How to Get the Most Out of Multigenerational Vacations

Planning a family vacation with kids, grandparents and everyone in between? Follow these tips for a fun trip that creates lasting memories.

by NEA Member Benefits

Key takeaways

  • Early planning and booking ensures that you can secure everything you need.
  • Tell your travel agent about your group’s ages and interests so you can discuss options that appeal to all.
  • Those under 10 and over 65 may need more downtime.
  • Work out a budget in advance based on how much each family or person is willing to spend. 

Traveling with extended family can be a wonderful sharing and bonding experience for everyone, but it also creates unique challenges.

If you’re planning to take a trip with your extended family, take a look at what travel experts and veteran multigenerational travelers, suggest to make sure everyone has a good time—without going crazy.

Start planning early

Begin as far ahead as you possibly can. “It can be challenging to coordinate work and school schedules and to book reservations during peak travel periods,” says travel and lifestyle journalist Irene S. Levine, professor of psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine.

“Depending on the size of the group, one year is not too far in advance” to begin pulling all the pieces together, says Jacquie Whitt, a teacher in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and co-founder of Adios Adventure Travel. Her company was founded after she took a group of high school students to Machu Picchu in 2007. Since then, Whitt has become the Director of International Programs and owner of the company.

“I find we typically need to look six months out, just to coordinate schedules for her multigenerational family vacations, says Valerie M. Grubb, author of Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel and a blog called Travel with Aging Parents. Her multigenerational family, which includes her nearly-90-year-old mother, her brother and his wife and their young twin girls, have traveled together to places as diverse as China, Australia, Yellowstone National Park and New York City.

Early booking is especially important if you’re planning a trip to Europe. “We can’t stress this enough,” says Meghan Donovan, manager of digital outreach for Auto Europe Car Rentals headquartered in Portland, Maine.

Car rental shortages have become a reality during the pandemic, so if your travel group will need vans or other specialty vehicles with equipment add-ons such as car seats and ski racks, it’s extra important to reserve them early. “These specialty vehicles, especially those with automatic transmissions, are highly sought after in Europe,” Donovan says.

Reserving early also gives you a better chance to secure an International Drivers License if you’ll need one during your trip.

Booking early will also give you the best selection of vacation home rentals, if you’re opting for that over a hotel. Or, if you want several hotel rooms on the same floor, reserving early will allow for that possibility to be more likely.

Finally, starting early makes being able to use loyalty and reward points more likely when booking flights and hotels.

Get everyone’s (limited) input

Everyone involved should have a voice in choosing where to go, where to stay and what to do—within limits.

“Don’t kill yourself trying to make everybody happy. You can’t please everyone. Just relax and do the best you can,” says Kassi Magruder, trip planner with Adventure Life in Missoula, Montana. “Pick a trip that has flexibility built into it.” For example, she says “a cruise or a lodge-based trip will give different family members the ability to go off and do their own thing, but be back together as a group at the end of the day.”

Focus on what your group wants to do instead of where they want to go, Grubb says. “Ask everyone going with you what they want to get out of the vacation.” Do they want an action-filled trip with lots of activities? Do they want to see new sites? Try exotic new foods? Would they rather make relaxation a priority? Next, ask if they’d rather do those things in a cold or hot climate.

Look for multigenerational activities

Choose a destination that offers an array of activities at different levels. “When you go to a destination with a lot of options, the more active members of your group can run as hard as they want, while those who want or need a more relaxing vacation can enjoy themselves, too,” Grubb says.

If you’re working with a travel agent and have already selected a destination, tell the agent about your group’s ages and interests so you can discuss the options your group could enjoy there, Whitt suggests.

For example, if your group chose Machu Picchu, which Whitt says is the most widely visited destination in South America, you could select options such as a four-day Inca Trail hike or an easier one-day hike for the more active members of your group, while others may prefer to take the train. “Then we bring all the group members together for a guided tour of Machu Picchu. It’s important to bring the family members together for the highlight moments of the trip,” Whitt adds.

Or, if your group wants to take a one-day trip to the Galapagos Islands, everyone in the group could enjoy the boat trip to get there, and then some might take land-based tours while others snorkel. Those who prefer a more leisurely trip could stay on the boat, Whitt says.

Plan some activities for the group to enjoy together

While doing separate things is fine some of the time, the point of multigenerational travel is enjoying your trip together. Look for a few activities all the generations in your group can share, like easy hikes, museum visits that aren’t too niche, and must-see attractions that are probably on everyone’s list.

Levine recommends all-inclusive resorts and all- or mostly-inclusive cruises. “They are great choices because the costs are known up front and people don’t constantly have to pay for soft drinks, meals, etc., and split bills, which can be awkward.”

Whitt says having the right sleeping arrangements and enough entertainment options to keep people with different interests and energy levels happy is the key to a good experience. Villas, especially serviced villas where no one in your party has to clean up everything, can be a nice choice because they allow everyone to be under one roof, she says.

Plan on having meals together. “Even if days are spent apart,” Levine says, “coming together for meals—especially dinner—is a wonderful way to bond and share experiences and memories with each other.”

Don’t overbook

Activities are great, but everyone needs some time unscheduled downtime—time to just sit and savor the experience, rest, read, sleep, or just be quiet and alone for a while.

“Generally children under 10 and people over 65 need more downtime than other ages,” Whitt says. Discuss downtime preferences with your group in advance, before the plans are firm, so you can incorporate each person’s needs and wishes. If you have very young children who still need to nap at certain times during the day, be sure to take that into account.

Don’t assume the older members of your group will babysit for you during their downtime—or any time, Grubb says. If that’s something you’re assuming will happen, be sure to talk to them about it well in advance of the trip. Remember, she notes, “it’s their vacation, too.”

Decide in advance who’ll pay for what

Talk about money early—before you finalize plans.

Get the most realistic cost estimates possible, as early as you can, so money can be part of the conversation when you talk to your group about how they like to travel, Levine advises. For example, does one family like gourmet dining while another prefers fast food? Does one prefer budget or free entertainment while another wants to try luxury venues? These choices will affect the overall cost of your trip.

Discuss upfront how the expenses will be covered to avoid surprises and possible hurt feelings later. Will each of you pay for your own hotel rooms, or will you pool the cost? How will rental car fees be divvied up? Who pays entry fees for activities you’ll do together as a family? Grubb says it’s best to talk money before choosing a destination because everyone’s income levels and budgets probably vary.

There are no wrong answers, only differences. When you know what your group wants, work out a budget based on how much each family or person is willing to spend.

If you’re working with a travel agency, find out in advance if the agency will separate costs and accept separate payments, Whitt suggests. Some may charge an additional fee for that option. Her agency quotes the cost of each trip “per person” and then customizes the quote to incorporate any additional costs for special activities—such as renting bikes for a mountain biking excursion—on an individual basis.

Put one person in charge

“It’s nice to involve everyone in the excitement of planning the trip, but ultimately there needs to be one person who makes the final decisions and executes the plan,” Levine says.

Discuss your main destination options, then break down the types of activities you want to do when you get there, Whitt suggests.

When you’ve decided what kinds of accommodations your group wants and how much downtime and active time everyone prefers, appoint one person to act as your group’s main contact with the travel agency or operator.

What if something goes wrong? Relax and enjoy the trip anyway.

“Not everything is going to work out the way you planned. Go with the flow,” Grubb says. “Leave your emotional baggage at home.,”

And remember, “travel mishaps make for great stories once you’re back home!”

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