Although it can come with its challenges, multigenerational travel is well worth the effort. This type of travel gives you the opportunity to create lifelong memories with your family and leave a lasting legacy for your children and grandchildren.
Read our multigenerational travel tips for seniors and their families.
Every other year for more than 20 years, Susan Adcox of Houston, Texas, has gone on a vacation with her family. They camped in tents and explored both Yellowstone and Yosemite. They rented a house in the Bahamas and rented another on Hawaii’s Big Island. They rafted and ziplined together in Costa Rica. This summer they plan to fly into Seattle, then road trip up to Vancouver Island in Canada.
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What sets the Adcox family apart from most summer vacationers is this: the family is 13 members large and made up of three generations.
“We’ve been doing this since our first grandchild was a toddler,” says Adcox, 70.
According to the U.S. Census, by 2020 there will be 80 million grandparents in the U.S., accounting for one in-every-3 adults. These grandparents tend to be more trip-savvy than the generations before them – they have a desire to see the world, sizable disposable incomes, passports and travel bucket lists.
“The baby boomer generation that I’m apart of is the most mobile and the most financially equipped of any other generation,” says Andrea Schwartz, 70, a custom trip planner from upstate New York. Schwartz is a frequent guest on WAMC.org, a Northeast Public Radio station, where she gives advice to would-be travelers on where to go and how best to get there.
Grandparents who travel tend to have extended family members – some scattered across the country –who want to spend time with them. What better way to get the family together under one roof than on a family trip somewhere?
“I have a lot of clients who come to me and say, ‘I always go to my parents’ house on vacation,’” says Heather Klein Cross, a New Jersey-based vacation planner who owns Vacations by Heather. “If you only have 2 or 3 weeks of vacation a year, is that how you want to spend it?”
Planning a multigenerational vacation that will satisfy people with different budgets, needs and personalities can be daunting. Here are a few tips from the experts on how to do it right.
“The key is to find a trip that has activities for everybody,” says Schwartz, who adds that the pressure to do everything together as a family “can be oppressive.” Family members need the freedom to opt out of group activities if need be.
Young children especially need activities to keep them busy, says Cross, who recommends all-inclusive resorts for families with young kids. “Adults go to the beach together happy to chill, but most kids are not going to be happy sitting on a beach reading a book for 3 hours,” she says. At a resort such as Club Med, children as young as 4 months old can spend time in “kids clubs,” while more active adults can scuba, snorkel, paddleboard or play golf.
Even Disneyworld can be fun for all generations. Schwartz recommends families book a 4-day hopper pass and stay in a hotel on the property that has around-the-clock free transportation to the Disney area. “Grandma and Grandpa can easily go home to rest. Then they meet everybody at Epcot at dinner and stay for the fireworks,” she says.
Once a destination is selected, experts suggest every family member write down a bucket list of the things they want to do on the trip. From this, an itinerary can be crafted.
When picking a trip, you’ll want to consider schedules, keeping in mind that while retired people can easily take advantage of off-season discounts, school-aged children can put a financial damper on trips. It tends to be high season during the weeks that kids are off from school. It’s for this reason some families opt to pull their kids out of school for a few days to take advantage of off-season prices and fewer crowds.
As one friend said to me, “A once-in-a-lifetime trip with the grandparents to Italy versus one more week in school? It’s a no-brainer.”
When it comes to trips involving several families, someone has to plan it. For the Adcox family, their vacations – usually road trips that go in a loop so no road is traveled twice – are very much DIY affairs. Two or three family members do most of the planning and share ideas via a cloud program (think Google Docs).
Planning a trip to a place you’ve never been can be overwhelming, not to mention time-consuming. Some people love the planning process, while others would rather hire a professional to do it for them.
“It always seems to fall on one particular individual to plan, which is a lot of responsibility,” says Cross. “They worry, what if people are unhappy? What if I pick a bad place?”
For a nominal fee, a trip planner will talk you through your choices and make sure you can stick to an itinerary without missing any must-sees. They’ll recommend activities and help you hire a private car and tour guide for those trips. They’ll also be on call in case something bad happens like the tropical beach resort loses your booking and doesn’t have a room for you.
When something goes inevitably wrong, as these things tend to do, it can become a story the family tells for years, tales ingrained in even the little ones’ memories. Such a thing happened to Adcox during her road trip through Costa Rica with 11 of her family members. The family booked, as they tend to do, several rental houses on VRBO.
“We went to 4 fabulous places and the last place we stayed, the air conditioners didn’t work,” Adcox says. “It was hot and there were holes in the screens and mosquitos were getting in. A family of bats lived during the daytime outside the main door.”
“I tell you all of this just to say that two people in our party said it was their favorite place,” Adcox says with a laugh. “It really was a unique place. It was a beautiful house with a beautiful view.”
One issue families have with big family trips is figuring out how to pay for it. The trips themselves can range from budget to luxurious. A cruise through Alaska for example, can cost $2,000 or $15,000 per person depending on how you do it. There’s nothing less expensive than a vacation in a national park. In fact, Schwartz calls the national park Lifetime Senior Pass “the single biggest bargain on planet earth.”
“You spend $100 for a movie or you can spend a week in Yellowstone for $35,” Schwartz says.
Budgeting is one reason many families opt for all-inclusive cruises, family camps or resorts. Everything’s paid for and people who are used to Best Westerns can put themselves and the kids into a garden view room or those used to the Ritz can book the ocean view suites.
It’s important to discuss how the trip costs will be divvied up, how much can everyone afford and how miscellaneous items like a $150 bottle of champagne or a rafting trip will be paid for. The experts say many grandparents opt to pay for some or all of a trip, while other families split things up evenly.
“We pay for half of it and the kids pay for the rest. I like doing it that way because it keeps them accountable, but at the same time it’s enough of a break to allow them to go with us,” says Adcox.
Cross adds that some grandparents have latched on to the “experiences, not things” gift trend for holidays. Trips, she says, are the perfect experiences to give as gifts.