By Cat Zuniga
While some of us board airplanes and rent cars to escape relatives, some travelers actually vacation with their extended families. For years, surveys have shown that multigenerational travel – trips that involve at least three generations—is on the rise. According to a Summer 2014 AAA poll, 36 percent of American families planned to take such a trip by mid-2015, up from 4 percent from the year before.
The biggest drivers behind multigenerational travel are the desire for “togetherness,” largely driven by baby boomers with money, and a search for meaningful family experiences.
If the sound of the words “family togetherness” makes you all mushy inside, then I’m guessing that your family has no religious differences, sibling rivalries, or obnoxious children. For the rest of us, planning a multigenerational vacation sounds like a daunting task that could potentially turn into a scene from Jerry Springer.
Here’s the good news: You can do it without losing your mind. And you’re not limited to the routine Caribbean cruise or mouse-riddled theme parks. Instead, you can embark on real adventures, soak up culture, and make truly experiential escapes while making everyone happy and not killing anyone.
A successful multigenerational vacation has two big benefits: The kids get extra attention and the normal family dynamic gets a break. The trip gives parents a respite from dealing with their children 24/7, and who knows what that can lead to? Some spouse-on-spouse time? You never know. Grandparents can also enjoy the fruits of their labors in ways that a single holiday meal doesn’t really allow.
Here are 10 tips to ensure your own multigenerational family vacation is successful:
1. Be Prepared. Plan Ahead. With so many agendas, schedules, and pocketbooks – not to mention diets, affinities, and behaviors – there’s potential for conflict. This happens when you’re working with at least three generations of calendars. Most families are able to get away over the winter holidays, Spring Break, and in early June, after school ends and before summer programs begin — but these are peak times for travel destinations. If you’re considering any of these dates, start discussing and planning a year or more in advance.
2. Use a Travel Expert. Some people feel that making their own arrangements is part of the fun. Even though they may not have the time to do the necessary research, they want to be their own boss. Well, these people forget that the bosses don’t do all the work. They contract out, have employees, and use specialists for their services. So be a boss and do the same.
Travel experts know where the best deals are. They can get you the best rates and group discounts, and arrange additional amenities for larger groups. They have access to things that the DIY’ers don’t, no matter how many times they’ve traveled and how much they think they know.
The key is to find the right travel expert for your needs. All travel experts are not generational-travel specialists. No professional travel expert will be offended if you ask if they’ve ever planned a multigenerational vacation. They have your best interests at heart.
3. Don’t Crowd the Guest List. More isn’t always better. You don’t need to invite every second cousin, aunt, or half-sibling. There’s a time and a place for that, and it’s called a family reunion. Even though the point of this kind of vacation is “togetherness,” it’s important to choose a trip that offers family members space and time to be on their own, and keeps the crowd size down to a manageable mob. When you’re constantly migrating as a herd, the trip becomes less pleasurable – not good.
4. Pick a Happy Medium. The world is full of beautiful destinations, and there are lots of factors to take into account when deciding on one. Keep in mind what everyone likes (or is able) to do. Small children can only tolerate ancient artifacts for so long. And grandparents don’t want to always watch the kids while the rest of the group goes on all the rides. You want a place where young kids can be active but older people can be comfortable, with plenty of activities and plenty of down time. Again, a travel expert will have lots of suggestions.
5. This Is A Democracy … Sort Of. Discuss travel options with everyone in your group, including children. It will make them feel like they’re a part of the planning process. Not only is this really fun, but it takes the pressure off the main planning person.
Each person should contribute one thing they really want to do or see, but at that point it’s up to the planner to decide how and when they get to do it. This trip is about taking a break from relationship dramas while respecting one another’s differences, instead of forcing everyone to be on the same page.
6. Be Realistic. Unless your family that travels together all the time (highly unlikely!), you probably don’t want to do a month-long vacation. One week or two is probably plenty for a multigenerational trip. Anything longer than that and family dynamics may start to sour. Chances are that’s the most time everyone can spare from their busy schedules anyway.
7. Don’t Overtax Any One Generation. It helps to have the conversation beforehand with all the parents and grandparents about what is expected/unexpected of them when it comes to hanging out with the kids. Remember, it’s a family vacation, not just a parental escape with the grandparents as babysitters. Also, make sure the kids know their expected behavior as well. Travel experts are usually quick to suggest resorts and cruises with kid’s clubs, so when all else fails (and even when it doesn’t), there’s always someone around to entertain the little ones.
8. Be Clear on Finances. It’s important to consider everyone’s budget when planning a multigenerational vacation. Discuss who will pay for what and when. Sometimes these trips are a gift with one party footing the bill. But who’s going to pay the additional and unexpected expenses? It’s important to discuss everyone’s role in paying for the entire vacation – including meals, drinks, activities, excursions, transportation, taxis, and tips – before the trip. If you don’t, and someone starts a fight about money, a dream vacation can turn into a nightmare in a matter of minutes.
If you let your travel expert know you want to make this as smooth as possible, they’ll include all of that in their planning. Chances are they’ve already factored that into their quote. That’s why they’re the experts!
9. Make Sure to Relax. Don’t think that this vacation will be the proverbial walk in the park. It will be loads of fun, but it probably won’t be totally relaxing. Even the most tightly knit families can eventually unravel. But make sure the grandparents get to have an afternoon to themselves while the rest hit the beach with the kids. Or divide the children among the grownups and switch it up a bit. That way, you can regroup at the end of the day and share your stories over dinner. One tip to consider is ending your trip with a dinner that’s a little different from the rest. It gives you the chance to exchange stories, favorite moments, and best experiences.
10. Carpe Diem. Grab lots of keepsakes, and take plenty of pictures and videos. And then take some more! Capture the moments. These kinds of trips don’t happen often, but when they do, it’s worth remembering. Some of your favorite moments are spent with the ones you love. Before you kill them, of course.
Cat Zuniga is an award-winning travel specialist. She specializes in tropical vacations for families, groups, destination weddings, and honeymooners. Visit her at http://www.TarverdiTravel.com.
Editor’s Note: it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: A trip this special deserves to be protected. We recommend travel insurance from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. Get it here.