How to Survive a Multigenerational Family Vacation

by Jennifer Kelly Geddes

How to Survive a Multigenerational Family Vacation

Whether you're sharing a lake house or cruising the high seas, here's how to make your multigenerational family vacation work for all ages.

Our family vacation was getting off to a rough start. We were hoping to find a lake house in Vermont for a week last summer that would accommodate my parents, my husband, our teen girls, my sister, her husband, her small kids, and our dogs. We clicked on many options, but only few met everyone's wide array of specifications, which ranged from a place located on a quiet lake with a sandy bottom to amenable to pets.

But even with dog and lake issues aside, planning a multigenerational vacation can be a massive undertaking. Making sure the accommodations are adequate; finding activities for a range of ages; and figuring out who cooks, cleans, and deals with the travel agent or property owner are just a few of the many tasks.

"It's important to keep the lines of communication open during the planning process, especially when it comes to the budget, expectations, and caring for the grandchildren," notes Kyle McCarthy, the cofounder and editor of Family Travel Forum.

You'll also want to be careful not to pin all your hopes on this single week of relaxation.

"Remember, this kind of trip involves compromise and isn't supposed to be the vacation of a lifetime," points out Eileen Ogintz, travel expert and founder of the site Taking The Kids.

Instead, it's an adventure that's focused on being together as a family and making memories.

"There will certainly be hiccups—it is family after all—but if everyone keeps their cool, it'll work out well," Ogintz says.

To help stymie the hiccups, McCarthy and Ogintz share their tips for a smooth multigenerational family vacation:

1. Money matters

It can be sticky discussing payment—whether everyone should be billed the same amount or contribute according to their means.

"Often grandparents spring for a trip like this, but that's an individual decision," explains Ogintz.

Some grandparents will pay for the house, cruise, or resort, but expect their children to get there. While in other families, it's the kids who have the money and treat the parents.

"It's important to be clear from the start as to who pays for what, and if you have people with different budgets, make sure you choose a place that works for all."

2. Babysitting blues

Traveling with your parents means a built-in sitter every night, doesn't it? Before you book them for the entire week, think again.

"Grandparents love spending alone time with their grandchildren on a family vacation, but nonstop childcare duties might not be their idea of a good time," says McCarthy.

It's possible your parents want to watch the kids—but don't assume (ask first!).

3. Too many (or too few) cooks

For those folks who aren't comfortable with meal prep, set up a schedule that gives them the shopping or clean-up end of the deal. Or, try rotating jobs, such as having one family shop and cook while the other loads the dishwasher; then switch it the next day.

"Kids can also chip in with the chores, helping with dishes if they are old enough, setting and clearing the table, and picking up their toys," adds Ogintz.

4. Mob mentality

Having family meals every evening is a nice way to end the day, but spending time apart is also a good idea.

"You don't need to be in lockstep all the time!" reminds Ogintz.

If you're at a theme park, the grandparents may prefer to relax at the hotel for a few hours—maybe while the baby naps. You might also have a group that likes to hike or run, and others who want nothing more than to sit on the porch with a glass of wine. You could also plan an adult evening, as long as you can get a sitter, suggests Ogintz.

"And try to put aside time for parents and grandparents to catch up on their own," says McCarthy.

This way, each tribe can reconnect alone, without overdoing the "together time" as a group.

For destination ideas, check out our "Travel with Grandparents: Vacations the Whole Fam Will Love" and "5 Summer Camps for the Whole Family."