Intergenerational Travel: Finding Family Harmony

It’s a sweet, indelible image: My dad, six-foot-two and lean as a green bean holding hands with my then two-year-old daughter, clad in puffy yellow shorts. My dad’s long arm reaches down, my daughter’s tiny one reaches up, and they look into each other’s eyes as they make their way, laughing, down the hill from our rented beach house to the ice cream store in town. That simple, joy-filled walk that Dana took with her Pop-Pop was one of many special moments shared by three generations of our family during a week-long vacation together.

Traveling with multiple generations of family can be enriching and rewarding. It’s an opportunity to reunite, reminisce, discover, celebrate.

But friction can develop, too, as family members who don’t live together in the real world try to live together in the vacation world. Whether you rent a ski chalet or a few motel rooms at Disney World, some honest pre-trip discussion and planning can help ensure that everyone enjoys your multi-generational journey. Before leaving home, discuss:

How close the quarters?

My neighbors, Chris and Dave Blelloch, have taken several vacations with extended family. Some have been less than perfect, others a joy. The difference? Space. For a reunion trip to North Carolina, the clan, which included grandparents, aunts, uncles and a gaggle of cousins of all ages,   rented one large house. “It didn’t work,” said Chris. “Too close.”

For a more recent trip to Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the group booked separate, side-by-side condos. Each family had its own living space, and the resort’s beach and play area with barbecue pit served as common gathering ground. Harmony reigned.

What are the ground rules – and floor plan?

It’s easier to set behavior and etiquette guidelines before a trip than to fret and feud while on vacation because, for example, teenagers come in late, make noise in the kitchen and wake the family. The teens’ parents may be used to this at home, but their grandparents likely aren’t. And mom and dad may need a break from it. It’s their vacation, too.

Set ground rules and devise plans that address issues like curfews; accommodation of early risers and night owls; babies’ naptimes; uses of common space; control of amenities like TVs, computers, sound systems, sports equipment and rental cars. The payoff for your negotiations will be a vacation haven that’s truly a peaceable kingdom.

If you’ll be staying in a vacation rental, knowing the property’s floor plan and layout can help you make advance decisions on potentially thorny issues like bedroom assignments. Who gets the biggest or quietest room, the room nearest the bathroom, the ground floor room, the room in the attic two flights up, the room that faces a busy street?

Vacation rental sites like Interhome.com, CyberRentals.com and vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) have photos and property descriptions and, with the latter two, you deal directly with the owners and can email them with questions.

Whose turn to dry?

You may not want to think about work while on vacation, but jobs will need doing, especially if you’re vacationing in a rental property without restaurants or maid service. Who will shop, cook, clean, watch the kids? If the men golf in the morning, should the women get a few kid-free hours at the pool or gym in the afternoon? Grandma, whose roasts and ravioli are legendary, may love hosting family holiday feasts, but she may not want to spend her vacation cooking. Talking in advance about the division of leisure and labor will lighten everyone’s load.

How much togetherness? You’re traveling together, but you’re individuals and separate families, and it’s likely you’ll want and need time apart. Interests, habits, age, finances and health will steer each person and family toward different pursuits. Will you eat in or out? If out, how often? Or will each family do its own thing at mealtime? Should you have several vehicles available so people can go different places?

Some of you may want to take daily road trips or climb mountains while others want only to sit and read. Establishing a different strokes for different folks policy gives everyone guilt-free freedom to partake in or pass on outings or activities.

On an intergenerational vacation, planning and communication help smooth the way for wonderful shared experiences.

Like holding hands and laughing all the way to the ice cream store.

LORI HEIN

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