When my parents arrived in London when I was studying abroad, I couldn’t have been happier. I never felt homesick while I was abroad, but I was still excited to see Mom and Dad (even though it had only been six weeks since they’d left me at JFK Airport). When I met them at Paddington Station, I had the broadest smile on my face and I couldn’t wait to give them a tour around the city I had begun to call home (much to my mother’s chagrin, since “home” was back in New York according to her). As excited as I was, I had a challenge ahead: how to show Mom and Dad this amazing city into five days, while still maintaining my usual schedule.
“Mom, Can you Bring Me………”
When my parents visited in October, I had been in England for over a month and the weather was starting to turn colder. I used my parents’ visit to my advantage and asked them to bring me a few things from home. Before I even left the United States, I left a pile of jeans and long sleeve shirts on my bed so it was all ready when it came time for my Mom to pack her luggage. I exchanged the cold weather clothes and sent my parents back to the States with the shorts and tank tops that I no longer needed. If you don’t need a new wardrobe, you can ask your parents to bring your favorite foods, like peanut butter or macaroni and cheese, which are harder to come by in Europe. Before you leave the states, leave a pile of things you know you’ll need later in the semester and email your parents with any additions.
My parents arrived in London painfully early on a weekday morning, so we agreed that they would make their way from Heathrow Airport to Paddington train station, where I would meet them. Transportation to and from the main airport in London is very easy, so that wasn’t a problem for my parents. In other cities, the local transportation system might not be as simple or navigable (and it might be in a foreign language) so in some situations, it might be a better idea to meet your parents at the airport. One thing I learned from my parents’ visit is that they didn’t like traveling on the train with all of their luggage; they would have preferred to splurge a bit and hire a cab, something I, as a college student, never would have thought to do. Travel arrangements for your parents’ short trip might be different than how you travel for an entire semester, so keep that in mind! Once you’re settled and have an understanding of the transportation system, talk to your parents about how they’re comfortable traveling and come to an agreement that works for all of you.
In a small city like Florence, you won’t need to worry about your parents getting from place to place by local transportation. You can set them up with a map and walking everywhere is mostly feasible. In a larger city, though, your parents are going to need to utilize the bus or underground in order to get around and see everything. I helped my parents buy Oyster cards when they first got to London and then gave them a crash course in using them on the tube. Think about how easy or hard it was for you to learn the transportation system and be patient while teaching your parents about it, especially if it’s not in their native language. If the transportation system is hard to navigate, you and your parents may consider taking cabs everywhere that’s not walkable.
Unless they come over a holiday, you’ll probably have to attend class while your parents are visiting. Try to plan it with your parents so that they’re staying while you have lighter class days or days off from school, allowing you the most amount of time with them. My professors in London were also really accommodating; when I told them that my parents were visiting, one let me leave class early and one even invited them to tag along on a field trip. When I did have to go to class, we always planned out the night before what my parents would do while I was gone. I knew my parents could manage in London without me, but I didn’t want them to waste any time lost or unsure of what to do next. I usually had them visit the more expensive places that I’d seen already while I wasn’t with them to be cost-effective. Let your parents know ahead of time what obligations you have so they aren’t surprised when you are in class all day while they’re visiting. Also communicate with your professors as soon as possible; the more warning you give them, the more understanding they may be.
While still in the planning phase, talk to your parents about what they really want to see and what you really want to show them. My parents love history, for example, so I knew they would want to spend hours at the Tower of London. Keep their interests in mind and be sure to show them the major tourist attractions, but also take them to the places that have become your favorites since your arrival. They’ll love visiting the places that have become special to you, whether this is your favorite pub, coffee shop or museum. If they arrive with a list of “must-sees,” it’s less likely that they’ll leave and have missed visiting somewhere.
The Full Experience
While you get to live there long-term, your parents are probably only staying for a few days. This means they have to get a full city experience in a short time. While planning out their days’ activities, group attractions based on location so you don’t waste time crisscrossing the city from place to place. This is where you break out the city map and begin marking off different sections of the city for each day. When it came to meals, my parents and I never went out of our way to go to a specific restaurant. We ate near where we spent the day so that we didn’t waste time. You’ll want to show them as much of the city as possible, so a bit of planning will ensure that you’re not wasting time and they’ll get the full experience of that particular city.
When my parents visited me in London, it was one of the first times in my life that I got to show them around and help them navigate a new city. London had quickly become my favorite city in the world and I was excited both to see my parents and show them this great place. While having Mom and Dad in your new country will be a blast, they will also be an interruption to how you’ve lived for the past few months. Your daily and weekly routines may be slightly different while your parents visit, but a bit of planning will ensure that they have a wonderful vacation and you’re able to show them a great time.