Laura’s note: Travel expert Jody Robbins reached out to me with the idea of doing a podcast on family travel. It was such a good idea that it turned out we’d already recorded an episode! So I asked her for any other travel tips she wanted to share. If you’re thinking of doing an extended family trip over spring break or summer vacation, read on for her strategies.
by Jody Robbins
Everyone likes to think they won’t change once they have kids, but we all know how that goes. Take travel, for instance. While it’s totally possible to roam the globe with tots in tow, it’s also crazy hard work. Even vacationing with your nuclear family often isn’t as relaxing as friends’ Instagram shots make it out to be. That’s why after years of researching and writing about family travel, I’ve become a big proponent of multi-generational trips.
Multi-generational trips aren’t all about securing built-in-babysitters — though if offered, it is a nice benefit! When traveling with family, you’re spending productive time with those you love. You’re creating memories and more importantly, fostering bonds for your children and their relatives. Sharing costs and childcare duties is the icing on the cake.
But family being family means there are inevitable issues that will arise in either the planning or executing of your trip. Here’s how to avoid them.
Know before you go
First you need to figure out who you want to travel with. Realize that if you’re inviting one sibling and you have others, they might feel neglected. Once the people are sorted, you’ll need to figure out the place. Ideally, your location is one that’s of interest to everyone and easily accessible.
Before the destination can get nailed down, however, you need to discuss budget. Who’s paying for what? Can everyone chip in to share a large house or do you need the privacy of an all-inclusive resort? Is there an expectation the grandparents are paying? (Somebody better call Grandma if that’s the case!)
Besides the accommodation, how will you handle meals? Not every family can afford to eat out everyday. If you’re dispersed across the country, schedule a Skype call or hash out your ideas via email before you commit.
Time well spent
Fans of this blog know the benefits of jotting things down on a calendar. Some families go a step further and make an Excel spreadsheet of their vacation days to share with the group. Kids benefit from routine and you’ll be able to thwart any last minute excursions that you don’t want to do. Jot down nap times, when you want to go for a run, etc. so everyone knows your intentions. This type of spreadsheet can also be used for meal planning if you’d like to organize each family taking on a night of dinner duty.
Because you probably don’t want to spend every waking minute together, it’s a good idea for nuclear families to carve out a few hours each day for themselves. This gives your children necessary downtime and your spouse a chance to vent about your (possibly annoying) relatives. Everybody can use a break, so don’t feel guilty for carving out this time for your family.
How to get a break on multigenerational trips
Free babysitting is a bonus on extended family trips, but not a given. Ask in advance if a relative can watch your kids for a specific time frame while you and your partner go off on your own. See if you can swap off with other parents. If a teen is on the trip, offer to hire them as a babysitter. If you really want some downtime for yourself, you need to figure out in advance how to make it happen. Realize it won’t magically appear.
Some parents have no problem with others disciplining their children. Others do. You know which type you are. Kids on vacation will get overtired and can misbehave in unfamiliar environments. In my research, most parenting experts agree it’s the parent in charge of the kids at any particular moment who sets the guidelines. If you’re not cool with that, let the other vacation-goers know how you’d like discipline to be handled. Prepare to give up some semblance of control if you’re not always the caregiver.
Admittedly, ground rules don’t sound like fun, but they can alleviate issues. Shared spaces are no one’s territory. Each family is going to have their own ideas about bedtimes and the like. Try to gain some common ground and if you can’t, explain to your children that there are different rules for different families.
You want to set your family up for success and that’s best accomplished through clear communication in advance of your trip.
Jody Robbins is a freelance family travel writer based in Canada. For more advice on family travel visit her site, TravelsWithBaggage.com or pick up her book, 25 Places in Canada Every Family Should Visit. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.