Katrina Clarke | January 10, 2017 | Toronto Star
Wedged in the middle seat between my parents on a flight to Ireland, I turned to my mum and asked to take a look at her guide book.
“Oh now you want to know what we’re doing,” my mum teased.
My parents had just planned our family vacation — our first as a family of adults.
It was my Vancouver-based sister, Carolyn, who proposed the idea. She is 26; I am 29. And while the four of us travelled frequently as a family when my sister and I were little — holidaying in New Zealand, Israel and Mexico — our travelling foursome splitered as we got older and busier and added significant others to the mix.
I was cautiously optimistic about this adult Clarkes-only trip and braced myself for inevitable bickering and personality clashes. But we so rarely spend time together in Canada, let alone a week travelling, so this seemed like a great chance to reconnect.
The idea, it turns out, is part of a trend travel companies have noticed: more parents are going on trips with their grown children.
“With families scattered all over the place … it’s getting harder and harder to get everyone together,” said Lois Farley, product manager with Great Canadian Travel Group. “(Travel) is a way to keep the family together.”
Farley suspects the increase she’s seen in adults-plus-adult-kids bookings since 2014 is due to a crossover effect: baby boomers want to spend their savings and their millennial offspring are childless, rootless and eager to travel.
G Adventures, a global adventure travel company based in Toronto, also saw a 12 per cent increase in families travelling with adult kids between 2015 to 2016, while bookings for families with young kids over the same period increased by only 5 per cent, said spokesperson Tim Chan.
As for our family vacation destination, I fantasized about kayaking in South America or skiing in Japan — my sister was equally game. But my parents wanted a country that was close, safe and easy to explore. I gave up my hopes for a far-flung location and we all agreed on going to family friendly Ireland in November. I’d been there once before, but mostly to explore Dublin pubs, so I was excited to see the pastoral lands — the emerald parts of the Emerald Isle.
It was from there we left the planning to the parents.
It’s not that my sister or I are incapable of planning vacations — we’ve both lived abroad and travelled on our own — but this trip snapped us back into a pre-2000s family dynamic. We let our parents take the wheel. Literally, my dad drove us around Ireland.
For most of the time, the dad-in-charge and mum-navigating dynamic worked and I was happiest relaxing and documenting scenery on Snapchat. But there were moments of directional indecision when I missed my adult independence and wanted to grab the wheel or bark: “Wrong way!”
We landed in Dublin and spent the next few days travelling north, visiting a prehistoric tomb in Brú na Bóinne, then southwest, touring the crumbling Rock of Cashel in Cashel. It was in rainy, cold Cashel that I had my epiphany: one of the best parts of travelling as an adult is being able to drink alongside my parents. Quaffing pints of Guinness in a pub with my parents, I was more peer than teen.
From Cashel we drove further west to Killarney’s Land-Before-Time-esque national park — where we found happy middle ground between being a family with children and being a family with, well, adult children. My sister and I bit our tongues when our parents obsessed over GPS directions and our parents said nothing when we dozed in the car, missing the take-your-breath-away scenery.
After Killarney, we wound through green pastures to the Dingle Peninsula, walked along Inch Beach and snapped selfies at the edge of cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Looking back, if there was one take-away from the trip, it was that being an adult and acting like one are two different things. I didn’t always succeed in the latter.
For instance, after Donald Trump’s election, I initiated downwards-spiralling, impassioned political arguments, my patience wore thin during long drives, and the more time we spent together, the more pronounced everyone’s idiosyncrasies became to me; my ex-military dad demanding early wake-up calls, my mum needing to check out every stone carving and my energetic sister wanting next to no downtime.
But our new family dynamic was fun. We burst into laughter when the GPS spontaneously started talking in the hotel room, triggering our nerves after a long day of driving; my sister and I ribbed my parents when they wanted to be at the airport hours earlier than necessary, and we permitted ourselves a chuckle or two when my dad cracked corny jokes.
“You wouldn’t want to be a guy named Ken there,” he said as we drove past Kilkenny.