As people begin to plan for the summer’s most anticipated—and simultaneously fretful—sacrament, the family vacation, industry experts report a shift in direction. Road trips à la The Griswalds to U.S. parks, beaches and historic attractions are still popular, but more travelers are starting to include more family members in the fun.
According to John Spence, president of Scott Dunn USA, multi-generational travel is the company’s fastest growing segment and he reports an industry-wide uptick. “Family Travel Association research shows that it’s also the number one growth area on Virtuoso agents’ travel list,” he says. “Tour operators, resorts and destinations report double-digit growth for 2016-17.”
The term “family travel” now covers ages 8 to 80, explains Spence, which presents a unique set of challenges to meet individual needs. “That could be grandparents, adult children and grandchildren, a forty-something child taking a 70-something parent on a photo safari in Africa, or a grandparent taking a grandchild to Europe for a graduation gift,” he says.
In my case, it meant traveling to Italy recently with my 93-year-old grandmother for a trip that proved to be my most daunting, yet rewarding travel experience to date. Cheap airfare and a strong dollar are sure to continue fueling the trend this year and lead more families like mine and yours into taking the multi-gen challenge.
Bottom line: Travel to ease and please diverse generations requires a balance of planning, flexibility, and patience. Use these pro tips to cultivate joy, reduce tension, and craft an experience that engages everyone – even grandma.
Optimize Place and Space
When selecting a destination, ask questions to define the trip’s purpose, recommends positive aging advocate Ana Popovic. Is relaxation or adventure a priority? What is the spectrum of activities available? How accessible are lodging, transportation, and attractions?
Keep in mind individual comfort zones and physical ability. It’s okay to stretch, but beware of break points. Take weather into account. Intense cold or heat are rarely happiness-makers for either end of the age spectrum.
Prioritize space requirements. Renting a home or apartment can provide privacy while offering communal gathering space, plus is often more affordable than hotels. Avoid last minute planning to meet everyone’s needs.
Consider Family Finances
Spending thresholds may vary significantly among family members and necessitate budget discussion early in the process. “If your finances are feeling the strain of a maternity leave or fixed retirement income, it’s not fair for your family to insist on a luxury property (and vice versa),” says Corinne McDermott, founder of Have Baby Will Travel. She recommends keeping the goal of spending quality time together at the forefront.
Save money by cooking some dinners and sourcing local ingredients. Plan a lunchtime picnic in a local park. Seek out free events and concerts. Get group buy in on splurges in advance.
Aim for an Itinerary Sweet Spot
Democratically select activities that will engage the whole crew, then encourage smaller group and individual pursuits. “One day might be spent at a theme park catering to the kids and the next will be a museum day that interests the adults,” says SafeWise family safety expert Sage Singleton. “Talk to your kids about compromise and plan activities that entertain all age groups.”
Singleton also recommends not making it a package deal. “My parents were great about accommodating everyone’s needs. Before vacations, we knew that we didn’t have to participate in all activities and that no one would be offended if we stayed back at the hotel,” she says.
Shoshana Akabas of Planit Travel Podcast recommends identifying activity alternatives. “Those who are unable to hike can walk around the gardens near the hotel. Those uninterested in the museum can have a snack in the museum cafe. This way, people won’t have to compromise as much and the activity won’t be ruined by people who don’t want to or can’t participate,” she says.
Take Turns at the Helm
“On day one, grandpa and mom make final decisions about activities (after hearing input from everyone), dad and grandson make decisions about food, and grandma and granddaughter are in charge of navigation,” Akabas suggests. “Rotate responsibilities every day, so every member of the family feels like they have some autonomy and say in the process.”
Avoid the “my way or the highway” route, says Popovic. “Don’t try to make everyone participate in every activity and don’t expect the trip to be a joy from moment #1, particularly if it’s something you’ve never done,” she says. Remember, compromise and patience are key and humor should top every itinerary.
Photo: Blondinrikrard Foberg CC BY 2.0
Exercise Extra Care
Communications director Laura Hall of Kid & Coe says two elements provide the bedrock of a good family trip and deserve extra attention: great sleep and good food. Individual diets and preferred meal times are stressors when not cared for accordingly. “Different generations tend to eat at different times and often have different dietary restrictions and preferences,” says Akabas. “Having a kitchen will allow people to snack when they need food (instead of forcing everyone to go and eat dinner at 5 p.m. because that’s when Grandma needs to eat…).”
When it comes to sleep, Hall underlines why space is also key. “Grandparents tend to love playing with the kids but don’t always want to be woken up at 6 a.m.,” she says. And, really, who does? When everyone has space for rest and rejuvenation, good attitudes and behavior are more likely to follow.
Score the Best Souvenirs
The memories you create along with deeper understanding of each other as individuals is your trip’s reward. “You’re building memories together that can last a lifetime,” says Hall. “Particularly for those who do not live near their grandparents, it’s a great way to get to know each other, and have fun!”
Embrace the world as your classroom and learn something new together. Take a cooking class, go on a nature walk, develop new passions to share. Popovic says these experiences enhance the way families work, particularly in new environments and unexpected situations that tend to arise.
“While travelling can be stressful and sometimes disastrous, at the end of the day, it’s always worth it,” Singleton says. “Multi-generational travel allows families to bond, learn and spend quality time together. Tomorrow is promised to no one, so it’s important to cherish the time we have together.”
Top photo: Ian D. Keating CC BY 2.0
As a kid playing in Alabama’s red dirt, Jess Simpson dreamt of exploring faraway sands. She still chases those dreams every day and aims to nudge fellow dreamers to explore farther, deeper, and more boldly. Read about her digital nomad adventures at Intrepid Travel, Mental Floss, Fodor’s, Bustle, and her bi-weekly Travel Secrets column here at Paste Travel. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.