Family holidays have come of age. Banish memories of tense car rides and bickering by the beach, and embrace cross-generational travel: blissfully adult trips for grown-ups and their grown-up kids.

A man and a wheelchair traveller visiting ancient ruins in Thailand © Chakarin Wattanamongkol / Getty Images
Family travel doesn't always have to end in tears and tantrums © Chakarin Wattanamongkol / Getty Images

Family travel grows up

This is the chance for you and your parents to kiss a fond goodbye to all those memories of teary meltdowns in hushed museums, swallowed fistfuls of sand, rows over missing Travel Scrabble tiles, or whatever else marked your early travel experiences as a family. Forgive and forget as you embrace a new, mature era of cross-generational travel.

There’s often a particular occasion that gets your clan on a plane together again as adults: visiting a sibling who lives overseas, or attending a cousin’s wedding somewhere exotic. For other families it’s practical – if you’re all living far apart and have busy schedules, taking shared holidays can be the only way to spend a decent amount of time together. Regardless of the initial prompt, there’s no doubt that bringing your parents on holiday as an adult can add to the travel experience in ways you’d never expect.

A three-generation family strolling along the beach © Jack Hollingsworth / Getty Images
A three-generation family strolling along the beach © Jack Hollingsworth / Getty Images

Embracing the unexpected

Travel is unpredictable, and you never know when the gods might throw a chance event or meeting in your path that makes you see your parents in a different light: when on earth did your dad acquire a taste for smoking shisha, or your mum learn to speak a little Russian? You’ve got time to find out the full story, because conversations that would normally be wrapped up on a quick phone-call can now drift on for days – on slow train journeys, or through long lunches that slide into dinnertime.

When people are plucked from their routines and are far from the familiar, they have the chance to shake off traditional family roles and see new sides to each other. Maybe there’s a dormant competitive streak in the family, just waiting to be uncovered at the top of a black run in a Rockies ski resort. Or a shared obsession with sculpture that you didn’t know about until an afternoon at Paris’ Musée d’Orsay. Could a freakish willingness to eat deep-fried scorpions be buried in your bloodline? The answer might be waiting in a Bangkok side-street.

A family enjoying the view after a hike © Corey Rich / Getty Images
Enjoying the view after a tough hike consigns arguments to history © Corey Rich / Getty Images

Sharing wonders… and woes

Shared travel can also be a chance for newer additions to the tribe to get themselves deeper into the family fold: your mother and your fiancé sharing an insatiable thirst for Aperol Spritz in Milan, perhaps, or your husband and your brother equally horrified at being served instant coffee on the Nile. It’s a pretty decent test of mettle, too: if your new squeeze can survive a week away with your folks, then they’re probably a keeper.

As everyone who travels knows, being somewhere new and different can also be tough. Most trips include their fair share of disappointments, frustrations and challenges, all of which can end up as bonding experiences... or at least leave you with something to bicker over at the next family gathering. Who insisted their French was good enough to order off-menu and only succeeded in procuring a side salad and a half-dozen oysters between four, then? Hmm?

At its best, travel is thrilling – that’s why we do it. It lights people up and shows them at their most interested, delighted and adventurous... which aren’t necessarily the elements of our personalities we have a chance to share with our families.

So, after a few successful cross-generational jaunts, any negative associations with family travel might just vanish completely. Those interminable car journeys of the dim and distant past, punctuated with whining, urgent toilet stops and outbreaks of furious kicking in the back seat, will be a thing of the distant past – unless your parents really start acting up, that is.

A mother and daughter having fun at a fruit stand during their travels © heshphoto / Getty Images
Who knows where a cross-generational adventure might take you? © heshphoto / Getty Images

Ten great places for cross-generational travel

  • Budapest, Hungary – Gentle, low-key activities for all ages, such as the Castle Hill Funicular or the thermal baths.
  • The Nile, Egypt – Your mum probably still has your school project about the Pharaohs – why not see tombs and temples for real?
  • Oaxaca, Mexico – Wander around this gorgeously colourful city together, snacking on spicy street food.
  • Napa Valley, USA – Now that everyone’s reached legal age, share bottles of crisp chardonnay or fruity cab savs on a wine tour.
  • Great Ocean Road, Australia – Take it in turns behind the wheel (or back-seat driving) on a spectacular coastal road trip.
  • Kerala, India – It’s impossible to do anything but unwind while cruising along the backwaters of Alleppey on a houseboat.
  • Tyrol, Austria – Great skiing for different abilities, plus après-ski where 20- to 60-somethings party side by side.
  • Beijing, China – Do as Chinese families do and take a day trip together to walk the Great Wall.
  • Kenya – A once-in-a-lifetime safari trip will be talked about for years over the dinner table.
  • Naples, Italy – If your family realise that they have nothing in common, then simply sit back and enjoy a pizza together.

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