How to Plan a Multi-Generation Family Vacation

We Baby Boomers are fueling the travel industry and many of us are taking our extended families along on our vacations. Forbes reports that travel agencies say that 10% of their trips are multi generational.

Even the New York Times acknowledges that:

As boomers join the ranks of grandparents, many are financing vacations for their children and grandchildren

Rueters article Flush baby boomers funding big family trips joins in, saying:

Industry analysts say the increase in popularity in multigenerational travel is being driven by spry baby boomers who are gathering up their dispersed kin to spend quality time together.

A soon-to-be-released survey from MMGY Global, a travel industry research company, finds that around 5.5 percent of all vacation trips now consist of grandparents, parents and children traveling together.

We aren’t the first generation of my family to include multiple generations on trips though. My parents not only traveled with siblings and children, but also took my children on vacation with them. My WWII era uncle and his wife made trips annually with one of their 4 grandchildren (a different one each year).

But, we are the first generation (that I know about) to include grandparents, parents and grandchildren (and sometimes even the great-grandparent).

We took my Mom with us to Florida in the 1980’s. She was in her seventies at the time, my spouse and I in our forties and our kids were tween and teen.

But our best trip was in 2012, when we funded a trip to Yellowstone with our two sons, their wives and our grandchildren. Last year, my spouse and I took our 9 year old grandson on a road trip (from the US Midwest) to Colonial Williamsburg and toured Virginia for 10 days.

Vacations, however, can bring out the worst in folks, so how in the heck can you plan one that includes all ages?

Here is what I did (and am currently doing while planning a dream trip to Hawaii for all of us).

Plan on providing at least some funding.

If you want to make sure your family can come along, and if you can afford it, provide a specified budget or amount to each family unit (once you set the destination and research costs).

Find a general time-frame for the vacation.

My family won’t commit to specifics very easily, but they know in general what they have to deal with, and I usually do as well.  You need a time-frame to figure out an estimated cost due to seasonally different rates on attractions, lodging and transportation costs.

Be considerate of work and school schedules.

Sure, we are retired and can go anytime, but parents may have busy times at work, limited vacation days available or other commitments. If the kids are old enough to travel well, they are probably school aged and teachers get irate if their students are pulled out of school.

Start planning early.

It is going to take awhile to get commitments, find available time-frames, research destinations and make the arrangements. Start early. For our 2012 trip (which we took in June), I started the fall before. American national park lodges fill up fast and I knew I wanted to stay at Old Faithful Inn for at least a few days.

Begin by suggesting the idea of a trip, along with several choices of destinations (which include your preferred spots). For our next trip, hopefully next summer, I started talking about it in late spring this year, put forth my suggestions on destinations in early summer and am now doing the research to come up with options and a cost estimate.

Get commitments on the number of days they will agree to use.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same for all family units. One of our son’s and his wife peeled out after touring Yellowstone, while our other son, wife and grandkids went with us to a few other destinations prior to heading home.

Plan to handle all ages.

The Rueters article “Flush baby boomers funding big family trips” noted above suggests that:

The first step is to look at meeting the needs of the children – how long a plane trip can they tolerate, what activities can they do, will they eat anything beyond chicken nuggets?

Next she suggests finding a place where family members can amuse themselves during the day, usually on their own dime, and come back together for a pre-arranged evening meal, often paid for by the family elder.

Don’t force everyone to be together all the time.

Our kids haven’t lived with us since 1996, so lets face it, sometimes they get on our nerves. Everyone needs alone time – as a family unit and as an individual. Plan for it.

On our Yellowstone trip, we each traveled in our own car, had our own room each night and split off during the day to do what we wanted to do. One day, one family unit hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone while others did a car tour around the loop. Another time, my spouse and I took a Yellow Bus tour – sans kids or grandkids.

Provide for some shared, memory building meals and activities, but also provide options for family units to pick their own activities part of each day.

Find lodging that works.

More and more hotels are providing connecting rooms and suites that accommodate multiple family units. There are also vacation rentals from which to choose. Get something with enough room to allow each person and family to have their own space. Camping may be an alternative for some.

I’m exploring vacation rentals for the Hawaii trip – as the hotels are pretty expensive and we have folks in the party who may not do well with restaurant food all the time. However, I will most likely plan for some nights in hotels so we can get relief from one another part of the time.

When my in-laws celebrated their 50th anniversary, one of the daughters arranged for a trip to Breckenridge Colorado. She found a wonderful, huge vacation rental that would accommodate the grandparents, we parents and our various aged children – 8 adults and 5 kids. It had a large kitchen, an outside deck over looking the mountains, multiple bedrooms, a pool table in on the ground floor and was within walking distance of the shops in town. After a few days, even with the space and available activities, tensions were rising.

Do some communal packing.

If you are going to fly or take some other transportation with limited baggage capability, think about trying to avoid duplicates of certain items and plan who will bring what on those. For instance, you probably won’t need 3 curling irons or 2 hair dryers (unless you don’t stay close enough to borrow each others things).

Be clear about finances.

Sure, maybe your parents say they are funding the trip – but that might just mean airfare, lodging and an allowance for meals. You may be on the hook for activity fees, car rentals, souvenirs and more.

For our Yellowstone trip, I budgeted $9,000 for everyone for the entire trip to be funded by us. We wrote a check to each son/wife for $3000, and in addition, we let them know that we would pay for 3 nights at Old Faithful Inn (since that was my choice) and 2 entire family meals. We tried to make it clear that anything above and beyond that amount was on them, and if they didn’t spend that amount, they got to keep the rest of it.

If you are doing the funding, make sure that you pick options and alternatives that are in your budget. Multi-generation vacations don’t have to be expensive. The only requirement is that you are all together (some of the time) enjoying each other.

Don’t overstep your authority.

One of the joys, my WWII era Aunt says, in taking a grandchild on vacation without the parents is that you can set your own expectations of behavior for the child on the trip. Not so when the parents are along. Grandparents, don’t overstep your bounds. When the parents are there, they are in charge of the kids, not you.

Be as fair as possible.

Just because there are multiple adults along with the kids doesn’t mean that parents can expect automatic babysitting services. It is a great time for some grandparent-grandchild bonding, but not every single night. Likewise, grandparents can’t expect day in day out time with their children or grandchildren. Let them pursue their own (perhaps more active) interests some of the time.

What tips do you have?


How to Plan a Multi-Generation Family Vacation — 2 Comments

  1. I have never been on a multigeneration famaily vacation before. It sounds like it could be an enjoyable experience although I am certain I would never want to go on one with my in-laws! Well, I might consider making an exception to allow them to go to Disneyland with us so they could watch the kids part of the time. Other than that – no way!

    This is good advice for planning a multigenerational vacation.

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