The benefits of travelling with grandparents and extended family
Living on the opposite side of the world to most of our family, we need to seize the opportunities when we are travelling long-haul and make the most of our extended family time when we can get it. This has involved many combined vacations with both sets of grandparents over the years.
I feel like we’ve really hit our groove with multi-generation travels and the enormous benefits it brings to all our expat family. But for many, I know the idea of spending intense time with their parents or in-laws might seem daunting at first!
There are many more opinions, attitudes, health issues, and budgets to take into consideration when planning things for a larger group. Drawing on our own experience and with input from some other travelling families, we’ve put together some top pointers for multi-generation travel including:
- How to choose your destination
- Accommodation options
- Establishing rules and routines
- Expectations on childminding
- Logistics and getting around as a larger group
Organising travel with your extended family can be a hugely rewarding experience where the positives should outweigh the negatives if it’s done right!
This post is part of our travel advice series – learn more about everything from pregnancy travel to tackling long-haul flights with your kids
Choosing the destination for a multi-generation group
- Who is deciding where you are going? Does it need group consensus, or can you take turns choosing the destination?
- What are the travelling distances for each party? Are there routes you can all get to directly?
- Is there a best time of year for weather or events at your destination?
- Are there activities the family can enjoy together? Eg are you keen golfers looking at a family reunion, theme-park lovers, or prefer hitting the beach or nature trails?
- Are there any complete veto destinations? E.g., weather too hot, safety concerns?
- Budget considerations – for flights, accommodation, cars…. Is one party covering the costs, or are you splitting the bills by person?
Paying for long-distance, international flights for 4 or 5 people can be crippling! For those who live on other sides of the world, long haul travel with littlies (for example, from Australia to the UK /USA /Canada) seems very daunting. Who wants to take 3 small kids on an ultra long flight? Therefore you can save on the bank balance and have the grandparents visit you – just two flights to pay for instead of 4 or 5.Ariana – World of Travels with Kids
We went to Hawaii in the fall and we were joined by both grandmothers. I would say the most important consideration is to make sure a grandparent – like any other traveler – is flexible, but try to meet them halfway. We knew that the grandmas weren’t big beach lovers (and neither of them swims) so Oahu was an ideal location because we could alternate beach days with other activities like scenic drives, botanical gardens and historic sites.Melissa – The Family Voyage
It is likely that grandparents have more flexibility than you do on when they can travel. But remember, if you are asking grandparents to travel during school holiday times, this can significantly increase their costs. This is what makes travelling before kids hit school age a wonderful thing!
Related Reading: How to narrow down your bucket list of destinations.
Accommodation options for multi-generation groups
- Should you stay as one group or in separate accommodation?
- We’ve found it easier to stay at the same place rather than organizing rendezvous points, whereas others prefer the space that separate rooms or accommodation gives them.
When you’re travelling with a group of 12 family members ranging in age from 6 to 70, finding accommodation to make everyone happy is a challenge. The best way we found to tackle it is to alternate types of accommodation.
So in one destination we’d all stay in a big AirBnB house, but for the next place we’d split up into smaller groups and stay in apartments or cabins. It gave everyone a little space which is essential.Nicci from Trip Chiefs
- If sharing accommodation where cleaning and cooking are required, establish a few small ground rules on cooking, washing, and cleaning up, so everyone is doing their bit; likewise, if dining out, how will you look to split the bills?
- If budgets significantly differ, consider two separate places nearby.
We thought Lisbon would be a great destination for a four day trip with my parents, they were interested and we had heard it was a good place for kids too. Turns out it was! The biggest thing we did differently than if we were alone was accommodation: we had different budgets and requirements from my parents so I put a lot of work into finding two different places very close to each other – we ended up on the same road and it worked perfectly.
We were together all the time but also had the freedom to get up at our own times. We booked more tours that we normally would have, including a private out of town trip we may have done by train if we were alone.Marta- Learning Escapes
Rules and routines
- Establish what you want normal wake up, nap times and bedtimes to be and if there are times that grandparents would prefer not to be disturbed (just because you have an open bathroom door policy doesn’t mean everyone else will appreciate it!!)
- Set expectations on what part of your family’s normal routine must be maintained and where some flexibility can be allowed, e.g. if you have set meal times or no sweets rules make this clear.
- Get some ground rules on gift buying. It’s perfectly natural for grandparents to want to spoil their little ones but maybe set a spending limit or remove the temptation for the kids to run to them as soon as you say “no” to the umpteenth purchase request that day – it doesn’t take them long to work out how to play a group of grown-ups you if you don’t have a united front.
Child Minding Expectations
This is a great opportunity for children who perhaps spend little time away from their own parents to gain some independence in a safe and loving environment.
- If Mum and Dad expect some babysitting or alone time during the holiday, make this clear up front; don’t take it as given but DO try and build it in at some point.
- Unless it’s pre-agreed, don’t expect it every night. You should use this opportunity to have larger family meals and time together too.
Having an extra pair of hands is always useful and when we book villas we find we can get something a bit nicer by adding the extra room (although there’s a budgetary consequence of that too!). We do occasionally use the grandparents for babysitting but, to be honest, we so rarely get to see them that it is nice to sit down after a long day and catch up with them.Emma from Wanderlust & Wetwipes
Logistics of getting around
- Privately organised tour groups may be a cost-effective way to get around where a tour guide can factor in the individual needs of your group, and you have your own private transportation.
- Just as children can tire early, so can grandparents! Many grandparents are still very spritely and active, but its a fact of life that age can start to slow you down, and mobility can be an issue.
- Build in an appropriate amount of rest stops and breaks so everyone can keep up the pace.
One thing we learned very quickly about multi-generational travel was there is a vast energy difference between 4-year-olds and 70-year-olds. We learned to make adjustments on the fly to help make sure that our days weren’t too long or arduous for either the youngsters or their grandparents. In the end, it made for a much more relaxing trip for everyone.Kevin from Wandering Wagars
Not everything on your proposed itinerary needs to be done as a big group; this is a perfect opportunity to split down into smaller groups;
- Try letting just one or two of your group have time out from the kids – go get a massage, walk the streets and have a coffee alone, take on a more adventurous activity – the list is endless!
- Let one child have some quality alone time with one parent or grandparent.
- Be careful of overplanning an itinerary – remember a lot about multi-generation is simply about BEING with one another.
Related Reading: This year’s top family travel destinations
Managing four generations of family travellers
With ages varying from newborn to 85, our family has successfully navigated multiple trips involving four generations. Traveling with four generations not only requires some logistical manoeuvring (bed space! bathrooms!), but also a consideration as to what activities and needs each generation might need.
On many of our four-generation trips, we’ve had to adjust by staying our activities and scale them down to accommodate the grandparents, who have had difficulty walking on non-flat/level surfaces. Some of the burdens associated with multi-generational travel can be alleviated by renting a vacation home, instead of staying at a hotel. Indeed, having a vacation home with a fully functioning kitchen has allowed us to enjoy family meals while also accommodating varying bedtimes.Nancy – We Go With Kids
Finally, the most important aspect of multi-generational travel is making sure that everyone is clear about expectations.
My mother in law and I frequently discuss what meals we can manage and what items we should bring to help make it an enjoyable experience. Open and honest communication not only allows everyone to be clear on the expectations but ensures that no one group shoulders the burden.Nancy
Some final considerations
- Remember gadgets are far more complex our days! From portable cots to the car seat and the stroller, be patient and try and explain early on how this gear works if you want help with this side of the family logistics (or accept that this is your job for the trip!!)
- Most importantly, accept that your children will have at least one complete meltdown at some point during the holiday to make you look like an utterly incompetent parent in front of your in-laws. That’s life.
Do you travel with other members of your family? How do you split responsibilities and budgets to make sure everyone gets the most out of the experience?
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