Need to Get Away?

Need to Get Away?
Multigenerational family vacations bring you closer.

In the movie Field of Dreams, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, driven by a voice that whispers, “If you build it, they will come,” cuts down his cornfield to build a baseball diamond. He’s rewarded, of course, by visits from Shoeless Joe Jackson and other baseball legends, but Ray’s most treasured experience comes when his own father makes his way through the corn to play the game of catch they never had time for when he was alive. More than the famous visitors, it’s the simple father-son bond that Ray values.

With summer vacation season just around the corner, think about that for a minute. Sure, you’ll hand assets and family heirlooms down to your children, but unquestionably what they will treasure the most are their memories of the time you shared together.

To create those cherished memories, increasing numbers of American families are deciding to travel together. In fact, according to the Travel Industry Association, nearly 20 percent of last year’s vacations were taken by families that included three generations, up from 14 percent the previous year. In addition, nearly one-third of last summer’s vacationers attended a family reunion.

What’s behind the multigenerational travel trend? Grandparents are enjoying more active, longer lives, and the boomer generation wants their children to have relationships with grandparents that transcend an annual gathering around a holiday table. Furthermore, with more families spread out around the country, invitations to get together at a fabulous resort or embark on an international adventure hold more allure than a trip back home. To make these vacations even more attractive, the older generation, often with greater disposable income, picks up the tab.

As these unique vacations gain in popularity, resorts that cater to the mutigenerational crowd are increasing in number and scope. Once limited to cruise ships, family-friendly amenities, from nanny services and teenage dances to aerobics classes and senior socials, are now commonplace at destinations that range from beach resorts to dude ranches. And, not to be outdone, cruise ships have taken to courting families by offering amenities such as family-friendly shows and a wide variety of complimentary children’s programs.

If you’d like to get your extended family together this summer, there are plenty of helpful resources on the Internet. For example, Grandtravel, a Washington, D.C. travel agency, specializes in planning luxury vacations for grandparents and grandchildren to destinations ranging from Alaska to the Galapagos Islands and Thailand. If you’re looking for the most value for your cruising dollar, visit Cruise for Families. Specializing in intergenerational travel, the company works with cruise lines that offer comprehensive services for families. Or, you could use one of my favorites, Backroads, which helps to plan trips for the more active traveler.  They can organize scenic walks, hikes, bike trips, kayak trips, etc. at popular destinations in the United States or around the world.

While you may be ready to pack your bags today, travel experts warn against surprising your family with airline tickets. Rather, consider everyone’s work schedules, as well as the kids’ sports, graduations, and camp dates. Then discuss together when to get away. The more lead time you give yourselves, the easier it will be to accommodate everyone’s interests and needs in terms of meals, exercise, sightseeing, and rest. Remember, you also may need extra time to make special arrangements for family members who have physical limitations or medical issues.

As you plan, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Set the budget. Perhaps the organizing family will pay for airfare, hotel, and meals, while other family members will pick up the tab for extra activities not on the itinerary.
  • Ensure time alone. Nothing puts a damper on a vacation more quickly than 24/7 togetherness—or not enough bathrooms. Not only is privacy necessary for families with babies or senior citizens, but don’t expect your 17-year-old granddaughter to share a room with her six-year-old cousin.
  • Mix and match. Encourage each age group to spend time alone with the others. After the kids are in bed, parents and grandparents can get together, or grandparents can take the grandchildren on a special outing so the parents can have time alone.
  • Compromise. Ensure that everyone has input to both the planning stages and during the trip itself.
  • Start a memory book. You should try to capture everything, from the planning stages to final goodbyes. In addition to asking the adults to take photographs, give the children disposable cameras. Your photo albums will make priceless gifts.

Whatever your destination, Helena Koenig, a recognized expert on multigenerational travel and the founder of Grandtravel, always warns families not to expect the trip of a lifetime. Her advice? “Think of the experience as a celebration, not a vacation. There will be ups and downs and compromises, but traveling together creates memories that last a lifetime.”

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