There’s nothing like travelling with the whole family to catch up and create close bonds. Whether it’s going on holiday with your cousins, bringing grandparents along, or travelling with a blended family of various ages, multi-generational travel will always be a popular way to holiday, says Lonely Planet writer John Walton.
I love it, and over the last few years I’ve learned a lot about how to make this sort of travel go more smoothly. Here are my top tips.
Book a slightly larger place than you need
You've all decided on your family-friendly destination, but now the real work begins. I like to find accommodation that has one more bedroom than we need. It generally increases the proportion of bathrooms and living spaces, for a start but can also be handy to create a quiet room for anyone who needs it and store things like suitcases, winter coats and outside shoes.
A place with more than one living area is ideal, especially if they are separated enough that you can’t hear the TV from one in the other. That means you can have a spot for bookworms who can curl up and enjoy themselves while everyone else is cheering on a sports team.
Make sure to do your homework and check the reviews and photos before booking. Avoid any upset by sending your final list of options around for thoughts from key group members.
Check for safety and accessibility — and ask questions
No city or destination is going to be 100 per cent accessible: but there are some steps you can take before you fly to make things easier for family members with mobility issues.
One of the great benefits of modern booking platforms is you can learn from other guests’ experiences and ask questions of the owner or manager. It’s vital to be up front about any accessibility needs because the filters on these sites are not particularly reliable. Think it through based on the requirements of your travelling companions; do you need actual full step-free access or is a single step okay? Does Uncle Lee’s balance problem mean he needs a fully accessible bathroom with grab bars, or just a walk-in shower?
Check photos on the listing very carefully. Look for things like; showers over tubs, stairs between levels, how far away parking is, how slippy the floors are, whether there are any expensive-looking vases that can be stored out of reach of kiddies, and so on. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you can't find the answers in photos (and save the questions you ask for next time, so you remember the important ones.)
Never expect accommodation to be properly child- or babyproof, and always have a backup plan for provided equipment like a kiddy playpen: you may get to the place to discover a previous guest broke it but didn’t report it, and you’ll need to fill the gap before the owner or manager can replace it.
Lastly, read the reviews back a good ways for anywhere that looks promising, and see if any of the opinions would be a dealbreaker for you. If the place you’re keen on has a name, do a quick web search; you may well reveal another listing with additional pictures, more reviews or even a dedicated website.
Read more: What I have learned from travelling the world with a wheelchair
Think of time-saving measures
If you’re thinking of renting a car, consider two regular-sized vehicles instead of a minivan, so you have more flexibility during the holiday.
When you arrive, assign the more sprightly of the group (adults and older teenagers) to grab all the luggage and go in one car straight to where you’re staying to sort out all the formalities. The second car can follow along with the less speedy family members.
Have a quick look (or ask your host) to see whether shopping delivery is an option, so that you don’t have to head straight to the supermarket and ask for recommendations for a restaurant close by for the first meal or two.
Always ask what you can expect to be provided for your first night. Even if the answer is 'nothing', a host or their staff may be happy to pick up the basics for you. Even if there’s a small fee, it can be worth it.
Think about a holiday buddy system. Assign one kid to Grammy and one to Great Aunt Millie so that one person isn’t always chasing up the shoes, socks, coats, bathing suits, and so on.
Find kid-friendly activities everyone can enjoy
The key to a successful extended family holiday is for everyone to make the most of having everyone around. It's a great opportunity to share family traditions: can someone show the kiddies a craft like knitting or model-making? Screen time and technology can be touchy subjects, and while it’s great that the kids can relax with their own movie while the older folks chat around the table, you also want to make sure that everyone makes memories together.
Sometimes, this can be offline: like trying to play Monopoly in Italian or simply slipping a pack of cards, Uno or Happy Families in your bag. But it can also be fun to make the most of the digital world: by installing family tablets with the electronic version of modern classics like Carcassonne or Settlers of Catan, everyone can enjoy playing together with a minimum of fuss, no cleanup required.
Go through a classic movies list of your favourite movie streaming service with the kids and figure out which ones they haven’t seen. Introduce them to some of the greats while cuddled up with Grammy on the sofa.
Packing a streaming device like a Chromecast, Apple TV and so on is great, especially if you’re going to be staying somewhere with a normal TV: there’s almost always an HDMI port available. Don’t forget to bring a power adapter, and perhaps a second device if you’re planning to set up a kids’ living room and an adults’ living room. Throw in a couple of extra pairs of headphones, too.
Think about preparing a 'family favourites' music playlist for the car, the kind of thing that the older folks will know and can sing along to too.
Most importantly, don’t forget to take pictures. After the holiday, you can make a photo album or online collage together. Get that picture of Grammy laughing with one of the kids printed onto a canvas for a holiday gift. These sort of trips make wonderful memories — so make the most of them.
You might also like:
- Tips for planning an affordable family vacation
- Unlikely destinations for an unforgettable family holiday
- How to pack for travel with kids
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This article was first published November 2019, last updated February 2020.