Multigenerational family vacations have been a ritual in my family for more than five generations. When I was a young child, they included my parents and grandparents. Now they include my children and grandchildren. We’ve taken a vacation with them every year for the past ten years. Each year we’ve learned things that have improved the quality of our time together.
According to the Travel Industry Association, multigenerational travel is one of the fastest growing areas of the travel industry. Each year more than 5 million families vacation with three generations, creating the challenge of finding a vacation that is suitable for everyone from toddlers to grandparents. After researching the wealth of material on this topic, I’ve collected some of the best tips for families who want to enjoy a multigenerational vacation.
The potential rewards of multigenerational vacations are many. So are the challenges. The goal is to overcome the obstacles so everyone can enjoy the benefits:
- Kids get more attention than usual and the chance to enjoy relatives in a less formal setting than a family function.
- Parents get a break from 24/7 parenting and maybe even get to have some husband-wife time alone.
- Grandparents get to enjoy their grandchildren in more satisfying ways than at a single holiday meal.
“The most important part of orchestrating a three-generation vacation is being able to accommodate everyone’s needs and realizing that our differences are what makes traveling together such a unique experience,” says travel expert Christine Loomis. “The trick to this type of travel is simple: planning, preparation and flexibility.”
8 Tips for Enjoying Multigenerational Vacations
- Get everyone involved in choosing the vacation destination. When kids – or adults – have a voice and a choice, they feel more invested in the trip and stay more positive even when involved in an activity they did not choose. Before the vacation call a family meeting or, if everyone does not live nearby, try to set up a telephone conference or online chat so everybody can have some input in the decision.
- Choose the right accommodations. Vacation rentals provide exactly what multigenerational families need – a sense of togetherness and privacy and for much less than the cost of multiple hotel rooms needed for a group traveling together. One travel expert writes that, “even though the point is togetherness, it’s important to choose accommodations that offer family members space and time to be on their own. Instead of renting a large house, err on the side of a condo with individual units. This keeps crying babies and late night party people from bothering everyone else. It also creates less friction around mealtime and permits less scrutiny of everyone’s parenting style.” The expert also advises each family have its own car instead of renting the largest possible vehicle.
- Schedule activities with your family’s normal routine in mind. Toddlers are generally most active in the morning, a time when grandparents are also up. Teens typically sleep late, so it’s best to schedule the thing they most want to see or do in the afternoons or evening.
- Spend time in small groups. Before you go, it’s a good idea to discuss what everyone wants to do or not do on the trip and make some compromises. Make sure everyone knows that family togetherness will not be required 24/7. It’s okay to do things alone, like take a long morning walk or read a book. In fact, families who master this have more to share when they see each other again, and each person gets a different view of vacationing in the same place. Mix and match the quality time with different family members. Parents can be with young kids while grandparents visit an art gallery or historical monument. Grandparents can also have a special evening with the grandchildren while parents go out for a romantic dinner.
- Take advantage of kitchens. It’s all about flexibility. Grandparents and grandchildren often have different meal schedules, and young children may find it difficult to sit through three meals a day in restaurants. Stay in and save money for the easy meals – breakfasts of cereal and yogurt, and quick sandwiches and snacks for lunch. Then give the whole family a treat by going out for dinner. To enjoy each other’s company, the whole group should eat together at least once a day.
- Allow time to relax. Plan a loosely structured itinerary of activities that the whole family can enjoy. But agree to have some time each day to just chill.
- Discuss vacation finances. Be realistic about what you can afford. Before you go, talk to your family openly about the vacation budget. There are many ways to have a vacation without spending lots of money and still have a great time.
- Assess the vacation pluses and minuses. At the end of the vacation, sit down together and share some of your favorite memories. Give each person a chance to say his best and worst moments. Ask for suggestions for future vacations. You could even make a vacation journal with each person contributing her own page.