For some of us, the idea of planning a holiday and spending weeks together in a foreign land with our parents and children sounds like a new circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno. But, if your family relationships are solid and you can ride out the occasional emotional storms and historical family member behavioral patterns, the benefits of multigenerational travel far outweigh the downsides.
We’ve done several major international trips with both sets of grandparents, undertaking multi-generational travel on a global scale. Some of the holidays have been more passive in nature, but most have involved traveling many miles through many countries and visiting a wide variety of sites and destinations over an extended period of time.
We’re in good company. In the past few years, there has been a growing trend towards multi- or inter-generational travel. (The American Travel Industry Association estimates that more than 5 million family vacations each year include more than three generations.) Multigenerational travel is becoming a popular way for extended families to spend quality time together while on holiday, to celebrate reunions or special occasions, and to save money while doing so. This is particularly important in these difficult economic times when holiday budgets remain tight, if they even exist at all.
The benefits and value of multigenerational travel are many and significant: sharing the costs of accommodations, food and travel; fostering family relationships across generations; celebrating individual or family milestones; and creating memories, are among some of them. But before you call Grandma to book your trip to the Amazon jungle or bike ride across France, there are a few things to consider before you plan and execute a successful multigenerational family adventure holiday.
1. Start Planning Early
So, you’ve all agreed to travel together! What kind of holiday is everyone interested in having? Is it a one-week beach resort trip, a cruise, or a month-long European tour? Are you getting together to celebrate a special family event or to explore a new destination?
Surveying the participants a year ahead of your planned departure is key to determining what kind of holiday everyone is interested in. It’s the first step towards determining the where, the what, and the when.
In planning your holiday, and in particular the what part, it’ important to keep in mind the ages and physical abilities of all of the family members. If you’re traveling with babies or elderly parents, your mobility may be limited. Planning a trip that involves walking around Rome all day long together or biking along the Danube for a week may not be in the cards.
2. Coordinate Travel
Many families are spread out across the country. It’s important to determine whether it’s best for everyone to leave from the same place, or instead meet at your destination. Appointing a trip planner from your group, or hiring a travel agent can make planning easier, as one person can research and make the best recommendations for everyone, with suggestions from others of course!
Many airlines offer group rates if you have large group traveling together, to and from the same destination. You can also negotiate cheaper car rentals if you need a fleet of cars, but you’ll need to determine your mobility on the ground first. Who’ll be driving and how much space do you need? What are the costs involved? Renting a mini-van for 6 or 8 people is practical and cost-effective in North America, but it’s cheaper to rent two cars in Europe for the same number of people, due to the higher rental cost of larger vehicles there. Utilize an on-line travel site, such as Kayak, Travelocity or Expedia to compare costs across different airlines and rental companies.
3. Money, Money, Money
Nothing creates trip stress like money worries. Traveling can be expensive, and even though pooling resources among family members can save you money, it still involves a discussion about who will pay for things, and how expenses will be divided up during your travels.
Unless your rich uncle has offered to pay the entire trip cost, determine the payment pattern before you even book any flights or accommodations. This will help minimize misunderstandings and reduce possible resentment about family members not paying their way. It’s not the easiest subject to bring up, but not discussing it can ruin your holiday and create long-lasting bitterness.
4. Home Away from Home
Accommodation is often the largest expense item on any trip. One of the biggest benefits of traveling as an extended family are the cost savings that can come from pooling resources and sharing space.
Finding vacation rental apartments or hotel suites with the appropriate number of bedrooms and a kitchen is a must. You can save hundreds of dollars by staying in one location, and by eating some meals in your apartment instead of in a cafe or restaurant three times a day. Restaurant meal costs can really add up, especially on an extended holiday.
Finding suitable rental accommodation on the web is easier than ever before, thanks to the multiple sites offering reviews and bookings for apartments, hotels and hostels around the world, such as Tripadvisor.com or Bookings.com. And through Google Street View, you can also see (before you book) whether your rental apartment or hotel in London or Auckland is located in the centre of town or a 30 minute train ride away.
Home exchanges are also a wonderful way to save money while exploring new destinations. Two of the best are www.homelink.org and www.homeaway.com.
5. Patience is a Virtue
While it helps to have a good relationship with one’s parents or in-laws when planning a trip together, even the best relations can be severely tested when everyone is jet-lagged after a 15 hour flight, or if the GPS stops working and you’re suddenly lost at night in southern France. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to summon the necessary patience to deal with situations when they don’t go as planned.
It’s critical to recognize one’s own flash-points and hotspots; the things that have historically driven you crazy in the past. If you already know ahead of time that your parent or mother-in-law is going to do something or act in a way that will get in the way of enjoying your trip, and each other, deal with it ahead of time. Either choose a coping mechanism (i.e. go for a walk, leave the room), or face the issue head on by sitting down to talk about the problem face to face. Otherwise your dream holiday can turn into the trip from hell, and uh oh – you still have three weeks left together!
6. The Necessity of Compromise
Grandpa wants to visit the war memorial; the kids want to go to the circus. What to do?
Like life, traveling as an extended family requires recognizing the need to compromise. If you’ve planned your trip well, you already know what everyone really wants to do on the holiday, and whether or not the schedule will allow for them to get something of what they wish for. Ideally, all family members have to commit to giving a little to get something back. That includes young children, teenagers and a parent perhaps accustomed to getting his own way all the time.
It’s a great idea to schedule each of your trip days in advance, according to location or activity. Mapping out a schedule (that still allows for some flexibility) will allow everyone to get their ideas on the table and hopefully permit each family member to achieve at least one of their own trip highlights, whether it’ a family beach day, museum visit, or window shopping for the afternoon in the city’s best shopping district.
7. Celebrate Togetherness
Spending quality family time on holiday is a privilege and a gift. It’s a time to celebrate being together as a family and for everyone to enjoy themselves! We’ve celebrated many personal and family milestones all over the world, creating unforgettable memories that will last long after some participants have moved on.
For young children and grandparents, spending time together on holiday fosters their special relationship, which can focus on fun and even learning opportunities about family history and each other. For adult children, the multigenerational adventure can offer the chance to do activities on the same level as their parents.
The added benefit of built-in babysitting allows the parents of young children a day (or night) to themselves to spend as a couple – visiting museums, eating a fancy dinner, or enjoying a special walk on the beach. Reconnecting with each other and across generations can be especially important if everyone lives in different cities, and doesn’t get to spend much time together throughout the year.
all photos by Claudia M. Laroye and may not be used without permission