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7 Tips for Traveling With Your Extended Family

Plan a getaway that keeps multiple generations happy.

Some activities work for the whole group, but make sure everyone has down time and gets to do something they like. 

Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Planning a trip with your whole crew? You’re not alone. Multigenerational travel is one of the top three travel trends of 2019, according to the industry magazine TravelAge West, which focuses on the western U.S. Nearly 100 million Americans will take a family vacation this year, slightly more than last year, a recent AAA Travel survey shows. From short visits to Disneyland to long international adventures, time away with extended family can help you reconnect, create lifelong memories, and even provide a few bloopers to laugh about next Thanksgiving.

Scottsdale resident Mary Lou Meyer wanted one thing for her 80th birthday: An epic celebration with her extended family in a faraway place. So she and her husband contacted a local complimentary AAA travel agent, hashed out ideas, and ultimately sprang for a week-long Alaska cruise for a party of 33. For Meyer, the memory was one she’ll cherish forever.

“There’s nothing like going away and seeing your kids and grandkids having fun together,” says Meyer. “Traveling as an extended family is a gift to ourselves that benefits everyone.”

Taking time to strategize a vacation for a group of people with varying interests and abilities can prove to be challenging, but in the end, it’s usually worthwhile. Whether you are traveling with your in-laws or planning a destination family reunion for 30, follow these seven tips to craft a trip that appeals to all.

1. Build the itinerary as a group.

Most intergenerational trips start with one family member’s dream or vision, according to Kathy Schebor, a Phoenix, Arizona based AAA travel agent who helped the Meyers. From there, it’s a good idea to get everyone else involved. Schebor advises gathering adults and kids ahead of time in person or online (via video chat or email) to discuss ideas, desires, and suggestions for how the trip might play out. Ask everyone to name one thing that’s most important for them to do, see, or eat, and make sure all—or the vast majority—of those picks are on the final itinerary. “A trip of this nature is like anything else: The more you communicate, the better off everyone will be,” Schebor says.

2. Talk about money and travel styles.

Open communication about money and varying travel styles can help sidestep conflict and ensure everyone feels comfortable and welcome. Instead of letting different budgets and desires derail a trip, address them at the start with frank conversations. Questions to consider asking: How much will the trip cost? Who is paying for what? What are your expectations in terms of lodging and day-to-day activities? “It’s a delicate balance,” Schebor says. “You need to find an itinerary that will help everyone maximize their vacation time.”

3. Get separate rooms.

The subject of lodging on an extended family trip often is a tricky one. Where should you stay? How many rooms do you need? What’s the ideal room-to-people ratio? Is it “wrong” to want your own space? Should kids have their own room(s)? Schebor says it’s important to ask and answer these questions before serious group planning or booking begins. 

When retired schoolteacher Darlene Esola and her husband went with their son, daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law’s parents to Taiwan in the spring of 2017, they booked three rooms—one for each couple. While the rooms weren’t connected, they were nearby, so gathering for group outings was easy. “We were close enough in the hotel to know where to find each other, but far enough apart that everybody had privacy and their own space,” says Esola, who lives in San Bruno, California. “We spent most of our time out and about anyway.”

4. Take turns as activity director.

In life and while traveling, ownership is a powerful feeling. It’s always a good idea to let each generation plan a day or activity of the trip. This can be as simple as letting the kids choose one of four specific options for how to spend an afternoon, or as complicated as asking your siblings to research how to pass a shore day. Some families will dole out these responsibilities ahead of time; others task daily itineraries in a group setting the night before. In Esola’s case, much of the trip was geared toward family history—they were visiting Taiwan to learn more about where the daughter-in-law and her parents had come from. Still, everyone had a say in peripheral decisions and were able to choose a museum, cultural site, or other attraction they didn’t want to miss.

5. Consider everyone’s abilities.

Just because your mother runs half marathons doesn’t mean your 4-year-old can hike 10 miles a day. Put differently, as natural as it might feel to think of age as the primary factor in determining which activities family members may want to pursue on the trip, consider people’s abilities instead. Janice Yip-Hudson, the AAA travel agent who worked with the Esola family, says it’s important to be mindful and respectful of everyone’s limits, and to plan alternate options and breaks in case anyone gets tired. “Flexibility is always key,” says Yip-Hudson. “Even though it’s natural to want to soak the most out of every vacation, sometimes more isn’t always more.”

One way to make sure everyone is comfortable and feels included is to do what the Meyer family did: Book a cruise with options for everyone. (All-inclusive resorts are another good choice.) If you’re traveling with a family member who has physical limitations, call ahead to inquire about building and trail accessibility.

6. Allow for independence.

Adult travelers often want time and space to explore a destination on their own, even on family trips. From a logistical perspective, that means every intergenerational excursion should include time for relatives to fly solo—or at least with their respective immediate families.

According to Schebor, it also means “making sure everyone knows alone time is an option.” Family members should feel comfortable skipping a group outing here and there to see something alone or relax back at the hotel if desired.

For family groups traveling to large cities, solo time can present some unique challenges. What if someone gets lost or falls behind schedule? To combat problems like these, consider making sure each person (or a member of each immediate family) has a cell phone or walkie-talkie they can use to connect with the rest of the group.

Smart Tip: When traveling abroad without cell phone service, mobile mesh network devices such as GoTenna allow you to communicate via text within a four-mile range without having to pay for international phone service or a local SIM card.

7. Book early.

Finally, when booking travel for large groups—especially families coordinating multiple busy schedules—it’s critical to lock in a plan as early as travel providers will permit. Schebor advises families to begin planning big intergenerational trips a minimum of 12 to 18 months before the desired date of departure.

“Things book up quickly, and if you leave everything until the last minute, you might not get what you want,” she says. “You don’t want to have to face that situation when you’re talking about a big trip involving so many people you love.”

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