While eventually working up the courage to travel solo may seem like quite the feat, sometimes it’s actually traveling with others that can prove to be much more daring! Sure, it’s one thing to keep track of your own passport, plane tickets & hotel reservation but what about when you’re almost entirely responsible for someone else’s?! Any experienced adventurer knows that sometimes travel takes patience and this patience can occasionally be tested if you’ve got someone new to travel by your side.
There are all sorts of travelers out there with varying levels of experience. If you are traveling with a beginner, or are even a beginner yourself, never fear! Here’s a little guide on how to plan, execute & actually survive an international vacation with a rookie traveler in tow.
1. Inexperienced Travelers
My first venture to Asia was with my 79-year-old Grampy (LEFT)! He was an inexperienced traveler, but taught himself how to eat with chopsticks & even speak some Thai before we arrived in Bangkok!
This type of traveler is the epitome of “bright-eyed & bushy-tailed”, they are eager & excited. Maybe it’s their very first trip out of the country & they want to see, eat & explore absolutely everything. Inexperienced travelers are fun, of course, but keep in mind that sometimes they don't have the most realistic expectations. Nearly everything they know about this destination is most likely based upon pop culture references, over-exaggerated stereotypes & second hand stories from their friend’s-sister’s-cousin who visited the same city years ago. While it’s great that a new traveler is over the moon for their trip abroad, you may have to gently readjust their expectations.
When planning a trip with an inexperienced traveler, consider venturing to somewhere safe, clean & most importantly—iconic. Understand that a lot of the trip highlights for them will be experiencing all those tourist attractions, even if your priorities as an experienced traveler are different. I suggest a major city like Paris, London, Rome, etc. These are places where they can take their Eiffel Tower selfie, eat their fish ‘n’ chips & take their Coloseum tour—but as an experienced traveler, you could still enjoy some off the beaten path activities too! Ask them what their top “bucket list” activity/museum/meal is & make sure to incorporate that into the itinerary, but be sure to vocalize your own priorities. This way the trip is a compromise instead of you being dragged to the biggest tourist traps all over the city.
During the trip, gently remind your travel buddy to observe the different customs around them. To take note of how the locals dress, speak or act & then try to mirror it. Always remind them of pickpockets in tourist areas & maybe even hold their valuables. Work to actively sort out misunderstandings or lost-in translation moments in order to help broaden their cultural perspectives. The last thing you want is for them to form a new false impression (i.e. “ALL the French are rude!”) based on one bad experience. Be patient, your rookie traveler may stick out at first, speaking full volume on silent trains, turning up their nose at new cuisine, or being frustrated when English is not widely spoken. This is normal. Just keep reminding them that nothing is “strange” or “wrong”, just simply different.
Once your inexperienced travelers gets over the initial jet lag & culture shock, allow them a little bit more freedom. Drop them off at a museum they’re dying to visit or allow them to take a solo evening stroll. This will allow you to also have a moment to yourself as well. Teach them a few basic words in the local dialect & challenge them to use them upon ordering a crepe or gelato. Try to book more cultural activities like walking tours, cooking classes or local events, because meeting city natives will allow them to start to form opinions of the outside world & realize just how many similarities there are between cultures!
A trip with an inexperienced traveler can be quite exhausting but seeing the look on their face upon seeing the Eiffel Tower, or The Vatican, or Big Ben makes it all worth it. Plan a trip that changes them for life so that upon boarding the plane back home they are already excitedly envisioning their next destination!
2. Anxious Travelers
This type of traveler has most likely also never left home, or if they have it was to somewhere they deemed safe enough to venture to. They are the epitome of “a planner” & are maybe even a bit of a control freak. Too many scary news stories have taught them to fear & caution the outside world so you literally had to pry them out of their comfort zone to take a trip with you. But they agreed to come with you—on a few conditions. So you need to respect & work with those conditions (even if they seem a tiny bit paranoid). The anxious traveler is all about security, if a situation doesn’t feel safe, they immediately express discomfort, so planning a trip with them must be all about clever compromise.
Take my mom, for example (PICTURED ABOVE). Though she has traveled to a few places, her main concern is always safety. So, to honor this, I changed our travel plans to Prague to avoid flying on the date “September 11,” even if ticket prices were drastically cheaper! Her peace of mind meant a more relaxed trip for everyone.
It also helps to pick a destination that from their world perspective is viewed as safe, I also suggest one that is not too different from their home culture. A good place for American English speakers might be the UK, Ireland, or Canada, places where they can understand the language & find food that isn’t too “exotic”.
It’s all about baby steps with this type of beginner. Avoid alternative accommodation like hostels or maybe even overcrowded hotels, this might be all too overwhelming for the anxious traveler. Instead, a fantastic option would be a private Airbnb, a nice quiet space for them to decompress after a long day of venturing out of their comfort zone.
Listen to their concerns! Are they worried about personal safety, health alerts, natural disasters, or political strife? Keep a close eye on the Department of State’s website. This site is official, government regulated & gives detailed information about any travel concerns for specific countries. Write down embassy locations & phone numbers. Print out tickets beforehand, memorize public transport routes before taking off, plan out how you will convert your money. Always have a Plan B. Anxious travelers can only be won over by good preparation, so make sure you have all your bases covered before the trip.
Experienced travelers know that, of course, sometimes the unexpected happens & things go wrong, so manage expectations early on. Make light of the phrase "Expect the unexpected!" If any minor hiccups do occur, stay calm & try to resolve them before your friend even notices! Luckily for them, even though travel can sometimes be stressful, it can also be pretty darn invigorating! Plan a few activities your cautious companion will genuinely enjoy, even something super mundane. The normalcy will be comforting to them & they may even actually start to relax and enjoy the ride! And at this point you will know that you have truly succeeded as a guide.
3. Laid Back/Dependent Travelers
Though he didn’t really know anything about it, my little brother (RIGHT) had a great time on our family vacation to Lisbon! He got to sample a ton of gelato & even visited the hotel belonging to his favorite soccer player, Cristiano Ronaldo!
This person is a younger sibling, child, or someone just along for the ride. They are most likely going on this trip because the rest of the family is, so they’re tagging along. Lucky for you, this is by far the easiest type of rookie traveler to manage! While the laid back/dependent traveler doesn’t typically have a say in where they’re traveling to, they often have the lowest expectations of all. Just make sure there’s some wifi in the hotel & chances are they’ll be happy! Let's face it, if all else fails, theres bound to be a McDonald's nearby.
One challenge to keep in mind is that laid back/dependent travelers are often traveling with either inexperienced travelers or anxious travelers (their parents). Hold onto their passport/tickets/spending money if you notice that their parent or caretaker is already a bit flustered managing their own belongings. An extra helping hand is always appreciated—especially in an unfamiliar place!
While on vacation make sure that the exchange of culture isn’t lost of your laid back traveler. Of course they may be bored by extravagant art museums, but will they try new foods? What about zip-lining or a gondola ride? Or is there a city zoo to visit native local species? Gently ease them into the immersion process. Compare clothing prices, store brands or local customs that they can relate to. Significant historical events may not be impressive to them but maybe catching a local sporting event is! You'll know you have succeeded with a laid back/dependent traveler after you return back home & they keep talking & talking about memories from abroad!
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So there you have it! I hope this advice gives you the confidence, patience and guidance to plan a trip with those who are newer to travel. I guess just think back to how lost YOU were your first time out of the country; someone put up with that—right? We all must start somewhere and luckily “the travel bug” does not discriminate when it comes to who it will bite. The trip that you plan with your beginner companion really could be just the start of their adventures around the world! At the end of the day, you will always be creating incredible life-changing memories together.
Jessi Graves is a featured contributor for UnearthAway. She currently resides in Boston, MA, and has lived and travelled all over the world. Learn more about her background here.
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