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.
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?
Featured image by Mike Baird.