Pack some Scotch—plus 10 other tips for traveling with pops
From surfing to hiking, roadtripping to tossing back a pint (or three) of Guinness, you and your dad can—and do—enjoy many of the same activities. So why not explore the world together? It can be pure fun, especially if you follow the advice of our experts: sons and daughters who’ve picked their pops as their adventure buddy.
1. Pepper your itinerary with epic quests
“Dads are overgrown boys who still love playing knight errant and intrepid explorer," explains Via Magazine contributing editor Kristina Malsberger. "They thrive on a sense of purpose away from home.”
After reading in their Thailand guidebook that durian fruit tasted like ‘sugar-covered offal,’ Malsberger and her father knew they had found their Holy Grail. “Pairing his Eagle Scout navigation skills with my rudimentary Thai, we spent an entire afternoon hailing tuk-tuks and scouring crowded markets before locating our spiny, smelly prize. The taste was unforgettable, but equally memorable was the excitement and bonding of a shared pursuit.”
2. Plan everything and then get him on a motor scooter
Brian Thacker, an award-winning Australian travel writer and author of seven books, including “I’m Not Eating Any of That Foreign Muck (Travels With Me Dad),” offers this simple, but crucial, bit of advice: Plan everything.
“When I travel alone, I'm quite happy to find somewhere to stay when I arrive, but my dad would have killed me if we did that. Look up transport timetables and book everything before you go," says Thacker.
Timetables aside, Thacker's then 72-year-old dad was a great sport on their international trek. "I talked him into getting on a motor scooter (he hadn't ridden one in 50 years!) in Gozo, Malta. When he got on it, he was like a teenager zooming around the streets. I also got him on a mountain bike on the island of Comino and on a tuk-tuk tour through the streets of Colombo, Sri Lanka." As his book's title suggests, getting his dad to try food wasn't as easy. "I did get him to an Indian restaurant in Manchester, England, but he had the omelette and chips!"
ZOZI staffer Alexandra Howard and her dad on the back of an elephant in Patong, Phuket, Thailand
3. Don’t assume he can't match you drink for drink, or dive for dive
“If you start treating your parents as fragile, you’ll miss out on many great opportunities,” says ZOZI writer Harry Guinness. “Don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m traveling with my dad, we’d better take things easy.’ If your dad is anything like mine, he’s more than capable of matching you drink for drink.’”
Whenever Guinness and his dad go on a trip together, they invariably do something active. “Sailing, skiing, rock climbing—he’s better at all of them than me,” says Guinness. “Most recently, it was scuba diving in Puerto Rico. He’s been doing it for 30 years while I only have around 10 dives. It wasn’t my dad who was running out of air first.”
4. Do it now.
“If you want to travel with your dad and he’s healthy enough, don’t wait,” says Jeremy Saum, executive editor at AFAR. “My dad hoped to have a retirement filled with travel, but his health has made that impossible.”
If dad is aging, but still getting out and about, “build your itinerary around his energy level and interests,” Saum adds. “If that means picking a day to sit in a park where he can paint watercolors, do it. If he loves baseball, go to a game. Find a minor league ballpark. We’re guys, it helps to have something to look at besides each other if we want to talk. And we might not want to talk about anything but batting averages and whether we’re hungry for another hot dog.”
A dad now himself, Saum has a tip for those who are raising young explorers. “I read all of these things where it’s like, ‘We want our kids to learn something on our trips … ’ Maybe it’s because my son is only 8, but I think most of the learning comes through osmosis, not by creating ‘learning opportunities.’ Maybe I’m setting the bar too low, but at his age, I think he’s supposed to learn that traveling is fun. And that places look and smell and sound different. Big-picture stuff. As he gets older, I trust that his curiosity will guide his learning.”
5. Keep him hydrated and fed.
ZOZI Customer Loyalty Manager Alexandra Howard recently had the privilege (and slight challenge) of traveling to Thailand with her dad. “We spent our time motorbiking around the island, feeding bananas to monkeys, and accidentally wandering into Thai strip clubs. Aside from occasionally reverting into my 14 year-old self, we were able to enjoy our time together by sticking to a few simple rules:
1. Always get your dad his own room. He'll probably want to go to bed at 8 p.m. and you'll be saved from his loud snoring.
2. As noted above, avoid going to Thai strip clubs with your dad at all costs. It will only ever end in embarrassment and/or tears (probably both).
3. If traveling in warm climates, make sure to pack your dad a spare shirt. Dads seem to sweat more than the average person.
4. Keep your dad hydrated and fed. A hungry dad is a cranky dad. Beer will work in a jam.”
Three generations of Yogis: Jaimal, his father, and his son.
6. Scotch can be helpful.
When traveling with his “wonderfully stubborn Air Force Colonel father,” Jaimal Yogis (author of “Saltwater Buddha” and “The Fear Project”) has learned learned to go with the flow and let his dad feel in control. Of course, it’s not always easy.
“Now that I'm a dad myself, I realize that most dads love to seem chill, but ultimately, we also want to feel like the boss. On recent trips, I'll feel my dad-boss status compete with my dad's boss status. ‘No, we're not going to spend two hours at WalMart in Maui!’ But I've also realized I don't have forever with Pa, and his recent cancer diagnosis has really drilled this message in. So, in short, traveling with dad has taught me that:
1. Every trip with dad is precious.
2. Traveling together isn't about the place so much as it's about being together.
3. The trip is more fun when you let go of your own agenda and let (your) dad drive.
4. Scotch can be helpful."
7. Set aside your agenda.
Ironman champion and ZOZI Guru Chris Lieto echoes Yogis advice. Lieto says when it comes to traveling with your dad—or more often in his case these days, as a dad—what’s important is “allowing the other person to have more of the experience.” When he and his son go on a surfing trip, they both want to tackle amazing waves. But what’s “amazing” to Lieto may be a little too big and a little too challenging for his son. Lieto could set his own agenda and ride his own amazing waves, but that’s just going to frustrate his son. Instead, Lieto says, he wants his son to have an experience that will deepen their bond.
“I think we have to humble ourselves. When you have a trip that's more about giving to your son or your father, you're going to have more fulfillment, more excitement, and better memories.”
8. For Pete's sake, take a second to learn from the man.
Elka Karl, a poet and storyteller whose work has appeared most recently in Modern Farmer and is forthcoming on Risk!, uses trips with her dad as an opportunity to reconnect as well as get an expert-level class on outdoor pursuits. Says Karl, “Sure, he may talk a lot—and I mean a lot—but he has an amazing outdoorsmanship background.”
On a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Karl’s dad gave her a crash course in flyfishing that was, as she describes it, truly exhaustive and amazing. “In an age when so many people take courses to learn this stuff, I feel truly lucky to have a dad who can teach it to me.”
9. Compromise, compromise, compromise.
Ask Caitlin Sandberg, an account supervisor at Ellipses, a boutique hospitality consulting and PR firm, to sum up traveling with dad, she’ll say, “It’s all about compromise.”
“When we visited Sweden and Norway last year, my dad wanted to do some touristy things, like book a “Norway in a Nutshell” tour. Despite her initial resistance, Sandberg says "it ended up being one of the most memorable tours I’ve ever been on. And, since I conceded to that, my dad was much more willing to go off the beaten path with me when it came to eating and drinking.”
10. Slow down.
Don’t rush says Sarah Evans, a partner at the hospitality and lifestyle agency JPR. Evans learned this lesson when she and her father drove cross-country from Virginia to San Diego in late September of 2001. “I'd planned to take a one way flight, but my parents insisted I drive since 9/11 had very recently happened. My dad, who was a newspaper editor, documented our trip for The Free-Lance Star. We took our time and interviewed people everywhere from Memphis to Las Vegas to find out how American towns were reacting to 9/11.”
What did she learn from the experience?
“The trip taught me to slow down, listen, and take it all in—I was lucky to see it all with my dad by my side."
11. Read all the words.
One more tip on traveling with dad from my experience. My dad is rarely found without a book. In an overwhelming number our family vacation photos, he's sitting on a bench or leaning against a wall, flipping pages in a hardcover. I admit that I take after him in this way. (Stoplights equal at least a few paragraphs, right?)
But his reading isn’t limited to the latest novel. When we traveled to Florida earlier this year, I was reminded of how long it takes to go through a museum or outdoor exhibit with him. While I would scan the displays, he’d read each of them. When he goes on a road trip, he tries to find one license plate for each state. It’s a game he’s played since I was very young, and I always forget about it until we’re once again walking a little slower in parking lots. When driving somewhere unknown, Siri is not his go-to. My dad still finds his way by perusing the pages of a printed atlas or city map.
There is something very deliberate and meditative about his way of being in the world, and much of it has to do with a connection he has with words. Perhaps there’s a reason I’m a writer.