Multigenerational family travel offers the perfect opportunity to spend time together as a family, share new experiences and make lasting memories. According to AARP, nearly 50 percent of travelers over the age of 45 plan to take a multigenerational trip in the next year. (Multigenerational typically refers to three or more generations including children, parents, grandparents and other extended family.) It’s easy to see why the popularity of these supersized family vacations has skyrocketed in recent years. In fact, according to AARP, 98 percent of travelers who have taken a multigenerational trip were so satisfied with the experience that 85 percent plan to take another multigenerational trip in the next year.
However, the thought of planning a multigenerational trip can be intimidating. Choosing a date and destination that work for everyone can be difficult and coordinating multiple branches of a family tree – each with different ages, interests and activity levels – can be even more daunting.
But don’t let these concerns stop you from embarking on what will certainly be a memorable and enriching experience for all involved. We can help! And we’ve enlisted the advice of a few family travel pros who have taken multigenerational trips and lived to tell the tale. With a little planning, you can spend less time sweating the details and more time making memories to share with generations to come.
When should we start planning a multigenerational trip?
Where should we go?
Who takes the lead when it comes to planning?
How can we make travel logistics run smoothly?
Where should we stay?
Should we have a group itinerary?
Who should foot the bill?
What those who’ve done it wish they’d known
When should we start planning a multigenerational trip?Comedynose, Project 365 #288 via Flickr CC BY 2.0
When coordinating the schedules of a large group of people with different obligations (school, jobs, activities), extra time is required to cover all the bases.
TIP: Start planning at least one year in advance
According to Nancy Solomon, contributor to Ciao Bambino, “anything more and it’s likely to change, anything less and people don’t set aside the vacation time.” Giving yourself a year to plan also ensures you’ll have more choices when it comes to choosing the right dates, as well as accommodations, flights and other amenities.
The most important thing to consider when beginning the planning process is that the brunt of time is spent making the initial decisions of where and when to travel. Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, editor of About.com’s Family Travel section, advises: “The bigger your group and the farther flung you are, the further ahead you should begin. Everyone has busy lives. People will have to take off time from work, buy plane tickets, rearrange kids’ schedules and make arrangements for pets.” Once you’ve made the decision to embark on a multigen trip, then comes the fun part.
Where should we go?Rodeime, Family Holiday on Reef Endeavour via Flickr CC BY 2.0
It can be hard to get a family to decide on a restaurant to meet for dinner, let alone get multiple generations to agree on a travel destination and date for a trip. But, because you have started planning early, you can easily overcome this obstacle by following a few key pieces of advice.
TIP: Choose the dates first
Many make the mistake of choosing a destination before considering potential dates. We understand the inclination – thinking about where to go is half the fun! But when planning a multigenerational trip, it’s wise to pick the dates first.
When planning multigenerational trips for her family, Solomon shares that “timing is the deciding factor. We start by choosing the time of year that everyone can go – that tends to be the hardest part. Often, it’s not ideal timing, but with kids ranging from six to 20 and eight adults – all with very busy schedules – we take what we can get. Once we have the dates, then it becomes a matter of where the weather is agreeable for that time of year.” Once you’re ready to pick a destination there are a few things to remember.
TIP: Consider the whole group
While you may be excited by the prospect of Paris, this may not be on everyone’s bucket list. Take editor of Family Travel Forum Kyle McCarthy’s advice: “When I plan, I try to factor in where everyone’s been and where they’d love to go. Planning a travel fantasy can help motivate family members (read: teens, college students, in-laws, etc.) who might not be keen on spending their vacation time with other relatives. In general, you have to consider age, ability and budget of every family member into the destination choices before you ask everyone to reach a consensus on where it will be.”
It’s also important to consider the activity options available. Founder and editor of TravelMamas.com, Colleen Lanin highlights the importance of considering the age and mobility of travelers: “Young children, older vacationers and those with disabilities may not be able to participate in all vacation activities, like zip-lining or white water rafting, for instance. You want to choose a destination that provides a lot of options everyone can do together as well as some activities that can be done in separate groups. You don’t want anyone to feel left out of the fun all the time.”
TIP: Have options
Polling the family for potential destinations can be a free for all, but it’s important to get everyone involved in the decision-making process. A happy compromise is coming up with a few potential destinations. Eileen Ogintz, creator of Taking The Kids and author of a nine-book series of Kid’s City Guides, suggests coming up with “three suggestions and perhaps three potential time periods so you can see everyone’s enthusiasm.”
TIP: Set goals
Solomon highlights the importance of setting goals for the trip, especially when it comes to choosing a destination: “If the most important thing is to relax and hang out together, then certain touring or city trips will not facilitate that as much as a beach destination.”
Defining expectations ahead of time can prevent miscommunications later. Sarah Schlichter, senior editor of Independent Traveler, suggests answering the following questions before setting off on a multigen trip: “Are there certain sights nearly everyone wants to see? Are people more interested in relaxing or exploring? How much free time and personal space do people want? Knowing these kinds of things can help you plan a trip that will satisfy the most people.”
Who takes the lead when it comes to planning?Vimages, Family reading via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Organizing the travel arrangements and wrangling family members to make a decision requires a point person. If you’re reading this article, congratulations, that person may be you! If not, you should forward this guide to whichever level-headed, organizationally gifted family member just popped into your mind. Whoever they may be, it is wise to have a go-to coordinator taking the reins.
TIP: Put one person in charge
For Solomon’s family a single coordinator works best. “We have one person that does organizing, starting with the most important step of gathering the needs and interests for all the family members in the group.”
McCarthy similarly advises, “with multigen vacations, it’s usually easier if one person does the broad planning. Of course, you need that initial feedback from everyone: consensus on destination and budget, so you can explore travel and hotel costs.”
But just because you’re the point person does not mean you should get stuck doing all the work. With a multigenerational trip, getting everyone involved in some capacity adds to the communal nature of the trip. Kelleher advises travelers to delegate. “Consider having one head coordinator who assigns tasks such as researching lodging, finding dining options, checking out recreation and activities, and so on. That way, everyone has some ownership of the event.”
Schlichter also emphasizes the importance of sharing responsibilities: “If one family member feels strongly about a particular outing, put him or her in charge of researching and organizing it.” While it can seem overwhelming to organize all these moving pieces, there is an easy solution to staying organized.
TIP: Use technology
With so many apps and online calendars at our disposal, assigning tasks and scheduling activities is a breeze. It can be as simple as a Google doc. (Although less tech-savvy grandparents may have to be kept in the loop in other ways.)
Kelleher relays that “it’s important to divvy up the responsibilities and decisions. For large reunions, consider using a free online event-planning site like Eventbrite.com, which can make tracking RSVPs and voting for activities a breeze.”
TIP: Play to your family members’ strengths
Getting everyone involved in some aspect of planning will make each family member feel integral to the process and provide an opportunity for them to show off their strengths. McCarthy suggests giving each family member an opportunity to shine: “For the nitty-gritty, like the special restaurant for the celebratory meal, I like to give that task to a relative who’s a proud party-planner – let them read the reviews and own that night. Ideally, during the trip, every family member will get praise for a meal or activity that he or she has planned for the rest of the group.”
Lanin takes a similar approach in her planning strategy: “There were a couple of activities for which I wasn’t interested in participating (like fishing and bicycling) so other family members took the lead on organizing those. My sister suggested each family unit make a group dinner one night of our stay.”
How can we make travel logistics run smoothly?Mellis, Relaxing in the airport via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Getting there is often half the battle. Family may be scattered throughout the country, flying from different airports and arriving at different times. Or, the whole family may be traveling together. Both scenarios pose unique challenges.
TIP: Plan airport arrivals and transportation strategically
It can be difficult to coordinate family members to travel at the same time. In Solomon’s experience, having extended family book flights that work best for their schedule is easiest: “We all try to arrive close to the same time, but coming from different coasts can make that more difficult. If we can coordinate being on some of the same flights, that’s an added bonus. We also have transportation waiting at the airport.”
When it comes to renting cars for use during the trip, Solomon suggests doing it the day after arrival, once everyone is settled.” Waiting to rent cars until the next day will allow older grandparents and smaller children to get settled in at the hotel or rental since they may be weary from traveling.
McCarthy has another solution: “I’d suggest booking the younger people to arrive at the destination airport early, get the rental minivan and be waiting for the elders with luggage to arrive.”
Where should we stay?Sunnycentralflorida, Vacation rental home in Polk County via Flickr CC BY 2.0
The decision usually comes down to a hotel versus a rental house. A case can be made for each type of accommodation. While many multigenerational families enjoy the space and kitchen appliances provided by a rental house, other families prefer the privacy and amenities afforded by a hotel.
TIP: Consider the benefits of different types of accommodations to decide what’s right for your family
With a rental house, there is plenty of room to spread out, while also allowing family to have a large communal space to share. There is also the added benefit of a kitchen where meals can be cooked as a family to spend time together and also save money.
Solomon’s family finds, “houses work much better for us because we don’t need to spend three meals a day at a restaurant, which can be very difficult with kids of various ages. Also, more importantly, there is a common space for us to relax and hang out together. We always look for houses with comfortable lounge areas where we can just catch up in a way that’s not necessarily formal ‘together’ time.”
While there are certainly benefits to a rental house, don’t count out a hotel until you’ve considered the unique needs of your particular family. After all, some families don’t want to cook and would prefer the amenities offered by a hotel.
For McCarthy’s family, hotel accommodations were the better choice: “With lots of adult kids and singles, a hotel is better because it provides privacy to escape from family festivities when you’ve had enough! If there are lots of elders, I highly recommend a small boutique hotel rather than a convention center where elderly relatives may get lost or fatigued from walking long hallways or marathons to the pool deck.”
Should we have a group itinerary?Naviki, Family, bikes, canal via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Forcing travelers of different ages and interests to spend every day doing organized activities will be enough to make you need a vacation from your vacation. Be flexible with daily activities but reconvene as a group throughout the day when possible.
TIP: Spend meal times together
“Group dinners are an important time to come together each day,” Lanin emphasizes, “but spending some time apart ensures no one feels like they are being forced to do things they just don’t really like.”
Solomon’s family has “an activity planned for most days where everyone can chose to join in but are not required to participate. However, we always plan dinner together.”
TIP: Work out details in advance
Traveling with family of different ages means a large amount of advanced planning to even the most casual activities. According to Solomon, “if you do the work of information gathering and communication on the front end, it will be much more pleasant while you’re on the trip. Everyone will know what to expect. Even small things like if there is going to be a babysitter and who’s paying for the babysitter.”
TIP: Keep in simple and remember to laugh!
There will surely be a misstep or two when traveling with a multigenerational family. Not everyone is going to get along or agree on everything, but at the end of the day, don’t sweat the small stuff. “Keep it simple,” McCarthy advises. “Everyone will want to sleep later, relax more, and eat better than you imagined. Keeping a sense of humor is also very important, especially with some relatives!”
Who should foot the bill?Familytravelck, Kids Playing Monopoly Chicago via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Who will be paying for which travel expenses can vary greatly depending on the family. The most important thing is to know the costs and agree how they will be handled so that money doesn’t become an issue while traveling.
TIP: Decide upfront
As Solomon expresses, “it is very situational. This is one of those things where it needs to be spelled out upfront or resentment builds on the trip. The more clearly it can be defined, the better.”
If renting a vacation home, Lanin suggests splitting the costs by number of family members or by bedrooms. “For hotels,” she adds, “be sure to ask for a group discount if booking several rooms.”
Schlichter recommends using Splitwise, an app to easily divvy up costs: “It has a travel calculator that can help you figure out what each person owes, even if everyone isn’t there on all the same days.
What those who’ve done it wish they’d knownWwworks, Family hike via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Multigenerational travel is a learning experience and even the savviest family travelers are still learning as they go. Here are some final things to learn from their experiences.
- “I wish we’d planned out daily activities in advance. Since my then-toddler was several years younger than her older cousins, we got left behind at the resort quite a bit while others went off to do fun things like horseback riding without us. I also would have set up some time with other family members to care for my daughter too, so I could have felt more a part of the vacation.” – Colleen Lanin
- “I have learned that pushing family members to try the most ‘out there’ activities (going on night hikes for scorpions in Belize, a midnight church concert in Prague, exploring cenotes at Xcaret in Riviera Maya, aquarobics class at Club Med) is worth the struggle because they make the most lasting memories.” – Kyle McCarthy
- “I just wish everyone would let go of expectations and not expect one Instagram-worthy moment after another. This is family, after all, and you are adding the stresses of travel. There will be missteps. It will rain. Someone will miss a flight or a train. Siblings and cousins will squabble. The point is to remember what’s wonderful about your family and to turn the missteps into funny memories!” – Eileen Ogintz
(Main image: iStock 57621726)