It’s All in the Planning
During the warm summer months of my childhood, my parents corralled my younger sister, myself, and my grandmother into the family car for extended roadtrips. Stretching back as far as I can remember, we would plan together where we wanted to go each summer, pouring over atlases and picture books at the kitchen table or in my grandmother's living room. Sometimes it was just a week-long camping trip along the Great Lakes, other times we trekked across several state lines to explore new cities, states and national monuments, or historic locales. No matter the distance or destination, whether we stayed in a hotel or campground—it really didn't matter to me or my sister.
These adventures were always perfect in our young minds because we were together as a family, with the added treat of my grandmother sharing in the fun. She played with us in the cramped back seat of our car, told new stories at bedtime, and always had a hand ready to hold on long walks. And it wasn't just for our benefit that my grandmother traveled with us each summer, I'm sure her helpful presence was much appreciated by my parents. She occasionally cooked meals, looked after my sister and me, and took us for outings to give my parents much needed time alone.
Such multigenerational travel experiences are becoming more and more common, especially now as many families struggle to take time out of both parents' work schedules to spend not just with their children, but with grandparents and other family members. Many families are combining resources and taking trips together as large units. Families with members scattered across the country look forward to vacation time together as a way to reconnect. Young parents enjoy incorporating grandparents into travel both for the valuable companionship, and to give children unique bonding time with grandpa and grandma.
The key to enjoying these specialized outings is to plan accordingly, be flexible, and know your options. Here are some tips for putting together your own multigenerational trips.
When planning your own extended-family adventure, take stock of everyone's needs. A good way to assess each family member's requirements is to compose individual travel sheets (parents can do this for younger children). Ask older family members to write down their meal and sleep needs, favorite activities, and so on. Keep these notes handy when picking your mode of transportation and your destination. And try to pick a favorite from each family member's list. Schedule family meetings to discuss your options—email, conference calling, and good old-fashioned snail mail are all ways to come together and share ideas.
Once your plans are finalized, sketch out a basic travel schedule with notes outlining when certain activities will occur. Distribute them to all family members so the entire group knows the schedule. Keep your plans broad and try to remain flexible. When traveling, the elements, transportation schedules, and road conditions can quickly disrupt planned activities. Make a calendar and relegate activities to certain days, rather than specific times. You can mix and match while you are on the road, substituting a day spent at the beach with an afternoon at an aquarium if weather interferes.
Older children may enjoy collecting and organizing information for your trip. Help them organize your plans into a family newsletter and mail it off prior to your departure date. Or put together a special travel calendar or scrapbook that your children can add to while on the road. Collect postcards and brochures to cut up and put on the calendar to mark what they did each day—or make scrapbook pages illustrating travel experiences.
If you prefer to hire someone to do the planning for you, there are several tour operators that can help. Generations Touring Company (www.generationstouringcompany.com) offers preset vacations designed explicitly for multigenerational travelers. Choose from escorted tours, tours with moderate-to high-activity, expedition-style tours to more challenging locales, or independent travel packages with multiple options. Other companies, such as Grandtravel (www.grandtravel.com), Abercrombie & Kent (for luxury travel; www.abercrombiekent.com), and Elderhostel (www.elderhostel.org), as well as many major hotels and resorts, also offer multigenerational family travel packages.