Why Every Parent Should Travel with their Teen
‘It’s okay!’ I called up to Abbie, who was waiting patiently for me at the top of the steep stone steps. ‘You go ahead for a bit!’
Only thirty minutes into our strenuous two hour walk, from Monterosso to Vernazza in Italy’s stunning Cinque Terra region, and already I was lagging behind my much faster, much fitter, fifteen-year old. There were thousands of steps on this walk – ninety-three per cent of which seemed to be going up – but the Vernazza view I’d had on my office wall for the past four years could only be seen from this trail, so I was going to finish it if it killed me, or gave me a permanent stitch, either of which seemed highly likely.
When I told Abbie to go ahead, I didn’t mean for her to go all the way to Vernazza, leaving me to complete the walk alone. I thought the ‘go ahead a bit’ part implied she should maybe stop and wait for me in a little while, around a few bends yonder, so we could enjoy that first sighting of Vernazza together. As it was, I rounded the corner to that spectacular view, the view our entire trip had been based around, alone. Well, alone apart from the multitude of fellow tourists who were also doing the walk that day, but my priority wasn’t sharing the moment with any of them.
Having reached this much- anticipated spot, I tried to call Abbie to ask her to come back so we could get a photo in front of my dream location, and that’s when I discovered that the SIM card I’d been sold in Venice a few days earlier – the SIM card I’d been assured would last me another three weeks – had run out of data. Italian text messages shouted something at me in all capitals and I couldn’t make the call, so I went to turn my data roaming on, only to find that I couldn’t access my settings without the PIN. The PIN that was back at our hotel, three million steps away.
The tears were coming – it doesn’t take much these days – so I gave myself a stern talking to. ‘It’s only a view for God’s sake! Stop being ridiculous. Just take a photo of the bloody town and go find Abbie.’
I asked a couple of lovely Kiwi boys who I’d been chatting to on and off on during the trek to take a photo for me, made a joke about strangling my daughter when I found her, and headed off towards the town. I assumed Abbie would be waiting for me at the bottom of the path, but when I arrived, she was nowhere to be seen. And the further I walked into the town, through throngs of tourists, and the longer I went without finding her, the more panicked I became. Over the next ten minutes – the longest ten minutes of my life – I searched the area close to the end of the path, certain she wouldn’t have wandered too far from there.
I was wrong. When I finally found my daughter, she was sitting on a stone bench, a good one hundred metres from the trail, happily checking her Snapchat.
‘Mum! Where have you been? I’ve been texting you!’
Suffice to say, I lost it.
‘What the HELL are you doing all the way over here? Why didn’t you wait for me? Do you know how WORRIED I’ve been?! I thought you might have walked SOME of the way with me!’
Abbie stared, her eyes welling up, and that’s when I realised that this kid had no clue that she’d done anything wrong. There she’d been, sitting there, happy as could be as she waited for Mum to come and find her, and wondering why I wasn’t replying to her texts. She was probably gearing herself up to have a go at me for ignoring her. These thoughts flitted across my mind as I stared at her in a rage, but it was too late for reason and logic. I was angry, upset and (as I’d discover the next day) pre-menstrual.
‘And I couldn’t even call you because this FUCKING SIM card doesn’t work!’
‘I’m sorry, Mum. You told me to go ahead and I…’
‘Not ALL THE WAY!’ I shouted, like the irrational mad woman I was. ‘I wanted to share the view with you and you were gone! I was just standing there with a bunch of strangers!’
I (kind of) understand why I was so upset. Our whole trip had been based around a photo of that view, and to finally see it, after four years of waiting, and to not have someone I loved beside me, was a massive letdown. Combine that with the panic and fear surging through me when I thought I’d lost my daughter – and imagining the worst – and you get Psycho Mum. I managed to stop myself from bursting into tears (just) as poor Abbie stared in horror, probably wondering why she ever agreed to do this three-week trip around Europe with her mother.
It was originally going to be a whole family holiday. Back in 2020, my husband, two teenage daughters and I planned to travel through Europe for three weeks, and then, like so many others, our long awaited, much anticipated holiday never happened. The global pandemic, work commitments and loss of a beloved family member kept delaying our trip, until finally, at the end of 2022, I finally decided I wanted to book it in for 2023. But work and university commitments for my husband and eldest daughter meant the trip would have to be pushed out yet again. That’s when I made the decision to go anyway, with half, instead of all, of us. Abbie and I were disappointed that Finn and Mike wouldn’t be joining us…until the dates were locked in and the flights paid for, then it was a case of, ‘Finn and Dad Who?’
Our adventure would see us visiting London, Paris, then travelling through Italy for eleven days before ending up in Santorini for five nights. I had no idea how Abbie and I would go travelling together for three weeks on our own. I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a bit in my life, with both family and friends, and know it can sometimes be fraught and stressful when you’re together 24/7, whether you’re related or not. How would Abbie and I go? Would we be compatible traveling companions?
I’m a get up and go morning person, while Abbie most definitely is not. I take approximately ten seconds to get in and out of a public toilet, while Abbie prefers to set up camp in there and emerge somewhere between two and three days later. But we did talk about the importance of giving each other space on our trip. We’re both people who need our “alone time”, and so agreed we’d take time out when we needed it. Our relationship isn’t perfect, far from it, but we’ve always been close, got along well and make each other laugh. Still, there was a small part of me worried about how we’d go, and if we’d come back after three weeks closer than ever or recoiling at the sight of each other’s faces.
The last few years have changed us all in various ways, especially after losing Mike’s beautiful mum in 2021. Abbie is an empathic and sensitive soul, and took Granny’s passing incredibly hard (as did we all) and off the back of Melbourne lockdowns, as well as missing a huge chunk of her first two years of high school, our girl wasn’t the same carefree kid she aways was. I wasn’t sure how she’d go being away from home for so long.
But I’m happy to report that other than our “dark day” in Cinque Terra – a day that ended with us sitting in a restaurant in Monterosso and apologising to each other – my teenage daughter and I had a lot of laughs, a lot of adventures, numerous deep and meaningful conversations and learned a lot about each another.
I learned that Abbie takes longer in the bathroom than any human being I’ve ever known, and as a consequence I spent 60% of our trip waiting for her outside bathrooms. Abbie learned that I like to rest my foot on Mike’s calf when I’m going to sleep, and as we shared a bed for the majority of the trip, it was her leg that my foot found – something she was rarely happy about. I learned that Abbie has a sense of responsibility that I certainly didn’t possess at her age (and still don’t) when I told her I wanted to book a quad bike for us to ride around Santorini.
‘Absolutely not! That’s dangerous.’
‘It will be fun!’
Of course I booked it anyway and it wasn’t until we were speeding along one of the main roads at 55km hour, cars and trucks backing up behind us, and oncoming traffic roaring past us at 80km hour that I wondered if my daughter was onto something with the whole safety concern thing. But no regrets. It was brilliant fun and at the end of the day Abbie gave me a hug and said it was “The best!’ and ‘You were right!’ Mums don’t often hear these words from their teenagers so I really should have recorded that shit there and then.
Abbie learned that strangers don’t always help when a fifteen-year-old is struggling to get heavy cases off the rack in the middle of a train carriage while her mum is running down the Monterosso platform screaming at the guards to wait because we didn’t realise this was our stop and her stuff is still on the train…including her daughter.
I learned that my daughter’s worst nightmare is hearing her name announced over the loud speaker in a foreign airport because her mum isn’t able to get back into the baggage carousel area to find her because she’s had to make a mad dash to the other end of Athens airport to tell the Emirates staff that their flight from Santorini was delayed and they haven’t checked their baggage in for their flight to Dubai. After a stressful fifteen minutes we found each other, and ran faster than I ever have to the Emirates bag drop queue, getting our cases in three seconds before it closed.
But most of all, I learned that I am the mother of a very special, very funny, intuitive, grateful and thoughtful fifteen-year-old who at times was definitely the more mature one on our holiday. The trip brought us closer together than ever, and is one I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. It’s also an experience I highly recommend to other mums and dads. That one-on-one time with your teenager is bonding, fraught, joyous and completely priceless.
Number of flights: 8
Number of trains: Too many to count
Number of times people told us they thought we were sisters: 2 (Mum was rapt)
Number of stations missed: Almost 1
Number of steps climbed:
Number of steps climbed with suitcases: 3,340,478
Number of times we properly cracked it with each other: 1
Number of times Italian men quacked at us: 2
Number of times Italian men called one or both of us Lady Gaga: 4
Number of pizzas eaten: Too many to count
Number of bikes ridden: 3 each (including Quad bike)
Number of times our suitcase split open outside train station: 1
Number of interactions with cute babies in queues: 3
Number of books read: 6
Number of dodgy SIM cards purchased: 2
Number of glasses of wine drunk: 58
Number of conversations with lovely strangers: 34
Number of awesome tour guides: 2
Number of annoying tour guides: 1
Number of times lost each other: 3
Number of times we ordered pork chops and got two Frankfurts instead: 1
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