The 4 Secrets of a Happy Family Vacation with Grandparents

Child and grandparent on beach (Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash)
Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

There’s so much to love about multigenerational travel with your extended family. It’s a time when grandparents and grandkids can bond, parents can get the occasional break, and everyone can explore the world together on a family vacation.

There are also some specific challenges that come from family trips that include older and younger family members in the same group, though. And sandwich-generation parents would do well to adjust expectations when it comes to traveling with older relatives and children. Here are four key secrets for traveling with grandparents. Ignore them at your peril.

1. Different Ages, Different Interests

It’s okay that your kids’ and your parents’ interests don’t align perfectly. On a well-balanced family vacation, there’s room for smaller groups of people to break off and do the things that interest them.

That’s a long way of saying: Don’t make your toddler sit through the three-hour meal your parents have booked at a nice restaurant (it’s going to disappoint everyone), and don’t force your parents to spend the day horseback riding at a dude ranch (unless they want to, in which case, they are heroes).

The point isn’t to do everything together, it’s to be able to come back together as a whole family for quality time and fun activities that suit the whole crowd, from young children to teens to adults.

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2. Respect Individual Needs

Some people need naps (both young and old). Some simply can’t walk for miles (again, both young and old). Others just need a little down time now and then to recharge and read a good book. There are all sorts of physical limitations that kids, especially young kids, and grandparents, particularly older grandparents, bring with them on a multigenerational trip.

To expect everyone to keep up with the fittest members of the family is unrealistic. Instead, cut everyone some slack when it’s time for group activities and aim for the achievable. Your entire family will be happier.

3. Embrace a Slower Pace

The little ones and oldest members of your extended family tend to need a little more time to recharge than the rest of us. Rather than seeing that as a burden, think about it as a lesson for us all to slow down and enjoy a little more unstructured, unscheduled vacation time.

Not only will you make room for everyone to be on their best behavior the rest of the time, you also create opportunities for spontaneous connection that come out of being relaxed, on vacation, and with the people you love.

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4. Choose a Trip the Entire Family Will Love

Some family-friendly destinations are custom-made for multigenerational travel. We’re looking at you, national parks and national park lodges. You too, Walt Disney World. And don’t forget a family-friendly cruise ship, or all-inclusive resorts, especially resorts with a kids club. What sets places like these apart isn’t that they cater to families with little ones, it’s that they offer something for the entire family from young children and teenagers to parents and grandparents (not to mention aunts and uncles on an extended family vacation).

In other words, think of it this way. A multigenerational family vacation is a lot like real estate: location matters. A lot.

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Christine Sarkis
Christine Sarkis is a traveling parent and longtime travel writer and editor. The former executive editor for TripAdvisor travel magazine, Sarkis has spent nearly two decades finding and sharing the best places to go with an audience of enthusiastic travelers. Her stories have appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her expert advice has been quoted in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her stories have been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008, and she is working on a travel memoir.

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