Life gets hectic when you’re juggling school, work, and other responsibilities. Multiply that by every member of the family, and it can be challenging for grandparents, parents, and children to carve out time together, especially if you all live far apart.
The fix: a multigenerational vacation, which lets the whole tribe—even aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends—gather on neutral turf to reconnect and relax, be it for a long weekend or a two-week stretch or more. The occasion might be a milestone birthday or anniversary, or simply a yearning for a family reunion.
According to AARP’s 2018 Travel Trends survey, a desire to reconnect with family and friends is the top reason baby boomers want to travel (cited by 57%), even beating out rest and relaxation (49%). For those boomers planning a domestic trip this year, more than one in 10 say it will be multigenerational one.
“Even when families live close together, going to a new destination as a group helps ensure that everyone shares new experiences at the same time without the distractions and routines of home,” says Shelly Rivoli, author of the guidebook Travels with Baby.
Where families are heading
Beaches, cruises and amusement parks tend to top the lists of popular destinations for multigenerational trips (Disney, anyone?). But some families are more adventurous.
“We’re seeing multigenerational groups taking land tours in Europe, renting family villas in places like Tuscany, traveling to Australia to dive the Great Barrier Reef, or booking biking tours,” says Stephen McGillivray, chief marketing officer for Travel Leaders Group, a network of some 40,000 travel agents.
“Closer to home, cruises continue to be a top choice,” says McGillivray. “Orlando is a perennial favorite with its many theme parks, and all-inclusives in Mexico and the Caribbean remain popular.”
Sometimes the occasion dictates the destination. Jessica and Ernie Cambareri of Mount Kisco, N.Y. recently returned from a two-week trip to Italy to celebrate Ernie’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.
The family of ten (including four teenagers) visited the small village in Calabria where the older couple was raised and met, before embarking on a Mediterranean cruise. “It was the trip of a lifetime for all of us,” says Jessica.
How to balance time together and time apart
Members of different generations tend to have different interests, energy levels, favored dining times, and sleep-wake cycles. Look for an arrangement that’s flexible enough to accommodate those differences.
A villa or house rental can fit that bill, but quarters shouldn’t be too close: Toddlers and older grandparents may want a quiet place to catnap during the day, while teens often keep late hours and sleep late in the morning.
When Elisa and John Dias of Congers, N.Y. traveled to Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon to visit a daughter studying abroad two years ago, they stayed at Airbnbs in each city to better suit three generations, from their 13-year-old son to John’s 89-year-old mother. “It was great in many ways, especially having the kids spend quality time with their grandmother, who lives in Wisconsin,” says Elisa.
“My mother-in-law is a great sport, but her age requires more frequent stops and more regular meals,” she adds. Sometimes that meant splitting up the group. “That way, we were all happy and nobody was frustrated.”
On a cruise, explore cabin configurations. Some lines, like Disney Cruise Line, offer connecting staterooms, shared balconies, and split bathrooms to afford greater privacy.
For a mix of time together and time apart, cruises are great, since some family members can opt for active shore excursions (water sports, cycling, or hiking), while others read a novel on the deck or relax at the spa—with everyone coming together to recount their day at a large, shared dinner table.
All-inclusive resorts also provide a similar range of options, with many, like Grand Velas Riviera Maya, offering babysitters, day camps, and teen nightclubs.
The tricks to planning a complex trip
Researching where to go, what to do, and what it will cost can be daunting. One or two family members should take the lead for making and executing decisions, all while incorporating input from others.
Involve the kids too. “When children are engaged, they have a stake in the trip and are more excited,” says Julia O‘Brien, senior brand manager for Tauck, an operator of guided tours and river cruises.
Starting your planning early is especially important with multigenerational vacations. Popular destinations, like hotels in national parks, sell out fast, O’Brien notes. “Our Tauck Bridges Castles on the Rhine river cruise, specifically designed for family groups, is currently over 60% sold a year out,” she says.
If you’re using a DIY approach to research and booking, take advantage of technology. The free app Tripit, also accessible on the web, can help you create a master itinerary that everyone can use to keep track of plans and add to them.
For example, Tauck Bridges trips are packed with child-friendly activities that can be enjoyed by adults, too. On land tours, families stay at premier properties, including grand hotels, castles, and palaces. Just for kids: hotels with swimming pools, whenever possible.
By using a travel agent, that pro can serve as a single point of contact when questions arise from the group.
The best ways to keep costs down
Multigenerational vacations can be expensive. Regardless of whether you’re splitting the cost or one generous family member is footing the entire bill, you’ll want to scout out ways to save.
Think driving, not flying. Vacationing close to home—at a nearby resort, all-suite hotel (like Homewood Suites by Hilton or Embassy Suites), or national park—can reduce or eliminate airfare expenses.
Look for kid freebies. Some cruise lines, like MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines and others, allow children to sail at no charge on all or select cruises, or offer onboard credits or other amenities for family groups.
Free passage typically applies to kids under 12, though some lines also allow kids 12 to 17 to travel free on select sailings (usually during slow periods). In all cases, the child must share a cabin with a full-paying passenger.
Benefit from being big. If your group is large, generally more than 10 people, inquire about group rates on tours, cruises, and hotels. While such discounts aren’t advertised, some places do offer them.
Lean on a pro. Using a travel agent may save money as well as time. A good one is more skilled than the average traveler in knowing the most economical times and ways to travel (including locking in early booking discounts); negotiating group rates; taking advantage of sales; and obtaining special promotions and perks (for example, cabin or room upgrades or free breakfasts).
Know before you go. By staying at an all-inclusive resort, you know your total vacation costs before leaving home. No need to reach into your pocket each time someone wants a soda or snack.
Then, once you’ve done all you can to keep the costs in line, try to relax about the money end of your trip. “Travel can be a powerful way of connecting with loved ones and building lifelong memories,” says Tauck’s O’Brien. Many would say the value of that is priceless.