Our best family memories are from the multigenerational vacations we take each year with grandparents, siblings, and cousins. Not only are memories formed, but the lasting bonds between family members who live far away are fortified.
These trips are key in keeping our bi-coastal families very close. But let’s be real: Some of our biggest family blowouts have also been on these vacations. How do you maximize the good times while minimizing tension? After years of traveling with our large extended family, here’s what we’ve found makes these trips more enjoyable.
Multigenerational Holiday Travel Tips
Engage the group in trip planning.
Getting everyone’s input from the very beginning is far and away the most important step in making multigenerational travel enjoyable. This is the discovery phase. I always start with when we can go and progress to where we should go. Getting input at this stage ensures that you are taking into consideration what everyone needs and wants to get out of a trip.
Be sure to really listen and not push one agenda. Is everyone tired and in need of a relaxing break? If you then go and plan a fabulous trip touring throughout Europe, you’ll be left wondering why nobody appreciates it. Next is hammering out the details. Doing the legwork upfront alleviates a lot of stress during the trip. Knowing that one family needs a larger room because their kids have to sleep with them or that another really wants their own bathroom can make a big difference.
Plan plenty to do — or not.
Having a multitude of activities, with the option of doing nothing at all, works well for our family. With multigenerational travel, you need to meet a variety of activity levels. Sometimes grandparents or overworked parents simply want to relax, while the younger children need to be running.
Providing opportunities for everyone is important, and that includes making sure that the kids have ample exercise. Throw some hiking, biking, swimming in and kids become far more pleasant … as do the adults, for that matter!
Allow for time apart.
Balance time together with time away from the group. We usually agree that we’ll just plan to gather for dinner. Rarely is that the only time we spend together; however, it sets the stage so that if one family does need some time alone, no feelings are hurt. Make sure you don’t just gauge this by the adult feelings — check in with the kids too. My four kids absolutely adore their cousins, but there are times, usually about the fourth day into the trip, when they all just need a break. After separating for a morning or an afternoon, everyone is excited to reconnect and the evening is much more fun.
Book family accommodations.
Our debate is always house versus resort. Ideally, I love to combine both categories in a single venue. Examples of properties we enjoy that are set up like this include Spring Creek Ranch, Half Moon Bay, Sunriver and Basin Harbor Club, to name a few. This way, you have all the activities, dining and entertainment at your fingertips, which staves off boredom while providing everyone a little autonomy. Also, usually there are plenty of activities to amuse a variety of ages and personalities.
Keep meals family-friendly.
Given how many meals you’ll be eating together, this is worth thinking about. In hotels, large family groups can be set up in private dining rooms so that you don’t have to be as worried about the kids’ behavior. My kids can behave nicely while at a restaurant, but if you add another five kids and lengthen the meal for all the chatting that the adults do — then multiply it by three times a day — trouble is likely.
We love having big family dinners throughout our trips. For those, we arrange catering. That way, nobody gets stuck doing dishes every night. For breakfast and lunch, we have food on hand and keep it pretty simple.
Division of work can be a major tension point on family trips. It becomes very apparent and frustrating if someone doesn’t put in their fair share. For that reason, we set general guidelines ahead of time, with a clear expectation that we’ll rotate the grocery shopping and cleaning.
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Editor’s Note: Photo by Nancy Solomon.