How to Survive an 8-Day Vacation with Your Mother

My mother has seen it all. But as a grown woman, she hadn’t seen me naked.

And that wasn’t about to start now.

Entering our Viking River Cruise cabin in Budapest, we liked the room’s spare, modern, vaguely Nordic style. But the bathroom had us befuddled. Its walls were made of glass–and the shower was mere inches from one of the beds in the sleeping area. You could see someone soaping up, or sitting on the toilet from across the room.

I fiddled with the light switches in search of a frost button. Finally, I asked her to turn around as I took the speediest, most uncomfortable shower of my life. It made me wonder: Why was I so embarrassed, when I don’t think much of changing in a locker room around friends? When was the last time my mom and I were so…intimate?

More than 12 hours prior, we had met in the airport in New York. One overnight flight and long layover later, we were finally at the start of our long-anticipated mother-daughter vacation aboard a Viking River Cruise. It was my idea to leave my sister and father behind in California. My mom was in the throes of a tough year, and I wanted to give her a break from taking care of my ailing grandmother.

For eight days, we’d share a cabin. We’d eat all our meals together. We’d explore medival towns and cities along the Danube river. It was just me and Tiger Mom, as I affectionately like call to her…behind her back.

To my shock and awe, by the end of the eight days, the two of us had not fought once, but we laughed a lot.

Here’s how to survive your next multigenerational trip:

  1. Make other friends—fast.Tiger Mom and I were decades younger than the average passenger (mostly sassy, cool and friendly retired couples), and we stuck out in a sea of grey heads. Because the Viking ship was small—there were fewer than 170 passengers aboard—we got to mingle with almost all the guests. Constantly getting to know other people over meals or during tours meant that we always had a new person to feed off of—and that the two of us had to be on our best behavior. We regaled everyone with the story of our awkward shower situation.
  2. Schedule solo time.No matter what your travel personality is, sticking with someone 24/7 is going to drive both of you bonkers. Before the trip, I told Tiger Mom that I would be working a little bit during the trip. For a few hours each day, I’d sneak off to the ship’s library or lounge area with my laptop, and happily tap away. She’d either come with me and read a book, or watch a movie in the room. We spent a day apart in Nuremberg, Germany, since I wanted to learn more about its history and she wanted to hit up the Christmas market. By dinner, we were excited to see each other and talk about all we had seen.
  3. Beverages will save the day.Wine at every meal? Sure. But when we were exploring on land, and one of us would get tired, hungry or need to use the bathroom, stopping for a hot chocolate or coffee (OK, and cake) gave us the chance to catch our breath and got us back to good spirits in no time.
  4. Humor each other.To Tiger Mom’s chagrin, I don’t like to have my picture taken. But I made sure to take lots of photos of her to send to our family back home—and agreed to just enough mother-daughter shots to avoid bickering. In turn, Tiger Mom bit her tongue when I insisted on investigating grocery stores at every country we visited.
  5. Push all the buttons.After our first full day on the cruise, we returned to our freshly-cleaned cabin to find that the bathroom’s glass walls were frosted for privacy. In our embarrassment and tiredness on our first day, we had missed the frost button.