Q A week into our trip to Spain, I told my sister I wanted to spend a day alone. She said I was being completely selfish. Was I really?
A No, Señor, it isn't selfish to want a break. But it does sound as if you need to practice your English skills alongside your Spanish. After all, "I want to be alone" is easily interpreted as "I don't enjoy being with you"—a hurtful sentiment on any continent. Instead, try a more ego-cushioning approach: "You know, Sis, I'm having so much fun with you, but I'm the type who needs to do a little exploring by myself." Assure her that this would apply no matter who your traveling companion was—Queen Elizabeth, Bono, the Olsen twins. . . .
Ideally, this honesty-flattery combo will earn you a day of freedom from both guilt and sibling. But I also hear some fear behind your sister's strong response. Does she depend on you to translate or navigate abroad? If so, she may be as terrified of being alone in a strange country as you are exhilarated by it. The solution: Ease her fears by finding a "safety net" activity—a guided tour of Gaudí architecture, a paella-cooking class—that she can savor while you're off exploring. Who knows: Once she gets a taste of foreign freedom, your sister may be the one thumbing through her phrase book for a gentle way to say, "It's not you, Bro, it's me."
Send travel etiquette questions to Miss Malsy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in March 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.