Traveling with a group can be challenging, especially when the group features vastly different ages. That means different priorities, schedules, and ‘must-see’ lists. There is plenty to think about before embarking on such a trip, so here are our pro tips for traveling with multi-generational families.
Similarly, traveling with family can be challenging. It’s not easy being together for an extended period of time, not to mention that it often presents a power shift and an awkward family dynamic that leads to misunderstandings, and sometimes even arguments. For example, who makes the decisions — the middle generation Mom and Dad who know what’s best for their children (likes and dislikes, naptimes, and what they realistically can handle or not handle), or the grandparents who are used to spoiling the grandchildren. There might also be issues related to financial responsibilities; for example, who pays for what?
Put these two challenges together for a multi-generational vacation and you have a situation that requires thoughtful advance planning to ensure that everyone has a good time.
DISCUSS EXPECTATIONS IN ADVANCE
It’s impossible to please everyone at once, but with frank discussions about everyone’s expectations, wants, and needs, you can avoid tension and disappointment before the trip is underway. One of those discussions should include a good look at your destination and the nearby attractions to find out which ones appeal to the majority of the family. Keep in mind that animal-related attractions or activities tend to be interesting to a wide age range. If you decide on something that is in high demand, be sure to book it soon after you arrive, or better yet before you leave home to ensure that you don’t miss out.
Discuss things such as finances and parenting issues, or more specifically, who will be responsible for what while on vacation. And then, above all, ensure that you actually stick to the plan. There’s nothing more frustrating or embarrassing in a restaurant than squabbling over who pays the dinner bill. And nothing is more conducive to a child’s meltdown than if mom is trying to get the child to bed in preparation for a big adventure the following day while Grandma is arguing that the child should be able to stay up late while on vacation. Such a scenario is a recipe for disaster.
BE HONEST / DON’T BE AFRAID TO SUGGEST AN ALTERNATIVE
Being agreeable is a good thing, but not if going with the flow is making you unhappy, uncomfortable, or perhaps even ill. Be honest with each other about any limitations you might have when booking attractions and activities. There’s no point in going along on a boat cruise, for example, if you easily become seasick, or agreeing to an eco-adventure or theme park if you sense that the physical strain will be too much for you. This will only cause the remainder of the family to feel guilty and cut their excursion short. At that point, nobody is having fun, not to mention the waste of time and money, and the potential resentment.
The same is true for restaurants. Don’t agree to a seafood restaurant, for example, if you hate seafood or the smell of it and the menu offers no alternatives. Suffering through a situation just to avoid conflict is no way to enjoy your vacation, and the awkward tension it will cause ensures that no one else will enjoy their time away either.
In both of these scenarios, don’t be afraid to offer an alternative suggestion if you have one. You just might spark the interest of the rest of the family. Or, offer to stay at the hotel for some downtime or room service, without making the others feel guilty.
IT’S OK TO DO YOUR OWN THING
Despite how hard you might try to stay together by opting for attractions, activities, and restaurants that suit the majority of the family, there are bound to be times when everyone wants something different. It’s also conceivable that you might want a break from each other. Rather than forcing everyone into an unwanted situation, try splitting up for a while. Or, better yet, actually PLAN on some time to go your own way.
Let Grandma and Grampa take the kids so Mom can have some downtime at the spa and Dad can play a round of golf, or they can have a romantic dinner together. Then alternate and let Grandma and Grampa enjoy some quality time alone while Mom and Dad embark on an adventure with the kids. Consult the hotel or resort concierge to find out if babysitting services are available onsite. If so, take advantage of it for an afternoon or evening so that everyone can enjoy a change of pace.
SCHEDULE SOME DOWNTIME IN YOUR ITINERARY
Years ago, vacations were intended to be nothing more than relaxing. It was a scheduled time to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in order to de-stress. But these days, the booming travel industry has ensured there is an abundance of attractions, activities, and experiences at every major destination. So the idea of lazing around a pool or beach for a full week no longer applies. And it’s no wonder so many people return from a holiday and say they need a vacation to recuperate from their vacation.
As much as you want to make the most of your vacation by scheduling something for every single day, it’s not wise, especially with multi-generational travel. Everyone needs a bit of a break, particularly young children and the older generation. Instead of maintaining a jam-packed itinerary, be sure to build some downtime into it. Plan big activities 2 or 3 days apart so there is time to relax in between. And do your best to be flexible should someone need extra time.
Accept the fact that something can go wrong and plans can suddenly change. It might rain one day, someone might feel ill, or an activity unexpectedly could be canceled. Although such things are disappointing when you have only a week or two for vacation, moping, complaining, or getting angry won’t change the situation, nor will it do anyone any good.
Instead, it’s best to plan ahead for such conditions. Pack a travel-size board game that everyone can play together while passing the time. Consider also packing a deck of cards so the kids can play Go Fish, the whole family can play Crazy 8’s, and the adults can play Poker or BlackJack after the kids go to bed. Or, load the tablet or laptop with some family-friendly games or movies.
Make sure everyone has packed any necessary prescription medications, and be sure to take along such handy products as Tylenol, Gravol, Immodium, Polysporin and Bandaids, Aloe for sunburn, and anything else you might think of that could make your family feel better faster.
MAKE A FAMILY KEEPSAKE
Vacations are all about making memories so take plenty of family photos of your trip to help keep the memories alive. But don’t stop at loading those photos to your laptop. Instead, get the family involved in making a scrapbook after the vacation is over. Print some of your favorite pictures and enter them into the scrapbook along with boarding passes, ticket stubs, admission wristbands, and brochures and paper menus that you might have accumulated along the way. Include any small collectibles the family has gathered such as small shells or shark’s teeth, a leftover coin or two in foreign currency, and perhaps your hotel keycard if you’ve stayed at a resort that allows you to keep them.
Not only will collecting scrapbook items give your family something to do while on vacation, but it will also help to extend your time together when you get back home.