Traveling with Family vs. Traveling with Friends

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” -Robyn Yong

            I don’t know exactly where my desire to travel came about. I believe it came the summer after I graduated high school when I rode to Tennessee for a church conference. Before this, I’d vacationed at the beach several times and nowhere else. Southeastern Tennessee showed me something new and different. The mountains. Not like the Rocky Mountains, but softer grassy cliffs rolling and intertwining with each other. Large enough to tower over my group as we whitewater rafted down the Ocoee River. The Smoky Mountains mesmerized me, and I wanted to see more of the world, even just the United States.

Ocoee River, Tennessee: July 2016

            Before this conference, I’d been to eight states. Now, three years later, I’ve been to twenty-nine. Most of these have been obtained by driving to destinations rather than flying, giving me the chance to see the in-between places, and these in-between places have been some of my favorites.

            Here are most of the places I’ve visited in the past decade:

  • Disney World (2009)
  • Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach, Florida (2009)
  • Oahu and Maui, Hawaii (2014)
  • Cleveland, Tennessee (2016)
  • Atlanta, Georgia (2016)
  • Panama City Beach, Florida (2017)
  • Las Vegas, Nevada (2018)
  • Waco, Texas (2018)
  • San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico (2018)
  • Pensacola Beach, Florida (2019)
  • Niagara Falls, New York/Canada (2019)

            I’ve traveled mostly with family, but I’ve taken trips with friends as well. Some on school trips and one as a planned trip with a good friend. Each trip was drastically different from the other, not because of the different locations but the different people I experienced it with. These two groups of people could not be more opposite, and in this post, I will explain the difference between my experience in traveling with family and traveling with friends.

            So, how are they different?


Arizona/Nevada state line: May 2018

            Most of the in-between locations I’ve seen were with family. In May 2017, my grandparents, uncle, cousin, and I drove fifteen hours to the gulf coast. The following year, we drove twenty hours to Las Vegas, and this past summer we drove to Niagara Falls. No, we did not fly to these destinations, because when my grandparents realized that I wanted to visit all fifty states, they decided to drive to our destinations and check off the unseen in-between places on my bucket list.

            With my mother and father, we’ve always flown to our destinations, particularly in the four trips to Florida we took before I reached age twelve. Until recently I hadn’t been on a trip with my parents since the last time they took me to Disney World in 2009. So, two summers ago, my mother and I decided to spontaneously drive to Waco, Texas, the home of Chip and Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper. My mother does not enjoy car rides more than two or three hours long, and I drove us eight hours. Then, this past summer I drove us to Pensacola, Florida to save on expenses.

Magnolia Silos– Waco, Texas: June 2018

            Here is what I’ve learned from traveling with family:

The head of the group plans the trip and takes charge.

            With my family, the adults generally plan the trip and the activities, especially when the kids are young.

            We plan our trips months in advance, maybe a year. A couple summers ago, my grandparents, uncle, and I went on a trip to Las Vegas, and we began to talk about the idea one year before. It was in January that we pushed the plan into action.

            My grandpa drives and no one else. Even though he is 80 years old, his desire to stay young and invincible keeps him in the front seat. He is the head of the group, and it’s his job to drive. Even when he’s tired. Even when he does not feel well. Even when he cliff dives in Hawaii and injures his ribs and wrist (a story for another post). Even when two other people in the vehicle are more than qualified to step in his place and let him rest.

The Road to Hana– Maui, Hawaii: May 2014

He used to be a race car driver, and he drives like a race car driver. In Hawaii in 2014, on The Road to Hana, he sped around the curves of high cliffs with a speed limit of 15 mph. On the way to Las Vegas, he drove 90 mph straddling the interstate’s center line all the way through Utah. On the way to Niagara Falls in the summer of 2019, he cut off three people while switching lanes, nearly causing wrecks every time, and he rode the tail of each car in front of him knowing that if that driver barely tapped his or her brake, we could have driven right into them.

            I learn to pray a lot and keep my head down on these long trips, and when I hear my grandma yell to my grandpa, “Watch out!”, I keep my head down and accept that it might be the end for me.

            I also learn to tune out the arguments between my grandparents but keep one ear open for my grandpa to say something ridiculous that I can tease him about when he cools down.

            I had more responsibilities in the trips with my mother. This trip was almost like traveling with a friend. She made more of the decisions in the travel planning, but I pushed the plans into action by reserving hotels in my name, mapping travel routes, and paying for half of the trip expenses.    

            I drove the round trip of sixteen hours for Waco in 2018 and around thirty hours for Florida in 2019. Both within a week. I was told where to drive and I drove there. I didn’t mind as it gave me a sense of duty I never had on previous trips.

            When the kids are young, they have no responsibilities other than to follow along and enjoy the plans laid out for them. Parents will plan activities to meet the interests of the kids but also activities that the adults want to do, and the kids must follow along when they are too young to stay behind. When they get older, however, they have more freedom to plan alongside the head of the group.

It is difficult to meet everyone’s interests.

            There is usually a larger age span on family vacations, which can make planning more difficult. Between grandparents, parents, and children, the age span can be from infant to sixties or seventies.

            The generation gap shows on my trips with my grandparents. While I am an adult, daily lifestyle is still different between a couple in their sixties to eighties and a woman in her early twenties.

            As we drove to Las Vegas in 2018, the radio volume sat still on zero. No jam sessions. Not much talking either. Just cruising along and enjoying the view. If I wanted to listen to music, I put in my headphones and chose what I wanted to listen to.

            The past few years, I’ve had more choices in activities, but that might be because my interests are beginning to match those of normal adults.

At age five, my parents took my brother and I to Disney World for the first time. It’s a place I did not know existed until my parents made the plans. We loved it so much that we returned the following year and again in 2006 and 2009. These were some of the best weeks in my lifetime and they were ideas I did not create and plans I did not make.

Magic Kingdom: October 2002
Animal Kingdom: October 2002

At age seven, my whole family went to Daytona Beach, Florida. All I wanted to do that whole week was build sandcastles and occasionally play in the ocean waves, but my family had other ideas. While we did spend a lot of time on the beach, we also explored sights in town. We visited the Daytona International Speedway, climbed to the top of a lighthouse and went on a swamp ride to see and hold baby alligators.

These activities weren’t my idea of fun, initially, but once my family put me out there, I enjoyed them and wouldn’t have chosen differently. Now, looking back, I’m grateful to have experienced these things. I understand the importance of putting children out there to experience things that they did not know existed or never thought to do. I still enjoy the beach the most like I did as a child, but I now think of other activities in my travel planning. And just like I did not know Disney World existed, and that I could meet Tigger and Minnie Mouse, my kids will not know either until I introduce them to it, and I look forward to returning to Disney World as an adult and letting my kids feel the same magic I did.

Daytona Beach, Florida: October 2004
Daytona Beach, Florida: October 2004

Family rises before the rooster crows and settles before the sun sets.

            With my grandparents, we got up at five in the morning to begin our drive to Las Vegas. I understood why, because with a twenty-hour drive, we wanted to be well past the Rocky Mountains by dark. However, this past summer we stopped for a family reunion in Indiana before driving to Niagara Falls. We only had to drive six hours that day, and the reunion was held the following day. Because we had no reason to hurry, I expected not to leave until at least noon, but they insisted we leave at eight in the morning. Imagine my excitement, as a non-morning person, when my unnecessary six o’clock alarm woke me that morning.   

            During this road trip to Niagara Falls, we never drove past dark. We never drove even close to dark. By the time the sun began its journey downward into the afternoon, we began thinking of where we’d be at in six hours to stop for a hotel.

Niagara Falls, Ontario: July 2019
Fireworks over Niagara Falls

            My family seems to enjoy rising before the rooster crows and worrying if we begin our day any later. Then, they settle in by dinner time and spend the rest of day light watching TV in a hotel room rather than decreasing hours to the final destination.

            Even at the destination, they will call it quits early, even if the younger members want to continue the activity. To most people my age, the day has barely begun at sunset.

Life moves slower.

            The age span presents another difference on vacations. Life moves slower. When walking long distances, we have to stop and rest a lot because grandparents and sometimes parents don’t have the energy that kids and young adults do. We don’t move as quickly. Our Vegas trip turned into a lot of my grandpa chilling in the casinos—his happy place—while my uncle and I, or the rest of us, explored the strip.

Las Vegas Strip: May 2018

            When my mother and I went to Pensacola, we weren’t afraid to relax on the beach most of the day rather than moving a mile a minute. We enjoy moving slowly, thriving on peace rather than adventure.

            Even though I’m young, I understand the need to move slower, not because of the lack of energy, but because I believe we take in more when we and really look around us. I’m a writer, and I think that makes me a little more observant of the world. A little more inclined to stop and slow down sometimes to get a taste of a new place.

We stay under their watch, no matter how old.

            I think no matter how old we are, we are still kids to our parents, whether we are five, twenty-five, or fifty-five.

            I was nineteen when my grandparents took my uncle, cousin, and I to Panama City Beach. As I mentioned before, I love the beach and could stay on it all day, so often I spent time in a beach chair writing or people watching or sticking my feet in the cool water. A lot of this time on the beach was spent on my own, but I couldn’t complain. As an introvert, there is nothing better than relaxing on the beach and being alone to my own thoughts and observations.

            Anytime I decided to go down to the beach on my own, my family ordered me to stay within the parameters where I could be seen from our hotel balcony.

            I felt like I could take care of myself, but I had no choice but to let them look out for me. I don’t have the same understanding that they do. Watching a grandchild be born and raised in what seems like a short time. To them, I should still be a child, and they miss the days when I was still small enough to ride on their backs while they walked through deeper ocean water.


            In July 2018, I went on my first vacation with a friend and experienced an entirely different dynamic from family, especially since we traveled to a different country.

            When I went to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, I am glad I went with a friend. It was our first time traveling alone (with just each other), and we took charge and spent the week out of the country without any trouble. Four total plane trips, delays, immigration, customs, and five days interacting with people in a different culture.

We do the planning/strictly about us.

            Rather than planning our Mexico trip months in advance, my friend and I planned it spontaneously, three weeks before our flight took off. Usually, I like to plan everything out well, but for some reason I didn’t care that this trip was planned so quickly and spontaneously. 

            It was my first time flying alone, or with just one other person my age. So, for the first time, I debated airports, airlines, flight times, and navigated an airport through security and delays. I went with the flow. Followed signs. Did what I remembered from my past vacations. It was easier than I remembered.

Baja Peninsula, Mexico

            Honestly, it did not set in that I was going on this vacation until the day we left. Then I started to get excited. I got into vacation mode and started dressing up, doing my hair and makeup, and taking a lot of pictures.

            It’s a planning partnership rather than a head of household being in charge. For the first time, I had equal responsibility, sometimes more if we separated. Only two people planned this vacation, our activities, and it felt like it was my vacation and not someone else’s. By only thinking about our needs and not the needs of several other people, I was able to really enjoy this vacation and think of it as one of my favorites.

Similar age creates similar interests.

            As a planning partnership, obviously there was still compromise between two friends, because nobody is exactly the same, but we agreed on most activities.

            The vacation was more carefree, an experience of sticking our foot in the door and trying new things, even when we were confused and did not know what to do.

            From the moment we stepped off our plane into Mexico, we lived that week like two young girls out on the town, for the most part. We weren’t afraid to fly alone, go through immigration and customs alone. Of course, we denied the three offers of tequila before we reached our ride to our resort. Then, we listened to our driver talk about cocaine and marijuana as he drove us there. My friend and I looked at each other in humored alarm like “what kind of world did we just step into?”

Downtown San Jose del Cabo: July 2018

            We weren’t afraid to adapt ourselves into a different culture for five days. Five days with almost no cell service connecting back home. We weren’t afraid to talk with strangers while we were there, using good judgement of course. We weren’t afraid to run across a busy highway when we found no other way to get to the bus stop other than walking under a sketchy overpass. No thanks. I wasn’t afraid to wear a large and tacky balloon hat on a bus filled with locals, and I wasn’t afraid to wave at the people who stared. I may have embarrassed my friend and brought attention to myself, but I didn’t care. We weren’t afraid to walk along the beach after dark.

            We heard so much music. Spanish music, but it was great music. Lively and energetic. My friend wanted to go out and dance, and I wanted to observe the Spanish performers one night on the resort. In the end, there was dancing when the crowd was invited onstage to do The Macarena, one of the greatest moments I’ve experienced on a vacation. An experience that will be included in a later post.

Friends get up later and settle in later.

            To me, the night is nowhere close to over at 7 p.m. We settled in later and woke up later. Especially me.

            I’m a night person. I enjoyed sitting on the deck after midnight and looking over the lights of the resort. I spent many nights in the pool after dark. It’s one thing I look forward to the most when I’m on vacations, when the sun is not blinding and hot and the pool lights up blue underneath. The evening serenity leaves me on my back and looking up at the dark sky and palm trees.

            I spent another evening lying on the beach with pizza and stargazing away from the resort lights where the stars came out of hiding.

            Even with my love of night-time activities, I did enjoy a couple sunrises while we were there. On my terms, of course.

Life moves quicker.

Art walk in downtown San Jose del Cabo

            We moved at a much quicker pace than we would with family members. It was like it didn’t seem right if we had no free time throughout the day.

            We shopped a lot, we visited the pool and beach, attended an art walk full of music and bustling people, ran after buses, and danced with young Mexican waiters at Senor Frogs.

            There was never a break longer than the chance to shower and sleep. If we stopped by the hotel room throughout the day, it was to change into or out of swimsuits.

            By the time we settled in of an evening, the exhaustion struck my body and I slept like a rock. Then, we woke up ready for another busy day.

We look after ourselves.

            This wouldn’t be as much the case if I was traveling with family. “Be safe.” “Stay in my sight.” At twenty years old, I was still a kid to my family. I get it. There were no serious talks with my grandpa in hearing the “Now listen here…” talk when he tells me every safety precaution I already knew. On this vacation, I was just putting it into practice.

            If anything, my trip to Mexico was less stressful in this category. With just two of us, we looked after ourselves and did not rely on someone else to look after us and the rest of the group. For the first time, I didn’t have to worry about staying in anyone’s sight but my own, and I was able to have some time to myself, which is important to me in keeping peace with surrounding people.

            I did not worry so much about what could go wrong in each moment, but I kept myself alert just enough to keep us safe, all while having fun at the same time and not taking life too seriously.

San Jose del Cabo, Mexico: July 2018


            In my experience, these are the differences between traveling with family and traveling with friends. All of these differences center around one thing. The generation gap. The generation gap gives these differences that point to energy, the speed of life, personal interests, and seniority.

            I wouldn’t take back any of my vacations. Typically, people like me enjoy vacations with friends the most, but I don’t have a preference. Sometimes, it is fun to take risks and enjoy life in a way that older generations don’t have the energy for. However, I also enjoy taking life slowly and giving myself the chance to really observe the world.

4 thoughts on “Traveling with Family vs. Traveling with Friends

  1. This was a great read & I loved the pictures! I traveled a lot as a child because my dad was in the Air Force. We moved about every 2 years. We lived in Ankara, Turkey & then, in Izmir, Turkey. I have fond memories of the kindness shown by Turkish people. Our family vacations were usually trips to visit family, which I always looked forward too. I have a love for the open road, I wish I could travel more. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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