The idea of travelling as a family has moved on from the Griswold family-type vacations with grandma, mom, dad and the kids road tripping in the family station wagon. Today, you’re more likely to find grandparents sharing their love of Spanish architecture, or hiking a volcano with their grandchildren.
It’s not surprising. Family travel is currently one of the top five trends among Canadians, according to the most recent Luxe Report. Multigenerational trips provide an opportunity for family relationships to grow and create the sort of memories that will last a lifetime.
“We look forward to every holiday, but trips with the grandchildren are very special,” says Donna Forrest, a grandmother of four from Bobcaygeon, ON. “Jane is our oldest [age 10 at the time of the trip] and Barcelona was our starting point. To see that city through her eyes was magical.”
When it comes to planning a multigenerational trip, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Leave the organizing to someone else
Take the stress out of organizing and sign up with a tour company, where you can meet like-minded families. G Adventures offer a variety of organized tours, including Costa Rica and Peru, offering age-appropriate activities and hotels with amenities designed for families. “Family trips are a great way for children to interact with other kids their own age and share common interests,” says Casey Mead from G Adventures. “Often the families stay in touch, with the kids becoming pen pals.”
Pat Mighton and her husband, Dennis, from New Dundee, ON, recently took their 13-year-old grandchildren, Taya and Sam, on a G Adventures tour to the Galapagos Islands. “We wanted the reassurance, professional expertise, knowledge and advice,” says Mighton. “For the kids, part of the whole experience was meeting the other people from several countries.”
As well, Intrepid Travel is responding to the changing nature of the nuclear family by offering curated tours for solo parents or solo grandparents. These trips won’t penalize you for travelling solo with grandkids in tow and focus on providing an easy and fun-filled itinerary.
Organized tours are usually rated by activity level, fitness required, areas of interest. “Read the fine print and choose an experience to match the kids’ interests and abilities,” Pat suggests. “Stretch them a little, but not too much.”
Involve your grandchildren
In the Forrest family, each grandchild get to choose “their trip” when they reach the age of 10. “Grandchild, parents and grandparents all work together to plan the perfect trip,” says Forrest. “Involve the kids from the beginning, so they share in the excitement of anticipation.”
..and their parents
Check with their mom and dad before mentioning a trip to the kids. “It’s important that the parents are supportive of the whole experience,” says Mighton. “Have the parents pick up sunscreen and insect repellent, “so you are using ‘parent approved’ products.”
Vacations are supposed to be time to bend the rules, right? Perhaps. But it’s also a tricky one. “This is a holiday, so the rules are relaxed,” says Forrest. “Eating exactly what you want for two weeks is not going to kill you – and it is such fun.”
Grandparents have far fewer rules than parents,” Mighton admits. “Brush your teeth. Say please and thank you. Be considerate of other people. And don’t run off on your own.” It’s also a good idea to discuss the ground rules with parents before travelling with grandkids.
She says they had the rule of no screens. “But we were all tired enough to fall into bed by 9 p.m. and way too busy for screen time.”
If you haven’t travelled as family before, start with a staycation in your home city. Book a family-friendly hotel, such as Toronto’s Chelsea Hotel, which offers spacious family fun suites with a special corner for kids, stocked with movies and games, and private balconies so you can enjoy some downtime. Or rent a cottage for the weekend through Airbnb or Canada Stays and use that as an opportunity to test drive a longer trip. See how you travel as a family and iron out any kinks before embarking on a grander journey.
Keeping up with the kids
Know what activities everyone enjoys. “Snorkelling was a great thing to do together. No strength or endurance needed,” says Mighton. A hotel pool is also a great place for kids to burn off energy while you recharge. “When it came to a choice between an hour in the pool, or an extra hour sightseeing, we chose the pool. You can only retain so many amazing sights before it’s time to chill.”
Have your paperwork in order
If you’re travelling outside of Canada, make sure there’s enough time for parents to organize their children’s passports and check the expiry dates, as some countries require a minimum of six months validity to enter the country. If you’re travelling with the grandkids without their parents present, you’ll also require a consent letter signed by them. If your grandkids are covered under extended healthcare, bring along their insurance details.
When it comes the travelling with grandchildren, it’s sometimes the small things that make moments special. “The hugs come out of the blue for no real reason,” recalls Forrest.
Meanwhile, Mighton says, “Go for it! Sharing a cabin with Taya was sort of like going to summer camp. I loved it.”