Traveling with the kids, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles in the hottest trend in family vacations. But traveling as an extended family requires more advance planning, more communication and more flexibility than a typical family vacation.
“Listening is a lost art when it comes to travel planning, but it’s crucial to a harmonious trip,” said Kelly Merritt, author of The Everything Family Guide to Budget Travel.
Experts, trip planners and traveling moms offer the following tips for ensuring your multigenerational family vacation will be fun for everyone.
1. Communication is Key
Start talking early about where you want to go, what you want to do and who will be paying for what, said Cheryl Sturm, vice president of marketing and product development for R Crusoe & Son, a Chicago-based travel agency that specializes in customized international trips, including those for large family getaways. And make sure everyone gets a say.
“What’s really important is to know your own family and figure out what everyone’s wants and needs are,” Sturm said “Most kids are not going to want to be dragged through art museums; they want time at the pool. You can [accommodate everyone’s needs] if everyone has communicated, particularly parents about their kids.”
2. Start Planning Early
Kim Moldofsky, who travels frequently with her parents, her two sons and husband–and sometimes with her brother’s family and a cousin’s family as well–says traveling over the winter holiday break from school makes the scheduling easier. The destinations are more crowded, but there are fewer other activities, such as summer sports, to schedule around.
3. Choose a Destination that Works for Everyone
Travel experts suggest cruises, all-inclusive resorts or house rentals.
“All-inclusive resorts are designed to keep guests on the property,” said Diane McDavitt, president of Luxury Link Travel Group, “thus they offer multitudes of activities, services and amenities.”
Cruises also offer a variety of entertainment and activity options, with an added perk: the ships travel so you get to see more of the world without the hassle of packing your bags and moving.
If you opt to rent a house, Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, founder of Momaboard.com, warns that it’s important to get a big enough place to ensure everyone can have their own space.
“We’re an Indian family, so there is lots of togetherness. If my husband had his way he would have us all in a loft in sleeping bags sharing a bathroom because that’s how much he loves proximity,” she wrote in an email. “My firm rule is that everyone should have the option to shut a room door and get some privacy.”
4. Don’t Overschedule the Family Vacation
It’s fine to include some mandatory family togetherness–requiring everyone to have dinner together each night, for example–but it’s also important to be flexible enough to ensure every vacationer gets a chance to do things they want to do according to their own interests and physical needs. That can involve many parts of the trip–from allowing time for little ones (and maybe Grandpa) to get in an afternoon nap to considering everyone’s ability to walk long distances before planning a five-mile hike.
5. Decide Who Pays for What
Often, but not always, the person who suggests and plans the trip pays. That’s true for Stephanie Diehl, owner of her own travel agency, Travel Designed by Stephanie. When she and her husband, Terry, celebrated their 25th anniversary, they took everyone on a long weekend. Now that he’s retired, they’re planning a trip for everyone to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico.
“We don’t want anybody not to go because they can’t afford it,” she said.
When Francesca Folinazzo travels with her husband, mom and daughter, everyone buys their own plane ticket, Folinazzo pays for the lodging and her mom pays for most meals.
“It kind of evens out,” the Chicago native said.
After the decisions have been made and the money paid, multigenerational travelers need to do one more thing before heading off on the adventure, said Nancy Schretter, managing editor for Family Travel Network: “Leave the expectations at home.”
“Multigenerational family vacations are one of most anticipated events of the year, so it’s easy for grandparents and parents to get all misty-eyed envisioning the great memories and intimate bonding moments that will be created on their trip,” she said.
“If we’re being honest, however, we know that family vacations never go exactly as planned. There may be bumpy moments, relationship issues may surface, travel snafus happen, the weather might not cooperate, and the kids might have a meltdown or two. It’s OK. Just take the experience as it comes, don’t dwell on it and go with the flow.
“Sometimes those vacations where things don’t go as planned make the best vacation memories of all.”
Read Traveling Grandmom’s advice on planning a multigenerational family vacation to Disney World.
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