7 Tips for Surviving a Multigenerational Trip

The appeal of multigenerational travel can't be denied: these shared experiences provide many opportunities to connect with family members. But traveling with both your kids and your aging parents at the same time poses unique challenges.
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In a previous post, I discussed asking your parents and your children about their travel preferences and then how to use that information to plan a trip that takes into account everyone's needs and interests. Now it's time to actually go on the trip together! During your travels, keeping in mind a few logistical concerns can greatly increase the odds that your trip will build positive memories for everyone.

The appeal of multigenerational travel can't be denied: these shared experiences provide many opportunities to connect with family members. But traveling with both your kids and your aging parents at the same time poses unique challenges. Here are seven tips to help you take a multigenerational vacation that you, your parents, and your kids can all enjoy together.

1. Plan for frequent bathroom stops
Urinary incontinence grows more common with age (and your parent may be embarrassed to mention it), and small children are still learning bathroom skills (including how not to wait until the last minute!), so be prepared to visit restrooms often. If you're driving to your destination, stop at a rest area every two hours; if you're flying, use the restroom right before boarding the plane and book seats close to the airplane facilities so they're just a few steps away if an urgent need arises during your flight.

Once you've reached your destination, don't forget to plan for bathroom breaks there, too. Consider arranging for a private tour or hiring a personal driver (rather than signing up for a large-group bus tour, for example), because those options give you more control to use the facilities whenever you need to without having to worry about sticking to a rigid schedule or inconveniencing a group.

2. Slow down and take rest breaks
Recalibrating your expectations about what can be accomplished while on vacation will go a long way toward ensuring that everyone has a good time. If you're extremely lucky, your children and your parents will be able to handle the same activity level. Odds are, though, that your vacation will be a fine balancing act among the needs and interests of different age groups.

A good rule of thumb is to take in one major site together, then have a rest period for everyone. Afterward, since you've opted for a destination with a variety of activities, the members of your group can each choose whether to head off to another activity or relax some more.

3. Discuss babysitting expectations before you depart
Even if your parents regularly babysit free of charge for your children at home, they may prefer to spend most of their vacation relaxing -- something that's hard to do while looking after young children. So don't assume that your parents will be happy to babysit for you while you travel together, even if you're paying for the trip. Talk to them about this possibility and what payment you can offer them (beyond the joy and fun of spending quality time with their grandchildren, of course!) for looking after your kids. Remember, it's their vacation too.

4. Bring snacks everywhere
People of all ages get testy when they're hungry (and older adults are particularly susceptible to drops in blood sugar that can lead to a visit to the hospital), so bring snacks on all of your excursions and especially while traveling to your destination (for example, it's not uncommon for airlines to run out of food items for purchase -- and you can't exactly step out to the grocery store in the middle of a flight!). A good rule of thumb is to bring any food or drink that you absolutely need (such as food for young children) so you aren't inconvenienced -- or worse -- if the airline doesn't provide it. (Check out the TSA guidelines for bringing baby food, formula, or breast milk on airplanes.)

5. Bring entertainment for everyone
Although the adults in my party were quite impressed by the natural wonders in Yellowstone National Park during our last family vacation, my twin three-and-a-half-year-old nieces were just not that into the scenery. After a while, my octogenarian mom even became a bit jaded by it: by day two, she stopped walking to the various sites because "once you've seen one volcano, you've seen 'em all." Consequently, there were times when my nieces and my mom needed something else to do.

My advice for any multigenerational trip -- in which you have to balance many different interests, attention spans, and ability levels -- is to always bring entertainment options for all ages in your group. Crayons and coloring books are a great way for Grandma or Grandpa to connect with little ones, for example. Tablets (such as iPads), portable DVD players, and handheld game consoles can be sanity savers. Unless you want to hear "Let It Go" over and over (and over!) or video game beeps, though, be sure to bring something to plug into the output jack on your device. Regular over-the-head (not in-ear) headphones can be especially useful for older seniors who wear hearing aids and for young children whose ears are still too small for earbuds.

6. Bring sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer
Keeping everyone healthy while on vacation should be a top priority: you don't want to spend your time caring for someone who's sick (or get sick yourself) when you should be lounging at the beach! Sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer will go a long way toward keeping germs at bay in general. They're even more important to have around when traveling with young children who have a habit of touching everything (and then put their hands in their mouths!).

7. Get involved with the luggage
When you're traveling with young children and older adults, at some point you're likely to be hauling everyone's luggage. So before the trip, do what you can to ensure that everyone packs appropriate items (and not too many of them!). Make sure that no one brings anything that could cause problems at transit security checkpoints and that young children don't bring tons of big and bulky toys. Also discuss toiletries with your parents, so you can plan together to avoid redundancies (perhaps you can share one bottle of shampoo, for example -- and you certainly won't need to bring two hair dryers!) and therefore lighten your luggage load.

Sure, traveling with your kids and your aging parents at the same time can be rather challenging. After all, it's not easy to accommodate such a wide range of interests and abilities. At the same time, though, multigenerational travel can be one of your most exciting adventures. With a bit of extra planning, everyone in your group can have a wonderful vacation together, regardless of his or her age!


For additional suggestions for enjoying a multigenerational vacation, check out my post on "5 Tips for Keeping Your Cool While Traveling with Your Parents."