If you’re lucky enough to have parents, grandparents, or adult children who make good travel buddies, one of the most fun and interesting ways to see the world is through multigenerational travel. As we learned on our trip to the U.K. with M’s parents, embarking on a vacation with people of different age groups can help you experience your trip in a whole new way. It may even lead you to unexpected delights and fond memories you might never have found otherwise.
In September of 2016, M and I embarked on a journey across the Atlantic. Unlike our other adventures, though, this time we weren’t alone. Before our marriage, he and I had committed to the idea of traveling with each of our respective sets of parents, and M’s happened to be the lucky guinea pigs for this grand experiment.
The four of us aligned on a two-week road trip through Scotland and Ireland, and overall, it was an incredible vacation. (You can read about the Scotland half here, with the Ireland details in this post!) Not only were our destinations exciting and beautiful, but the four of us had a great time together.
That said, there were some significant differences to traveling with another couple, particularly one from a different generation, compared to our usual experience when it’s just the two of us. M’s parents weren’t strangers to travel, but they didn’t have the breadth of international experience that he and I shared. Their priorities, while largely aligned, sometimes differed from ours. And even though they’re both very fit people, our desired and/or feasible level of activity wasn’t always in sync. (As you know, M and I can be a little aggressive with our pace of travel.)
In short, multigenerational travel taught us a lot, and those lessons have stuck with us. A little over a year later, I would employ a lot of them when planning a vacation for my mother, sister, and myself in Belize, and I truly believe they helped set us up for success.
Today, I want to share some of my best tips for multigenerational travel. I hope that what we’ve learned will be valuable to you as you plan your own vacation!
1.) Choose a destination that is appealing and feasible for everyone involved.
Your first key to success in planning a multigenerational trip is to choose your destination(s) with the budgets, goals, and comfort levels of all parties involved in mind. Don’t plan an epic sweep through the U.S. National Parks system if your dad hates to rough it, and don’t select an expensive city like London if your mom wants to keep spending to a minimum. It’s important to consider factors like mobility (does someone have trouble walking long distances or over uneven ground?), taste (does someone hate spicy or exotic foods?), and personality (does someone get frustrated by unreliable timetables or a lack of organization?).
We chose Scotland and Ireland because they held a lot of interest for M’s parents, who love the outdoors, history, and British TV shows. Our purchasing power was improving as the pound fell and the dollar gained on the Euro, the flights weren’t terribly long, and the fact that both areas are English-speaking would be a comfort and a benefit for my in-laws. Plus, none of us had ever been to either place before!
Being strategic about our destination helped set us up for a successful and enjoyable trip before our first dollar was spent.
2.) Expect to travel at a slower pace.
Any time you introduce additional people into a vacation, you can expect your pace to slow down. This is especially true with kids and older seniors, but even a foursome of young, energetic people will usually be less nimble and flexible than one or two individuals traveling alone.
Traveling with more people increases the probability that someone will take extra time to get ready in the morning, want to linger longer at an attraction, request an unplanned stop, or need a bathroom, snack, or rest break. You may need to wait longer for a table or your food at a restaurant. One of you might be a much slower walker or driver than the others. These and any number of other factors can quickly contribute to a slower overall pace.
Even though none of the above scenarios is a negative in and of itself, all those time differences can add up. Be conservative in your planning to avoid feeling rushed. Leave extra time in your daily itinerary to ensure that you don’t missing something important because you ran out of time. Also, keep in mind that traveling slowly can be great for giving you a more in-depth cultural experience and appreciation for a location.
Even though my in-laws are very fit and were rock stars when it came to the hikes, activities, and pace of travel we employed, I still noticed that we traveled more slowly as a group than when M and I are journeying alone. His parents were also understandably more tired at the end of the day and keen to take things slowly in the mornings, over meal breaks, or at night.
It took some communication to help us settle into a pace that worked for all four of us. (More on that below.) I soon realized how ambitious I had been with some of our timetables and had to readjust my expectations to be more realistic. It was a great learning experience, as I really hadn’t given much thought to M’s and my pace of travel before.
Although my in-laws have insisted that they don’t regret our pace because of everything we were able to see and do, I know that in future I will have a better idea of what makes sense for traveling in a multigenerational group. For example, I learned that there’s a lot of value in spending multiple nights in the same place rather than constantly moving from town to town. Most notably, I will be more conservative about how much to try to see in a day and what distances make sense to travel.
3.) You may need to do more planning ahead.
If you’re planning to travel in a group of four or more, it’s wise to leave fewer reservations to the last minute than when traveling solo or as a couple. Your needs are greater (two rooms instead of one, four excursion tickets instead of two, a larger rental car, etc.), and you have less flexibility if something is unavailable or sold out. This is especially critical during your destination’s high season, when there may not be space for all four of you on that last-minute tour or in that tiny Scottish village’s only bed and breakfast.
For your own peace of mind, make as many reservations as possible in advance. This includes accommodations, transportation, high-end restaurants, and must-see attractions. It also may be wise to make more dinner reservations than usual to prevent long waits or lack of availability. Booking ahead will ensure that you get what you want when you want it.
We traveled to Scotland and Ireland in September, after the high season ended, but still made sure that all of our lodging, flights, and rental cars were booked before we left.
4.) Acknowledge that your travel styles may differ, and that that’s ok.
You’ve likely already considered travel styles while choosing your destination, but it’s good to continue to be aware of possible disparities in each person’s preferences and expectations as you embark on the trip. Even seemingly subtle differences can have a big impact on how well you’re able to travel together.
In vacationing with M’s parents, I noticed a couple of differences in how they like to travel compared to how my own family traveled when I was growing up. For example, as a kid on vacation, our mornings were rarely leisurely; even during weeks at the seashore, we were up, breakfasted, dressed in our swimming suits, lathered in sunscreen, and in the car by 9:00 AM to head to the beach. On more far-flung trips, my parents were similarly motivated in the mornings to get up and get started to beat the crowds and maximize our time. They would pepper in rest days throughout our vacations to prevent us from getting overtired, but I generally grew up understanding that organized days and early starts were crucial to a successful family vacation.
M’s parents, on the other hand, find a lot of value in relaxing and taking things slowly when they go on vacation. His dad, in particular, loves enjoying a big breakfast to start his day, and they are generally in no rush to hit the beach in the morning. They love watching the sunrise over a leisurely cup of coffee with their Bibles and devotionals.
Each approach to vacationing has its merits, and neither is wrong. The dissonance between our respective expectations did, however, come into stark relief on the first morning of our British Isles trip.
I had read that it is best to arrive at Edinburgh Castle when it opens to beat the crowds. My suggestion, therefore, was to encourage an early start to our day and try to be there by 9:30 AM. In my excitement to get our sightseeing underway, however, I had failed to consider the jet lag and post-travel-day fatigue that my in-laws were feeling. The resulting conversation (over a big, delicious, Papa M-pleasing breakfast) helped reset and realign our expectations and priorities for the rest of the vacation.
Differences in travel styles come in all shapes and sizes. You may prefer to blaze your own path while your companions like more structured options like a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. Someone might be okay with a light lunch on the go while someone else prefers to sit and savor the local fare. Museums might bore you to tears while everyone else fawns over art and history. The key is acknowledging that each person’s preferences have merit and finding a balance that will leave everyone happy and satisfied.
Which brings me to my next point…
5.) Communication is key.
Regardless of with whom you’re traveling or where you’re going, open and honest communication is essential in ensuring that everyone has an enjoyable experience. You don’t want to miss out on something that’s important to you because you didn’t make your preferences known. On the other hand, you also don’t want to let little annoyances build and fester until they burst out of you and create conflict.
Freely communicating our goals and desires for the trip in the planning stages helped us craft a memorable and fulfilling experience for everyone involved. Our candid conversation about our expectations and travel styles on that first morning adjusted how we approached each subsequent day of the next two weeks together. It also set the stage for any later conflict resolution. Overall, we did our best to create an environment where everyone felt heard and valued. By the time we left Edinburgh, each person was comfortable sharing opinions on when to stop for photos, where to eat our next meal, and other day-to-day decisions. Our communication paid dividends in the form of a smooth and enjoyable trip that ended with us still loving each other!
6.) Be aware that you may react differently to challenges.
Travel can be incredibly enjoyable, but it can also be challenging, frustrating, and unpredictable. Anyone who has spent any time away from home can attest to how easily even the
While overall our trip went very smoothly, we did have a few instances where something didn’t go according to plan. The most egregious example was our car rental in Ireland. Not only had we paid almost twice as much for our Irish rental as the similar car we’d hired in Scotland, but we also ended up having to take it to a mechanic twice in three days before finally swapping it out halfway through the week. These issues wasted a lot of time and created concern about our safety as we drove.
As you can imagine, it was a frustrating situation. Our responses to it and the level that it irked each of us, though, were very different. The same went for the other minor setbacks we overcame, which ranged from physical maladies to unmet expectations to just waking up on the wrong side of the bed
or me being hangry.
The key was to respond to each person with patience, compassion, and understanding. It’s not always easy to do, but approaching everything in love certainly helped keep the peace, deescalate situations, and continue moving forward toward solutions.
7.) It’s important to spend some time apart.
Even if you love your traveling companions, as M and I do his parents, you shouldn’t feel like every waking moment has to be spent together. It’s actually healthy and productive to take a timeout from traveling as a unit. Go off individually, in couples, or just split into smaller groups for a few hours every now and then.
One of my favorite nights of the trip came in Galway, where we divided into couples for individual date nights.
Other strategies we employed included balancing our lodging setups between sharing two bedroom Airbnb’s and getting individual rooms in various hotels and bed and breakfasts. We also allowed for spontaneous splintering, like when M and his dad chose to take a more arduous trail back to the visitor center at the Giant’s Causeway or when I hiked ahead of the group at Loch Coruisk to experience a few moments of solitude among the mountains. Don’t be afraid to take the time you need apart from the complete party. You’ll all be better for it.
8. ) Realize that their personal goals and priorities for the trip may lead to some delights you otherwise wouldn’t have found!
This one goes hand-in-hand with the commentary on different travel styles in #4. My in-laws are very laid-back people and, for the most part, were just excited to be going on this trip with their son and daughter-in-law. They only had a few requests: they wanted history, great scenery, and the chance to see some sheepdogs.
The first two were also priorities for M and me, but we hadn’t even considered any sort of sheepdog activity. We did some research, though, and ended up finding Leault Farm in Kincraig, Scotland. There, on a pretty expanse of rolling hills inside Cairngorms National Park, we took in a fascinating and inexpensive working sheepdog demonstration that ended up being a highlight of our trip. We probably would never have found it if it hadn’t been so important to M’s parents!
We also ended up at some different restaurants than we normally would have visited, like when my father-in-law got a hankering for Italian on our third day in Scotland. We also lucked into a glorious, rainbow-filled sunset over some sea cliffs when my mother-in-law wanted to get a closer look at an Irish castle.
I’m sure M and I would have had a great vacation in the British Isles on our own, but the influence M’s parents had on the trip certainly made the experience richer and more diverse. Keep your mind open, listen to each other, and look out for unexpected delights!
9.) You’ll get as much pleasure out of watching their joy on the trip as you will from your own experiences.
Hands down, the absolute best part of our Scotland and Ireland vacation for me was the happiness it brought to my in-laws. While M helped with finding flights and lodging, I was the one who planned our route and chose almost all of our stops and activities. Therefore, it was a personal victory to see them loving the experience more and more with each passing day.
Seeing my father-in-law’s face light up as he beheld the Old Course at St. Andrews for the first time, watching M’s mom sharing smiles and stories with our B&B hosts, hearing their exclamations of delight when we rounded a corner and brought into view another impossibly beautiful landscape… each new delight made my heart swell. Knowing that I had something to do with bringing them that kind of joy, and knowing that it meant so much to M and his parents to be able to share these moments with each other, was more gratifying than words can express.
There’s something to be said for sharing someone’s joy in a new place. It’s what made our British Isles trip special, it’s what kept me coming back to tour directing in Alaska when the hours got long and the work got difficult, and it’s what made our girls’ trip to Belize one I’ll never forget. It’s what has made me passionate about launching Full Life, Full Passport. It’s one of the best parts of traveling with other people, and one of the absolute best things about multigenerational travel.
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Have you ever undertaken a multi-generational trip? What did you learn from the experience?
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These tips for multigenerational travel were originally posted on September 6, 2018, and last updated
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