Learning how to be a better sister through international travel
Hi there! Today I have a guest post for you, from my friend Lindsey. You’ll recognize the name from my South America trip last year and because we traveled to Central Europe 2.5 years ago together as well. Lindsey and I went to high school together in Florida but she now lives in Los Angeles and works in healthcare. We have a great time together because we have very similar travel styles and interests.
When I started dreaming up ways to make content more interesting, because I was not loving what I was reading on other travel blogs, Lindsey was planning her first trip to Europe with her younger sister. The two had never traveled together as adults and live on opposite sides of the USA. Thus, I thought it would be interesting for her to write about her experience on their trip to the UK! Without further ado…
Learning How to Be a Better Sister Through International Travel
My sister and I are 9 years apart, and had never taken a real vacation together, just the two of us, as adult women. We now live on opposite coasts from each other and are lucky if we see each other once every couple of years. Now that I’m 37 and she’s 28, we decided: better late than never! For her 28th birthday, my gift to her was to cover the costs of getting her very first passport (that was an adventure all its own, thanks to the government shutdown and the State Department somehow losing her application! Long story short, she submitted her application in 2018 but got her passport 7 days before we departed on March 31!). Once that ball was rolling, the goal became: where to go for my sister’s Very First International Trip? I created an elaborate shared Google spreadsheet with potential cities and itineraries. She wanted to go somewhere in Europe, so the entire continent was up for grabs.
After hours of comparisons, fare shopping (did we want to pay cash or did I want to dip into my hoarded AA mileage account?), and logistics-weighing, we finally decided on London and Edinburgh. We settled on a destination and planned the entire trip in about 6 weeks, which was an adrenaline rush for sure. I'd been to London and Edinburgh before (several years ago), so I felt really great about being able to show her around two cities that I love so much.
10 Sister Trip Highlights:
Being able to treat her to taking her first international trip In Style: using the new AA award search tool to find potential flight options, I was able to book us both roundtrip business class tickets for 230,000 AA miles and $537 (we decided to pay a little extra on the return to fly nonstop back to the East Coast, since I would still have another leg back to Los Angeles). I redeemed a free IHG hotel night (thanks to the IHG credit card) and 100,000 IHG points for 3 free nights at the InterContinental London Park Lane, where service was impeccable and we loved the location. She’s now irrevocably spoiled for any future trips, now that she knows the luxury of lie-flat seats and unlimited champagne!
Building our relationship: I had to navigate my own emotional terrain of interacting with her as an adult woman, and not fall into a negative childhood dynamic (as the older sister I could definitely be, uh, bossy...to say the least). There were definitely times when I was like “did you pack your passport? Did you bring this and that?” and I would have to catch myself and remind myself that she’s an adult who successfully navigates the world on her own and I can relax and create a new, evolved dynamic where I treat her more like a friend and an equal.
Great minds think alike: as we were planning the trip together, I definitely took the lead of logistics (I love everything related to planning: loading up my Google Maps with places to go, figuring out the must-do things for her first international trip, handling the money, etc), but there were several times where we would send each other ideas and realize we were on the exact same page! There were no disagreements over plans or what interested us, and that was a great feeling to have (and a good omen for future sister trips!). We found out that we travel really well together (except that I’m a much faster walker than her and need to embrace the amble), and that made us even more excited to plan future trips together.
Embracing being a tourist: we were like, you know what? Let’s book some tours! People may find it cheesy, but we appreciated learning about the history of the places we’re in and we appreciated having experts guide us around. Mercat Tours were great - in our first Edinburgh night, we booked a ghost tour and had such a good time that we went back to the hotel and booked a walking tour of Old Town and the Castle for the next morning. For the last day of our trip, we booked a Rabbie’s West Highlands tour, which was the perfect way to relax and get out into the countryside. We felt like we had a perfect blend of “unsupervised exploring” and “structured sightseeing,” which was just what we wanted.
We fancy: we splurged on swanky afternoon tea in each city! In London, the tea at Sketch London lived up to all the hype I’d seen online, and was one of our favorite experiences of the entire trip. The David Shrigley art made for a magical atmosphere, and every moment was perfectly thought out and executed: the artistic pour of champagne, the whimsical dishware highlighting delicious morsel after delicious morsel, Gus the caviar man dressed all in pink, the futuristic space pod toilets, the pink chairs that look ready to be layered in a tiramisu! In Edinburgh, we had lovely traditional afternoon tea at the Witchery by the Castle. After exploring Edinburgh Castle, this was a quiet respite from the hustle of the Royal Mile. The standouts here were the smoky Serendipity Souchon tea, the haggis bonbons, the choux buns, and the peerless scones. It was so fun to do something unabashedly feminine and fun with her.
We both love creative cocktail bars: our absolute favorite was Panda & Sons in Edinburgh - it has a speakeasy vibe and a hidden door to get in, but the vibe was warm and welcoming. Honorable mentions: Sketch in London (the amazing afternoon tea is an experience all its own, but we went back on our second night in London to have drinks in the Parlour), and Mr. Fogg’s Society of Exploration, if only for the moment when our server told her that her drink was “missing something”...he took it away, and she said it “came back shiny, like a rare Pokemon.”
Scotland is the best: we were literally in Edinburgh for less than 2 hours before we stumbled upon a charming trattoria with a table full of older Irish couples on holiday, who were drunk and singing loudly. My sister has always been the more outgoing, gregarious sister (even when I was a teenager, I would send my baby sister to ask people questions for me because I was too paralyzed with shyness to do it myself), and when I went to the restroom downstairs I thought, “I swear that sounds like my sister singing, too?” By the time I made it back up the stairs, my sister was sitting at the other table, arms around these strangers, singing along to their a capella version of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” What could I do but join in? It was one of those moments that made me really love and appreciate how she can open herself up to strangers and new experiences - I admire that and should try to be more like her!
Sorry, environment: I am an avowed carry-on only traveler, even for 10-day trips. One of my favorite tricks is to either bring old undies/socks that have lived a good life but that I’m ready to discard along the way, but this time I bought a 10-pack of basic undies from Amazon that I didn’t feel bad about getting rid of at all. I told my sister to bring some older undies she wouldn’t feel bad about discarding, and for some reason she interpreted that as bringing those in addition to the undies she was planning to wear, because she thought I was initiating her into the long-standing travel tradition of leaving a trail of clean but old undies across the UK (?!??), which made me crack up for days.
Relaxation is key: we both love exploring and seeing new things, but we also value relaxation and - perhaps most importantly - spa time! Knowing that we’d be in Edinburgh for the longest time (5 nights), we splurged for a Club Level room at the Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa, which gave us unlimited access to the hydropool and thermal suites at One Spa - one of the rare spas where the photos actually don’t do it justice, and everything was even better in person! I’m still dreaming of the outdoor thermal pool and the Himalayan salt room with the warming bench and color therapy walls. Never staying anywhere else in Edinburgh!
Sister time is real: overall, it was a transformative trip and I feel like these 10 days together - as cheesy as it may sound - brought us closer together in a way that I couldn’t have predicted 10, 5, or 2 years ago. We had the requisite Sister Trip drunken cry-fest about our feelings and our experiences in a bar (hilariously, it was in a Big Lebowski-themed bar right around the corner of our hotel, where I think we may have scared a couple on a first date with our emotions); we had several spa-conversations about how we could be closer once we got back to our normal lives; and we ended the trip with a newfound respect for each other (on my end, for sure!) and a pact to be in better communication with each other.
Traveling with my sister made me appreciate all the parts of her I don’t get to see on a regular basis: her infectious laughter and our similar senses of humor; her love of reading allllllll the plaques in a museum while I’m just flitting around; the way she remembered the names of everyone we met and made sure to greet the doormen by name every morning; meeting new people and getting into animated discussions with them; the way she took control of the map at the British Museum and guided us to all the highlights when we only had an hour until closing; and most of all her easy-going nature while still being firm on what works best for her. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip, and now we’re just counting down before we can plan another adventure together.