FAMILY TRAVEL TIPS: Planning the Vacation with Grandparents – Whether it’s a family reunion with many branches of your family tree or a just your household vacationing with one or two grandparents, I can tell you from experience that multi-generational travel is great way for families to bond and make memories—when it’s done right.
If you’re already planning a family vacation with grandparents, or you’re just beginning to consider the idea, here are some tips to help you avoid the common pitfalls of multigenerational travel and plan your best vacation with grandparents possible.
1. Be honest about your expectations.
If at least 1/10th of the reason you’re considering a vacation with the older generation is because you think you’ll have built-in babysitting, you all owe it to each other to discuss the details of how and when—and how much this babysitting will take place during your group vacation.
Believe it or not, not all grandparents want to spend their vacations babysitting. Be sure to tell them up front if you are hoping for a date night, or snorkeling trip, or morning to just sleep in without kids jumping on you, and ask what special plans they might like to undertake during your vacation.
2. Talk about money.
Vacation budgets may be quite different between grandparents and the family with young children. Settle on a price range that will work for all of you before getting into the (sometimes emotional) details of where you would like to spend your vacation and how much it might cost to get you there.
If you’re covering all or some of the vacation costs for a grandparent, make it clear whether this is a gift or whether you’re expecting childcare in return, or forgiveness from crashing the family car back in high school, etc.
If a grandparent is footing the bill for your family’s vacation, or any part of it, make it clear that you understand what it’s costing them to include you all and how much you appreciate it.
True Romance: Riding in the back of a truck through Mexican jungle to snorkel in an underground river, all made possible with vacation babysitting by Grandma.
3. Plan which activities you’ll do together—and apart.
Don’t wait until you check in to discover the grandparents have a full vacation itinerary of their own, and they look forward to seeing you, with your children, at dinner. Likewise, don’t risk offending parents who might be shocked to learn that you planned on spending chunks of your vacation time without them (oops).
It’s far better to get your wishes out in the open before you risk hurt feelings or find yourself with expensive theater tickets for two. Which you can now offer to your in-laws, along with a humble apology.
4. Get real about those money-saving meals.
If you hate cooking as much as your mother-in-law, own up to it before you sentence yourselves to a week of it “on vacation,” and make a game plan of how you can share and outsource at least some portions of the job ahead of time.
For example, does anyone else in the family like to barbecue, make fabulous flapjacks, or have a flair for making hand-tossed pizza? If so, put them in charge of at least one meal during your vacation.
And when all else fails, don’t forget: pizza delivery is available in virtually every country, even to most hotels and resorts.
5. Take safety seriously—seriously .
Vacationing with a baby or toddler in an unfamiliar and un-childproofed setting can present enough hazards as it is.
When you combine extra distractions during visiting and relatives who are not in the habit of constantly thinking about and monitoring the toddler-accessibility of their fluorescent orange plastic pill organizer or the deck rail from the chair they just placed beside it, it can turn your multi-generational vacation a multi-chaotic nightmare.
Talk about safety concerns ahead of time, bring what temporary childproofing items you can (recommendations for temporary childproofing here ) and rent other items that may be helpful (such as a safety gate or exersaucer—see our Worldwide Directory of Baby Gear Rentals).
6. Choose a destination where there’s something for everyone.
While the grandparents may be happy to join you on Junior’s first trip to the Magic Kingdom, they may be done with the place after Day One, and all of the time spent on their feet there.
All-inclusive family resorts and cruises can be a sure-fire way to get built-in attractions and activities for all ages, and if the kids camp or childcare options work with your children’s ages (check for recommendations of family resorts and cruise lines for families with kids under 5 in Travels with Baby), you can enjoy a vacation with built-in babysitting without leaning on the old folks.
You might also want to read these features: Ten Things You Should Know Before Planning a Cruise with a Baby or Toddler and Tips for Booking the Best All-Inclusive Vacation with a Baby or Young Children.
7. Choose accommodations that will be within everyone’s comfort zone.
Travel with grandparents, like small children, is very different from traveling on your own.
And while venturing off the tourist track to sleep with a hand-sized spider on the ceiling and nightly crabs entering through the shower drain may be tolerable for one grandma, another may prefer a vacation rental that’s far less rustic and with fewer geckos in the curtains. Even if they have fewer stories to tell afterward.
Just remember, when everyone sleeps well, and eats well, and is not afraid to use the plumbing, everyone is much more likely to enjoy the multigenerational vacation together.
In my enthusiastic anticipation of showing Costa Rica to three generations of my family, I somehow planned two days with 6+ hours of driving. Good thing driving in Costa Rica is not dull…
8. Don’t drive your family crazy with a vacation that requires more driving.
Whether you arrive at your destination by car, plane, train, ferry, on horseback or in a canoe, choose a location that won’t require driving to enjoy your time spent there.
Not only is loading and unloading the car, looking for parking spaces, and possibly negotiating traffic an undesirable way for grandparents and grandchildren to bond on a family vacation, but rental car prices jump when you make the leap from economical 5-seaters to that minivan (and in destinations like Hawaii and Europe, you’ll especially feel the minivan mileage each time you visit the pump).
Aim for a beach, lake, forest or even an urban destination where you can do what sightseeing you like without the need of a car. (See our Family Travel 411 Destination Guides at our sister site for inspiration.)
9. Get a great group photo during your vacation.
It’s easy to get busy with visiting, activities, and keeping up with kids on a vacation, so plan ahead to take a group photo at some point in your trip. Whether you enlist the help of a professional photographer or leave it to your trusty camera and tripod, you’re photo of three generations (or more!) will only become more precious in the years to come, not to mention it will look darn good on Grandma’s next Christmas card.
Tip: For professional looking results, go with an easy dress code everyone can follow. White shirts of any kind, jeans, and bare feet worked great for us. Be sure to bring your camera timer and tripod–or consider one of these handy selfie sticks with tripod feet and remote for your smartphone available at Amazon (affiliate link). The “burst” mode to get several photos in seconds flat and repeat… there’s bound to be one without someone’s eyes shut!
10. Remember that toddlers aren’t the only ones who get testy.
When planning a vacation with grandparents, parents, and grandchildren under one roof, make sure that everyone will get the downtime they need, whether that’s a nap for Junior or a snooze for Grandpa, or a quiet walk on the beach for Mom or a souvenir shopping spree for Grandma.
Also, keep plenty of healthy snacks on hand for everyone to help keep the blood sugar blues at bay and energy levels at their optimum for all that visiting to be done—and all the memories to be made.
Do you have a tip you would add to these? A great destination, resort, vacation rental or cruise you’d recommend for a family vacation with grandparents?
Note: A previous version of this post was first published September 12, 2013. It received the Bronze Award in Intergenerational & Family Travel Articles from the North American Travel Journalists Association.
You might also like:
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks
What?! Your kids aren’t babies anymore? Head over to Family Travel 411