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Dealing With Travel-Wary Indian Parents.

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This is the 2nd post of my Travel Secrets series.

Of the dozen emails I receive each week from fellow travel enthusiasts aspiring to build a life around travel, a pertinent question seems to revolve around convincing parents to accept traveling as a hobby, as a way of experiencing the world, and gradually as a way of life. Particularly in our Indian upbringing, travel is often looked upon as just a holiday to visit relatives or places of worship, making it a notch harder to change perspectives, and the challenge even more thrilling.

Hailing from a small mountain town, I’ve fought many a battle to convince the ‘adults’ in my family to let me go travelling, solo or otherwise, and sometimes to have them give up on me so I could just do as I please. I’ve been quite a rebel from the start, so I must admit that my methods have been ruthlessly aggressive sometimes. Based on my own experiences, Indian parents are most likely to oppose a life of travelling because of concerns for safety, money, career, and “it not being the societal thing to do”, in that order. These are my ways (most tried & tested, some anticipated) to deal with such concerns, and I hope they’ll work for you too!

1. Grow them into it.

There is no thought that time can’t change. Before I went to study in Singapore (probably the safest country in the world), even taking the train alone from my home town to Delhi was filled with contemplation on whether it was safe enough, followed by hours of instructions. I was mortified to seek permission for going on my first long weekend trip to a beach in Malaysia with a group of friends, to which they reluctantly agreed after much interrogation. Fast forward a couple of years, and weekend & week-long trips within the region became the norm. I slowly graduated to trips further away, like visiting friends in Australia and backpacking in Europe. The week before I left for my first month-long solo trip in India was harrowing; there was screaming and tears and threats and everything else you can imagine, and in retrospect, it was perhaps the only way, and it had to happen at some point. Again, fast forward a few months, and I’m solo tripping in Turkey!

My point is, you need to take baby steps, not just for your parents but also for yourself. Grow them into the idea of you travelling, travelling often, travelling solo, travelling far. Study in a place away from home, live in a foreign country, travel to a nearby town, slowly make your claim to independence. The more you build your confidence to make conversations with strangers, navigate a new place by yourself, and make sound decisions, the more your parents will grow accustomed to the idea that you can travel without landing into too much trouble.

2. They don’t need to know everything.

This isn’t about lying, not really. This is about being practical. Sitting half way across the globe (or even half way across the country), your parents will only be panicking knowing that you are alone in an unknown town, without so much as knowing the language. From that distance, it’s hard to see the adventurous aspects of travel, the thrill of finding yourself in a place that you know nothing about or that of having a stranger help you through sign language. Of course, that same pursuit of adventure might lead to a sticky situation sometimes, and you need to stand your ground & trust your gut to get out of it, rather than panic call your parents.

On my travels, I find that it is okay to omit that I changed my travel plans last minute and got off at a town because it looked pleasant from the bus window. It is okay to ‘add’ an extra person in the group if it adds an extra layer of comfort. It is definitely okay to downplay a situation going wrong, as long as I know I can wriggle my way out of it. In most cases, their panic will only feed yours, and that’s the reason why I avoid starting my trips from home; the constant interrogation of my travel plans build more anxiety than confidence.

3. Keep in touch.

Having made point 2, it is still important to keep in touch when you promise to. Treat that as not only a way to assure your parents that you’re safe, but also as a trigger to alarm them if something goes awfully, awfully wrong. I compulsively keep in touch with my parents via email or SMS, once a day or as promised in advance, and I know that if I go longer without pinging them, they are sure to raise an alarm in some form. For help in sticky situations, I also keep in touch with a friend or two, who I trust to lend sound advice and come to my rescue without sending me into a panic (like my parents would), should the need arise. I also have immense faith in the strangers I’ve come to know via Twitter, so my safety net is well spread, without the fear that once my parents rescue me from an alarming situation, they’ll never trust again that I can handle my travel adventures.

What really does work for me is sharing my most intimate travel experiences with my folks through my blog and travel writing, so they know exactly why it is that I love to travel, what I seek, how I get by, and the memories I carry with me. If you’re better at sharing these in person,  give them your wings and let them see the world through your lens; there is no one who can’t be moved by a stranger’s kindness in a strange land, or by the fascinating ways of a country far far away.

4. Don’t ask them for money.

It’s not about how rich your parents are. As a rule of thumb, if you ask them to finance your travels, however well-budgeted or extravagant they might be, they are bound to demand control over where you go, who with, how often, and rightly so. If you want independence while travelling, you have to earn your own means to finance it. Keep a corporate job, work part time, freelance, travel weekends, save all you can for a year long break, cut your frivolous expenses. Unfortunately, there is no magical formula to find the money to travel, and there is probably no way you could afford both a fancy lifestyle and frequent independent traveling (atleast none that I’ve found).

All my travels, from short budget trips in college day to longer trips during my corporate life, to current extended & frequent periods of traveling, are self funded. After several forays in travel writing, I have slowly started receiving sponsorships to review & write about travel experiences. While my parents sometimes (often) worry about the way I handle my finances, they know that I live within my means, compromising on things I don’t prioritize over traveling.

5. Don’t position it as ‘just a holiday’.

To me, holidaying paints the idea of a luxurious getaway, a pampering spa, fine dining, and the like. On the other hand, to travel is to seek unique experiences, understand the culture & people of a place, sample local food at popular joints, and do something that you can’t anticipate simply by googling it. There maybe a fine line between the two, but you get my point. Since most Indian parents are heavily focussed on your career and things related, especially if they’ve invested much in your college education or your peers happen to be doing well for themselves following the traditional route, you need to be able to position your travels as more than holidays.

Think about ways that could give you enough independence while travelling in a place and yet add more perceived value to your wanderlust; volunteer, find a project, visit a friend, learn something new. The pretext of my first solo foray in India was volunteer travelling, and I found it to be a great way to explore the Himalayas and its mountain folk, without having my parents scorn about me spending almost a month doing it. Now that a part of my income is drawn through travel writing & India Untravelled, “work” has become the pretext of many of my travels.

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What ways have worked for you in convincing your folks to let you travel? And if you’re a parent, what advise would you give to ‘kids’ with insatiable wanderlust?

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Featured image by Mike Baird from Flickr Creative Commons.

38 Comments Post a comment
  1. nice one Shivya…just thing I needed before I headout this month :)

    July 3, 2012
    • Thanks =) and good look for your trip!

      July 4, 2012
  2. So true! If only it was as easy as packing your bags and heading out of that door!! :)

    July 3, 2012
  3. Hi Shivya,
    Glad you posted about this topic as well as it’s an important one and comes up alot whether you are from India or live abroad with NRI parents. Here are some of my tips (from an Indian/Canadian point of view: http://www.desiglobetrotter.com/how-to-convince-indian-parents-to-let-you-travel/

    Btw, I’m also from a small mountain town! From Williams lake, British Columbia about 7 hrs north of Vancouver. Small town growing up where all the Indians knew eachother (and more the reason for parents to be more strict ugh!). There is a light at the end of the tunnel though as long as you take the right approach with them.

    Cheers,
    Parm

    July 3, 2012
    • Thanks for sharing that Parm, off to read your take on it from the perspective of growing up with Indian parents in a western environment!

      July 4, 2012
  4. I learnt this a long time back that you are not required to tell your parents everything. Sometimes, even when you are out of a bad situation while travelling, they will keep panicking till you are back home.
    And, yes, not taking money from them is also important. It gives you the freedom to manage your finances.
    I also think it is easier for guys in India. My parents panic much more when my sister decides to go on a trip. But then, I do not tell them till the last moment. I get my tickets and then tell them. :)

    July 4, 2012
    • Agree with your first two points, and yes, as much as I hate to agree with the third one, it is true. My parents panic for my brother as well, but to them, he’s way more mature than me. It’s both being elder & being a boy, and that’s perhaps the reason I rebel as much as I do! I’ve started waiting till the last minute too, saves me days of questioning & dealing with their anxiety!

      July 4, 2012
  5. good one !

    July 4, 2012
  6. Vaish #

    Nice tips Shivya. Solo travellers definitely need to know how to balance their passion with parents.

    July 5, 2012
    • Thanks Vaish, and yes, it’s a a fine balance indeed =)

      July 7, 2012
  7. Hi Shivya

    I could not agree more with what you have written! Dealing with parents is extremely important as well as difficult. Especially in a country like India where an individual is supposed to be ‘settled’ by a certain age and blend into the society. It becomes humongous challenge to break away from the societal pressures along with trying to convince parents to not try and blend us into the societal norms.

    Nevertheless one should live their dreams

    Cheers
    Venky

    July 6, 2012
    • Oh I hate the “settling” part as much. It’s literally like ‘settling’ for something less than what you really want. I hope we can each find the courage to break such norms, for the sake of future generations if not our own.

      July 7, 2012
  8. I can attest to what you’ve mentioned here especially #3. :D

    July 12, 2012
    • Haha, sounds like that comes from experience ;)

      July 12, 2012
  9. Good one Shivyaji….Loved it….Valuable lessons…Just wondering how easy it is for a guy once he starts earning. Hats off to you folks..And your passion..!!

    July 14, 2012
  10. Neha Bhalla #

    Good one Shivya!

    It reminds me of my 1st solo travel ever. I called up my Dad and seeked his permission to travel alone.. It was a weekend trip to a nearby place. The immediate answer was ‘No’. I hung up. Thought for a while, and called him again after 15 mins. This time I said, I’m going there… and I went.

    I know it was rebellious, but the results were sweet. The moment I left home, they were normal and when I returned they were happy to see me cheerful. That day onwards I hv never looked back. And they are now accustomed and accept my hunger for travel. Sometimes you just need to do it, break free and see the world with your own eyes….

    N yes the Mantra is ‘Keep them informed that you are safe and sound’.

    August 4, 2012
  11. sunil #

    HI,
    shivya first of all congrats for ur courage and love for travelling.

    I have one doubt,what is the frequence of your travel ?
    which is your fav trip and also non favourite

    September 26, 2012
    • Thanks Sunil, and welcome to The Shooting Star! It’s hard to describe the frequency of travelling, but I pretty much spend atleast half a month every month on the road. There are too many favorites really, everywhere I’ve gone I guess. Can’t think of anywhere that I wouldn’t want to go back to!

      September 28, 2012
  12. Very soulful…true…parents get paranoid all the time…’P A R’ of parents comes from ‘P A R’Anoid I guess! :P On a more serious note, I do feel that wen it comes to takin up a non-tried n tested career, our parents r jst not upto it. And that’s sad. Coz that speaks of we sacrificing our dreams, still doin well fr ourselves but not as well as we could have if we chased our dreams or more importantly, not being as happy and satisfied wid our lyf as we would hav been, if we followed our dreams. Breaking out of mediocrity and taking that next step toward our dream while also convincing the ‘adults’ is a tough, rebellious job. No doubt we Indian ‘kids’ do not stand up to the daunting job.
    And that gives me greater reason to be proud of U. Congratulations. And keep inspiring millions. :D

    October 2, 2012
    • Haha, love the PAR analysis ;) I think we need to understand that at the end of the day, parents also want us to be happy, and it is up to us to prove to them that money may not be the only means to that end.

      October 3, 2012
  13. ashwin #

    2 weeks to Turkey was a no-no from my parents, my dad tried to convince me into joining a tour group, but no way, I’m going all alone for 2 weeks, it took a couple of weeks to get them to come into terms with it.

    February 11, 2013
  14. Vishal #

    A very precise and to the point article. To quit a job and opt for travelling is as a profession is very hard to imagine. Specially when you are an Indian and you have no social security. You have to face your parents/spouse/ relatives and then finance is big question mark. How do you get your travel funded. Shivya You are simply “INTREPID”
    Keep Walking! Cheers!! Vishhal Twitter@vananduk

    February 15, 2013
  15. A very sorted piece of advice, Shivya. From baby steps to keeping in touch to managing your own finances, it’s all about coming of age. And what better reason to travel.
    I like the bit about adding an extra person (though in my case that might not work because my mom would then demand to have the contact number of that extra person) :D

    July 23, 2013
  16. Every time I read your post I’m astonished at the amount of maturity you have in your thoughts for one so young.Fly high and live the dream always!

    September 12, 2013
  17. arshad #

    :) Excellent!!! thanks for this write up and I second the statement–they don’t need to know everything part. I still remember telling my mom something like.. “I am going out with a friend to palaruvi.. will not be there for lunch”.. what I didn’t say was that this place is about 100+ Km away + the route crosses through a mountain range+ we are crossing over to another state+ we were newbies to riding bikes. If I had told all the above… needless to say more.

    October 31, 2013
    • This is so damn true..Even I am an ardent fan of travelling. In fact, I have attained more confidence in my writing once I started visiting new places sans my parents. You are doing a great job. Good luck :)

      March 14, 2014
      • Oh btw the link to my blog is indranisingha.wordpress.com. You can go through some of my writings :)

        March 14, 2014
  18. Hi shivya, you won’t imagine but I am going through this right now..I hv also travelled quite a lot solo and otherwise but my parents have still not accepted this vagabond idea. I have my tickets booked now for Sri Lanka for mid-April and all I cn hear is hue and cry from them as if I am not gonna come back…it’s so disappointing that Indian parents think that exploring the world will make their children strong headed and not fit for marriage.

    Your blog is very inspiring and helpful. Thanks.
    Cheers
    Aditi
    ethicalhedonism@wordpress.com

    April 5, 2014

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