Everybody looks forward to a vacation, but many people dread the long-planned-for trip with in-laws, cousins and other members of the extended family, all of varying ages and with very different wants and needs. There’s the baby who sleeps lighter than a police watchdog and must be tippy-toed around; the teen who wilts without WiFi; and Grandma, who wants everyone to join her for Pilates at dawn.
But time and distance constraints mean it’s rare that the whole clan is ever all in one place, and you know you should all be making the most of this precious time together. So how can you best ensure that disagreements are kept to a minimum and everyone gets to have a fantastic holiday? Stick to these five rules and your multigenerational family vacation will be so much fun it’s bound to become an annual event.
With their kids long out of the nest and college fees a distant memory, Grandma and Grandpa might have grown used to traveling in first-class, 5-star luxury, but the rest of you probably don’t have an unlimited income. It literally pays to be upfront about your cost expectations from the start. A set budget helps narrow down the choice of destination and accommodations, too.
Ideally, you want to choose a destination that is easy for all to get to; even if this can’t be achieved, it must be easy to get around once you’re all there. A hotel situated on a dramatic cliff edge may provide fantastic views, but getting a stroller up the steep drive or down the long stairway to the beach is going to cause friction. It also will make things difficult for those older folk who may now rely on a walking stick.
Whether you choose to stay in a hotel, in a villa or on a campsite, it is vital that you give everyone their space. If the kids are really close in age, get on particularly well and have slept over in each other’s bedrooms before, go ahead and have up to four of them — definitely no more than four — share a room. If this isn’t the case, don’t crowd all the kids in together.
Children can be very unaccommodating, especially when they’re tired. You don’t want to arrive at a villa late at night, get all four cousins tucked up in bed and then discover that Joe can only sleep with the light on and Jess requires the room to be pitch-black.
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If you’re in a hotel, think about spreading out a bit. Parents and children will want to share a room or have interconnecting rooms, but if you’re traveling with a baby, ask for your room not to be next to everyone else’s. This way, if she wakes up in the night, she will only disturb some unknown neighbors and you won’t have to listen to your brother’s teens moaning about being kept up all night.
Think carefully about bedroom positioning in a self-catering property as well. If possible, have the early-rising Grandma in the room that is a little distance from everyone else’s, so no one else gets woken up when she’s getting ready for the day. You may even find it works better if each family group has an individual apartment within the same self-catering complex.
Whether you have rented one large vacation home, are staying in a series of neighboring condos, or have chosen a campsite or a hotel, make sure sure that there is plenty to entertain your entire age range come rain or shine (on- and off-site).
A pool is normally a winner with everyone, and you want one with lounger space to accommodate your entire brood. Additional water sports, a gym, golf, tennis and soccer fields will be a hit with teens and up, while soft-play areas, a kids’ club and a playground will satisfy the little ones. It might be that everyone is off doing their own thing during the day, but you will still come together for meals and, most importantly, everyone will be doing something that they enjoy all of the time.
Try to schedule a few well-thought-out local tours too. The kids may grimace when you tell them that you’re all going on a tour of Montreal, but when you explain that they will be at the steering wheel of a four-seater bike with Grandma and Grandpa in the back seats shouting out the directions, their enthusiasm will return. Treasure hunts are another great way to make tourist trails more child-friendly. So too is geocaching, and they are both enjoyed by all ages.
Your parents or siblings might not have seen your kids for a few months and will relish the chance of some alone time with them. If they offer to take them to the beach for an afternoon or babysit one evening, take them up on it and go and enjoy some time out yourself.
Wait for them to ask you, though, and don’t dump the kids on them for hours on end every day. You want your children and your extended family to relish their special time together, not resent it. Reciprocate by taking your nieces and nephews off their parents’ hands for a period too.
Give and take is the key to a successful multigenerational family holiday!
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