base if you must. Never mind that you can’t see the spectacular sunset. If she refuses to bring her hat knowing it will be a sun-filled afternoon in Penang, then silently tuck her hat in your bag and take it out when needed. Learn to adjust and let go of things that can ignite a friction. Remember, selflessness begins once that luggage is neatly tucked in cling wrap, which you will have to peel yourself once you reach your destination. Once your mom is neatly tucked in bed at your hotel room watching TV, escape for some me time at the pool or you can just head straight to the bar.


Include her in the planning

If you’re having a dilemma between Thailand and Malaysia, allow your mom into the planning process and allow her to choose. A walk in the botanical gardens of Penang might be her cup of tea instead of visiting the temples of Ayutthaya. She might know a friend in Las Vegas that she wants to visit, so save San Francisco for another time. This way, the lines of open communication has been set at the homefront and you’ve clearly sent the message that you want her to enjoy this trip as much as you do.


At Air Itam Dam in Penang Island, Malaysia


Expect role reversals.

If your mom used to be your protector and comforter while growing up, roles will drastically change once you get on a trip with her as an adult. If her seat on the plane won’t properly recline, offer yours even if you’ve dreamt of catching a snapshot of the Japan alps from your window seat on that flight to L.A. If you didn’t anticipate a Siberian-level chill on that tourist bus, offer your knit if you have to. You will be a bit surprised that she will readily accept without considering you but don't take this personally because it’s a precious revelation of just how age has taken over and it’s your time to care for her now. Just be thankful she is agile enough to see the world with you.


Bring a mini pharmacy

Never assume that pharmacies will always be accessible at the places you will be going to. Anticipating sickness on the road isn’t just a skill girl scouts should know.  And this is not just for your mom, but for both of you. A bad cold can hit in places where the weather dips sharply by sunset.  Travel diarrhea can be expected in hot locales where food can easily be exposed to bacteria. Have a pack of lozenges, cough meds, band-aid, laxatives (for constipation), and aspirin in your travel kit.  These can come in handy and not just for sickness on the road, as a friend has discovered. She shared a story of how her jewelry-loving mom was nursing a bad cold all throughout a trip and drank a rather strong cold medicine that got her in REM state by the time their tourist bus stopped at a diamond polishing factory in Israel. “We probably saved $1,000 dollar that day, thanks to the antihistamine.” 


The author (on camel) and her mother in Giza


Sneak out food from the buffet

Believe me, you’ve paid for that.  That blueberry muffin and scone tucked in that immaculate napkin with the hotel’s name embossed on it will be your savior while you wait for the entire tour delegation to take their groufies and selfies at the pyramids in Giza. Your mom’s hunger pangs can be as predictable as her bladder— meaning they strike at any given time so food and water by your side is a must. Most  hotels are aware that guests sneak out food and just really allow them to do so as long as it doesn’t include a whole baguette. Btw, nuts and dried fruits go a looong way so head for that oatmeal and yoghurt section during breakfast buffet.