Traveling with Your Chinese Parents Domestically and Abroad

Article by Yuxue

Older folks in China love to travel and they will often take their grown children along with them. This can present a challenge for some, as the idea of travel amongst the older generation might differ significantly from the ideas of the younger generation. So whether you are traveling with your own Chinese parents or the family you have married into, here are some things to consider when you are on the move.

1- Determining Who Will Be in Charge of the Trip

When arranging a trip outside China, you are the commander who decides the itinerary, the restaurant, and places to visit as you will often have to konw the language. So, you might assume that your parents will follow your lead. The reality is though despite that a foreign environment might force them to follow you, they will never stop challenging your authority. When travelling in Europe, my parents were always questioning the path that I chose through Google maps, even though they had neither roaming data nor a paper map to disprove it. My father even went out of his way to buy a lighter, using only body language, when I refused to translate for him.

If you are traveling inside China, they will definitely take control of the trip. Often they will do this because they assume their knowledge of whichever place is greater because they are older. In this situation, is better to just to let them make their plans, where as you will just help out when possible.

2- Keep an Eye on the Mood

When traveling abroad, a relaxing atmosphere inside the family is very important because you are one team exploring an unknown environment together. However, a lot of different faces, languages, and new cultural norms can make aging people agitated and also they often feel pressure to squeeze as much as possible into their trips. If this gets out of control, it will end up in a big quarrel. They might not express these feelings directly, so you will have check on them in other ways. Check their movement speed. If they start to slow down, they might be tired and need a rest. If they barely touch their food at a local restaurant, it might be time to look for a Chinese restaurant for the next meal. When traveling in China, this can be easier, as there they will be in a more familiar setting.

3- What and Where to Eat

There is a popular misconception that the Chinese stomach cannot be satisfied by foreign food. Though some people prefer only their own countries food, it really depends on the person. My parents prefer Georgian food over Sichuan food, because they don’t like spicy food.

However, one place where the misconception actually holds true is at breakfast. Heavy breakfasts, such as meat-heavy Western breakfasts, will be difficult for Chinese parents to adapt to. Finding a familiar option for breakfast goes a long way in improving their mood. Luckily, hotel breakfast buffets usually offer a decent selection of choices. When traveling in China, older folks are more willing to search for a good local breakfast, and this can become an interesting scavenger hunt. When in doubt, look for something that is light and not to strong in flavor, as this will be more palatable.

In addition to the above, here a few additional suggestions.

1 – Check Your Travel insurance.

Some companies refuse to sell insurance to people over a certain age or having a specific long-term disease, so your parents might not be covered by standard travel insurance.

2 – Bring Two Sets of Parents (When possible).

When traveling abroad, a group of two families is better than only one. The parents can commiserate with each other over the strangeness.

3 – Get the Parents Involved.

When arranging a trip abroad, get the parents involved in the preparation process. This will help them retain some sense of control. For example, you can present them with 3 to 4 hotels with high scores to choose from.

4 – Move Slowly.

When traveling abroad, the public transportation is a good choice as they can rest and enjoy the street view while moving from one tourist spot to another. Public transport also tends to be less crowded abroad. When traveling in China, take a taxi or drive. For both, long road trips should be separated into parts that are less than 4 hours long.

5 – Try local travel programs.

Travel agencies are out of the question for family trips because of tiring and intensive schedule. But I strongly recommend the one- or two-day local travel group, which is always nice and convenient.