Picture this – you, your children and, perhaps, your grandchildren, on a trip together. Perhaps you’re showing your grandchildren the places you loved as a child, or your college alma mater. Maybe you’re meeting up in a European capital or on a cruise ship. The goal – to spend quality time with the people you love best, while enjoying a unique travel experience.
Too good to be true? Not if you plan ahead. I’ve taken all of these trips with my extended family, and we have enjoyed those travel experiences more than I ever thought we would. If you’re thinking of taking an intergenerational trip, plan well and expect success. Here are some planning tips to help you make the most of your vacation experience.
Choose Your Time and Place
An intergenerational trip doesn’t have to involve heat, mouse ears and thrill rides. You’ll need to pick a travel window that works for everyone in your group. This might mean you’ll be vacationing during peak season – summer and school break weeks – but you may also wish to look into the possibility of taking the grandkids out of school for a few days. School policies vary from place to place, and some require parents to request this type of permission in writing, so you should start this process early if you plan to travel with school-age children.
Select a destination that has tolerable weather conditions and a good combination of indoor and outdoor attractions. On our family trip to Boston, Massachusetts, we planned to visit the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium as well as hike the Freedom Trail. We made sure there were plenty of dining options available for the vegan members of our group.
Don’t hesitate to try a new activity during your trip. My father contacted his alma mater, MIT, and discovered that since he was an active Alumni Association member, he could use the university’s sailboats. He gave my children a sailing lesson on the Charles River, the very place he learned to sail as a college student.
Discuss Travel Plans in Detail
It’s always best to make sure everyone understands all of the travel details before the trip begins. You’ll want to talk about financial matters, schedules and, most importantly, expectations. What do you want to get out of this trip? Which places and activities are important to each traveler? Who will look after the children, and for how long? What health or dietary issues need to be researched prior to departure? Have an open, honest discussion about your expectations, and be sure everyone is in agreement before you book your trip.
On our intergenerational trips, I’ve learned to state my goals so that everyone knows what I want to do. For example, on our Boston trip, my goal was to have my father show my children all the places in Boston and Cambridge that were important to him when he was a college student, and we let him plan the itinerary around that theme. We ate at Durgin-Park and Jacob Wirth, historic restaurants my father frequented years ago. We took a campus tour of MIT and my father told us stories about his time there – stories I hadn’t heard when he took my brother and me on the same trip.
Similarly, when my husband and I met my parents in Paris years ago, none of us had ever visited the City of Lights. We each made a list of the places we wanted to visit – they turned out to be remarkably similar – and we created an itinerary from those lists.
If eight people are taking a cruise, only one or two people need to bring sunscreen, right? Ask each adult traveler in your group to make a packing list, and discuss ways to avoid duplication. If you’re staying in a hotel with kitchenettes, for example, perhaps one group can bring paper goods and another can bring breakfast food. Don’t forget to pack some kid-friendly items. Tuck in some microwave popcorn and a DVD or two for movie night, or stash an inflatable beach ball the grandkids can use to play soccer in the park. Travel games and playing cards can come in handy, too.
Allow for Free Time
Too much togetherness can ruin your intergenerational trip. If Grandma and Grandpa want some time alone with their grandchildren, Mom and Dad can go out for a romantic walk or enjoy a French fry-free lunch experience. Kids might need some unstructured play time in a local park or hotel swimming pool. Sometimes, too, grandparents need a little time to themselves to rest or to watch evening television that doesn’t involve animated sponges. If your hotel offers free breakfasts, everyone in your group can eat and get ready for the day in a relaxed manner that matches normal daily routines.
By scheduling breaks and down time, each member of the group can “recharge,” which means that the times you spend sightseeing together will be pleasant and enjoyable.
Plan for Health Events
If you can, allow for some flexibility in your itinerary. Occasionally, health issues can interrupt your trip, and it’s always a good idea to prepare for this possibility in advance. Make sure that each member of your group has some kind of medical insurance, either through their health plan or through a reputable travel insurance provider. If someone in your group becomes ill, someone will need to bring that person to a doctor and, perhaps, to a local pharmacy. You may need to ask your family doctor to forward information to a local physician.
It’s always a good idea to travel with a list of the medications you take regularly. Add your doctor’s and pharmacy’s telephone numbers to the list, and be sure you have your health insurance card with you. If you’re traveling abroad, pack a phrase book that includes medical terms.
Record Your Memories
Take photos, keep journals and collect brochures. Intergenerational trips create wonderful memories, and you’ll want to preserve yours. One of my favorite photos from our Boston trip is of my son at Durgin-Park restaurant, holding the menu and grinning. In bold letters, the menu’s cover says, “Your grandfather probably ate here.” It’s true - he did.