Travel lessons we’ve learned from our grandparents

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Whether it’s uncovering the intricacies of a foreign language, knowing where (and where not) to keep your passport, or learning the hard way that Japanese bullet trains wait for no one, we learn a few new lessons every time we travel. But there are certain things we wish we’d been told before take-off.

So we called on a few people with a lifetime of travel experience under their (seat) belts – our grandparents. Not only do they always know best, but they’ve had decades worth of travel mishaps and memorable moments to share.

From why you should always double-check your pronunciations, to why you should make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area before testing out your can of bear spray, here are the travel lessons we’ve learned from our grandparents.

Before you start using words in new language, ask a local if you’re pronouncing them right.

Travel lessons we’ve learned from our grandparents 1
Photo via George Fisk

“I always tried to be polite [during my travels], so I learned ‘you’re welcome’ as ‘chomaneo.’  After using this word several times (for several weeks), a friend explained that I must be very careful how I pronounce it as I was occasionally saying ‘jamaneo,’ which he explained meant the equivalent of ‘d***head.’ So much for my politeness…”

– George Fisk, on living in South Korea.

…And make sure you’re using the right word altogether.

Travel lessons we’ve learned from our grandparents 1
Photo via Lucille Kelly

“When I was in Switzerland, I asked directions to the bathroom. I was sent to a building and when I got inside they presented me with a robe, slippers and a towel, and told me to get undressed… All I wanted was to pee! I found out I was sent to a bath house when I tried to ask for the bathroom. So you have to be careful what you’re asking for.”

– Lucille Kelly, former travel agent

Always check the regulations for carry-on bags (and double-check what’s inside yours).

Photo via Betsey Birrell
Photo via Betsey Birrell

“I sent a note to my children to be sure to check their carry-ons before we all boarded a plane to a wonderful resort in Mexico. Unfortunately, I thought I knew the rules and, as I always did in the past, packed all my expensive skin products in my carry-on.  If the other luggage got lost, clothes could always be replaced, but not my Sisley products. Sure enough, when it was my turn to go through security, all the products were confiscated – I could hear the kids laughing a mile away. The fun part came when checking out the only small store available at the resort. Despite my very descriptive hand gestures, the clerk was unable to accommodate me. I then picked through the shelves guessing what would most likely be eye make-up remover, cleanser, toner, etc.  I was appalled to arrive home and discover my purchases had no relation to skin products, and they went into the garbage.”

– Betsey Birrell

Watch your wings

Travel lessons we’ve learned from our grandparents 1
Photo via Lucille Kelly

“Be aware of the foods each place has and what they are called. Sometimes what you think is chicken could be a ‘bird of the land.’ A friend I know ordered wings thinking they were chicken wings and the turned out to be bat wings.”

– Lucille Kelly

Carry any valuable jewelry on your person.

“Valuable jewelry was once boldly lifted from pull-luggage just waiting to be checked into a flight. Keep your valuables close!”

– Betsey Birrell

Don’t wait ‘til it’s too late to travel.

Photo via Shirley D'Angelo
Photo via Shirley D’Angelo

“[My husband and I] went to Italy about a decade ago. We finally got to see the things we’ve always read about and saw in movies – the Vatican, the Colosseum and more. We even took a gondola ride – we were in awe of the beautiful country. I learned about my heritage when I was on that trip. I also learned that you should hurry up and see the sights before you get too old. We did a lot of walking on that trip that I probably wouldn’t be able to do today. I’d suggest that everyone should travel when they’re healthy and can enjoy it before it’s too late. It’s easy to say ‘I’ll go here when I have enough money saved up’ or ‘I’ll go here when I’m finally retired,’ but no one is guaranteed tomorrow.”

– Shirley D’Angelo

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Familiarize yourself with the wildlife in the area, and pack accordingly.

“If you happen to be traveling to some of the wonderful animal habitats throughout British Columbia, it is a good idea to purchase ‘Bear Spray,’ just in case of an emergency encounter. The tip here, however, is not to test the can of spray just to see if it’s spraying properly. Apparently, it can cause great discomfort not only to yourself, but to the entire family standing behind you.”

– Betsey and John Birrel

Don’t drink too much

Travel lessons we’ve learned from our grandparents 4
Photo via Terri Dietz

“My husband and I had a wonderful wedding, so wonderful it lasted until 6 a.m. the next day! (We were young and it was in New York.) Little did I know that my new husband had planned a surprise honeymoon and scheduled a car to pick us up at our hotel at 7 a.m. to take us to the airport. On no sleep, we had one hour to pack our bags and sober up for our five-hour flight to St. Martin. We only succeeded with packing our bags. At the airport, we decided that instead of trying to sober up, we might as well continue drinking until we got to our hotel. After two bloody marys, a five-hour flight and a one-hour crowded bus ride with no A/C we made it to our hotel for a much-needed nap. Plan ahead if you are drinking, you don’t want too much fun to ruin the rest of your trip.”

-Terri Dietz

If you learn the last lesson the hard way, here are some tips for flying with a hangover.

Main image: istockphoto/Roberto A Sanchez

Travel lessons we’ve learned from our grandparents was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Chelsey Burnside
Author: Chelsey Burnside (22 posts)

Chelsey is a travel, fashion and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. Her work also appears in The Coveteur, The Ottawa Citizen, The Toronto Star and various notebooks left in airports.