I clambered up the perilous incline on all fours, the crumbling rock stinging my fingertips like nettles. Below, the wind-whipped staircase bowed at a vertigo-inducing, banana-like angle. When at last I staggered to the apex I gaped in stupefaction at the Great Wall that twisted over the Chinese hills like a silver dragon. Suddenly, I was overcome with a sensation of ephemeral connection with those who over the last 2,700 years have likewise gazed out at one of the ancient world’s most fantastic accomplishments.
Eager to capture the whimsical sense of temporal kinship, I turned to the bearded sexagenarian beside me. “Can you please take a photo for me?” I inquired as I handed over my camera.
“Sure. But let’s lose that smudge, eh?” Before I could react, he licked his finger and rubbed what was possibly two-millennia-old dust off of my cheek—much to the incredulous sniggers of my fellow travelers.
Such are the consequences of backpacking with your father. At least we weren’t in the hostel bar that time.
Dad was an indie traveler of his own right in the 1970s, exploring the North American west coast in his Volkswagen bus while ardently scanning the radio stations for Pink Floyd tracks. Up until five years ago, the most exotic place he’d been was Scotland. That all changed when he joined my best friend, her father and I on a comically grueling, antic-filled trek through the Annapurna region in Nepal. The two of us have since backpacked Ecuador, Egypt and Jordan, Chile and Bolivia, and of course China.
Traveling with Dad has a few minor drawbacks, such as limited opportunities to party and heated debates over who needs to finish her vegetables. Yet these are inconsequential when compared to the windfalls. First of all, my father’s unbridled enthusiasm and candid wonderment for life on the road is invigorating and inspirational.
Secondly, our adventures let us to get to know one another as friends. We’ve had inside jokes, philosophical debates and exhaustion-fueled discussions about absolutely nothing during 26-hour train journeys. The memories and experiences we share have subsequently enhanced our at-home relationship.
Nearly everyone we meet is delighted by the notion of our rag-tag father/daughter team. I was initially concerned about how our dorm-mates would react upon seeing a sun-spotted, surgery-scarred 67-year-old grunting and swearing his way onto the top bunk. After all, most hostel goers are in their twenties and thirties. Yet as soon as we introduce ourselves, wary glances become warm grins, and we frequently end up exploring local sights and highlights with such newfound friends. Outdated references and smartphone ineptness aside, Dad fits right in with his good humor and energetic wanderlust.
But if “that’s so cool you two are traveling together” is the reaction we most often get, then “I could never backpack with either of my parents” is a close runner-up—a sentiment I believe is not only tragic but also untrue. Until we arrived in Kathmandu, I never fathomed traveling with my father. However, he’s turned out to be one of my favorite travel buddies (and I swear I’m not only saying with my birthday present in mind).
Of course, there is a learning curve when it comes to backpacking with your parents. Rewarding as the experience may be, you will inevitably hit a few snaps. Here are some tips for how to (successfully) travel with Mom or Dad.
Location, location, location
Pick a place which you are both keen to explore and ensure that you have the same sights and activities in mind. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything together—Dad sat and watched as I scaled the monoliths in the Atacama desert, then pointed and laughed when I couldn’t get down—but it does mean you are going in with shared interests and intentions. You should both be involved in the researching and planning process. For questions and ideas to help determine whether you and your parent would be good travel buddies, check out the article Alone Together
If this is your first trip together, you may want to forego the six-month transcontinental adventure for three weeks in one concentrated area. As with all travel companions, you never truly know how well you get along until you’re stranded at a remote bus stop after dark during a monsoon, and the bank has frozen your card, and a pickpocket stole your phone, and that shrimp taco you ate for lunch isn’t sitting well… and you’ve just run out of toilet paper.
Ix-nay on the arty-pay
If you think you can pull off some teen-movie double-life shtick wherein you’re the agreeable progeny by day and the drunken raver at night, think again. That isn’t to say you too must retire to your bunk at 8:30 p.m. to rest your bunions while completing a crossword, but don’t hit up the pub crawl. Not only will your hungover crankiness be ill-received, but you’ll be going on that sunrise hike regardless of how poorly you feel. Trust me.
The key to any healthy relationship…
(Altogether now) …is communication. This means anticipating, understanding and respecting each other’s limits. More than likely, your mom or dad will need the occasional rest stop, and they probably won’t be able to dash through a crowded station to catch a departing train. On the upside, being your mom or dad, they will be far more understanding than most travel mates when you’re feeling sub-par. Unless, as previously mentioned, it is the result of your own hedonistic decisions—in which case you should be prepared to suck it up.
Calm blue ocean
Regardless of how well you get along, you will inevitably grate on one another’s nerves, as that is what family does best. During these times, it’s best to remember you don’t need to spend every waking moment together. When relaxing in the hostel common room in the evenings, Dad and I often select separate groups with which to chat and socialize. If you’re in a situation where you can’t physically get away, then take a deep breath and try not to get frustrated. Keep in mind that this person put up with you while you were going through puberty—they deserve a little reciprocal patience.
Backpacking with Dad has been by far one of the best travel (and life) decisions I’ve ever made, and I wholly recommend anyone who inherited their wanderlust from their parent to consider a trip together.