I know. If you’re taking a family trip, it’s already multigenerational. There’s your generation, and there’s your kids’ generation. That’s two generations and, therefore, multigenerational.
But what I want to focus on is adding a third generation–your kids’ grandparents–or even a fourth generation if your kids are lucky enough to have great-grandparents who are able to travel.
And don’t forget about extended family, especially if you can work a cool aunt into the mix. (I’m looking at you, Auntie J!)
Multigenerational travel is on the rise for lots of reasons, one of them being the oldest generation’s willingness to pay for travel the younger ones can’t afford.
Little A, The Husband, and I have been on one multigenerational trip. We went with The Husband’s parents to Britain for a family reunion. And we have two big trips coming up, one to Walt Disney World with my parents and one on an Alaska cruise with The Husband’s parents and his sister and her family.
More and more travelers are choosing 3-generation travel as a way to spend time together. In “Travel Research: 2016 Travel Trends,” a study commissioned by AARP, researchers found spending time with family and friends is the primary reason to travel for Baby Boomers, GenXers, and Millennials.
Quality time is absolutely a huge motivation for my family. The Husband and I are older first-time parents. To be honest, Little A is extremely fortunate to have all four grandparents living. Multigenerational travel gives Little A and her grandparents more opportunities to spend time together.
We are, though, lucky enough to live within an hour’s drive of both sets of grandparents. Unfortunately for us, Little A’s aunt, uncle, and cousins (21 and 15) are on the other side of the country. We get to see them about once a year. At this point, Little A is so young that she doesn’t really remember them from one time to the next. But that’s beginning to change. She’ll get to see her cousins during the holidays and six months later on the Alaska cruise. By then, she’ll know who they are and will be absolutely thrilled to hang out with her cool, older cousins.
And there’s another potential bonus to multigenerational travel: free babysitting! Having the grandparents or an aunt or even much older cousins to watch your little ones may just mean that you and your spouse get to sneak out for a glass of wine or (gasp!) a whole meal on your own!
I’d be lying if I said The Husband and I could take Little A on the types of trips her grandparents significantly subsidize.
I’ll admit that letting our parents largely pay for these trips is a little uncomfortable. But then I remember that these trips are really about Little A and, in the case of the Alaska cruise, her cousins too.
A question posed to advice columnist Carolyn Hax gets to the heart of this issue and why — if your parents or in-laws — have the means, you (the adult child) should reconcile yourself to grandparent-funded vacations: grandparents are using their money to spend cherished time with their grandchildren.
Both my father-in-law and my dad have expressed in their own ways that they have no reservations about spending their money on family travel. To be honest, my dad would have happily gone along with three fanciest Disney resort available for our upcoming trip. Mom and I are quite a bit thriftier.
When The Husband, Little A, and I went to Britain for the family reunion, my in-laws generously paid for most of our trip, including lovely accommodations The Husband and I never could have afforded. Given how much fun my mother-in-law had showing off Little A to her cousins and to longtime family friends, I’m certain she’s okay with the money she and my father-in-law spent.
Challenges of Multigenerational Travel
More People = More Opinions
As the number of people traveling in a group grows so do the number of opinions. Then throw in the wacky dynamics of even the happiest families. What do you get? The potential for hurt feelings, ruffled feathers, and disappointment.
Communicating your feelings and opinions, especially while the trip is being planned, is essential. If the main planner of the trip wants to spend all day every day in Paris at museums, gently remind her that your kids will also want to run around in a park or have a picnic. If you’re the main planner, ask others in the group what they want to do.
Pace of Travel
Whether it’s how quickly you move on foot or how many places you intend to visit during a two-week trip, adjust your speed to that of the slowest moving member of your group, whether that’s your dad or your toddler. You might just find that slowing down allows you to see more.
Differing Spending Habits
This is another issue where communication is essential. Some members of the group may want to eat out every meal. Others may want to take a more affordable (and fun?) route by swinging by a local supermarket and putting together a bread-and-cheese picnic.
If you can address concerns like this before the trip, then do so! However, if this issue pops up unexpectedly, go ahead and address it. Your parents or in-laws may be perfectly happy with a picnic, or you may agree to have lunch separately. This is okay! Even the closest families need short breaks from each other.
Kids: Who’s in Charge?
What’s your scenario?
- Grandparents who support your parenting decisions, including when a child needs to be called down and when that child does not need yet another souvenir?
- Grandparents who are mostly supportive but occasionally indulgent?
- Grandparents who indulge your little angel until she becomes a little monster?
- Grandparents who can handle only limited time around the kids without needing a nap and/or a stiff drink?
You probably already know what you’re dealing with. The Husband and I are fortunate that both sets of grandparents fall into the second description above. They’re almost entirely supportive of our parenting, but they do enjoy spoiling Little A. She is their granddaughter after all!
Hopefully you’re dealing with supportive grandparents too. But if you’re not, you and your spouse need to get on the same page ASAP and do what it takes to ward off being miserable in a different and more expensive location.
Again, communication is the key. Perhaps you need to establish early on that you, your spouse, and your kids will have mornings on your own and then meet the grandparents for lunch. Perhaps you need to have a talk with your mom or mother-in-law about not buying your children every doo-dad that strikes their fancy.
Have I convinced you that multigenerational travel is worth a try?
Here are two examples from my pre-motherhood days. Both are among the best trips I’ve ever taken.
- The Husband and I spent a glorious week in Barcelona with his parents and his great-aunt, Jean, who was in her late 70s at the time. Jean marched all over the city with us, trying new foods, checking out museums and galleries, and enjoying a daily glass or two of cava. Jean died unexpectedly several years ago. She and Little A never got to meet. I’m glad that I can share photos from Barcelona with Little A so that she can get a sense of her sweet great-great auntie.
- The Husband and I planned a trip around Belgium and northern France, taking my parents to several World War 1 and World War 2 sites, including places where my paternal grandfather saw action in the First World War (yes, the first one). My dad still talks about going to the places where his own father served way back in 1917 and 1918.
Have you tried multigenerational travel? How did it go? What did you learn? Would you do it again?