The trips we took as a family are, without doubt, our favorite memories. Having a solid period of time together without the distractions of work, school, TV, or social activities, is perfect for making memories. We traveled with extended family several times when the kids were young, and I believe those trips strengthened the bonds of our family.
But multigenerational travel is not without its challenges. Doing too much can lead to exhaustion for the youngest and/or oldest travelers, while doing too little may bore the teens. We’ve put together a list of 10 tips to keep in mind to make traveling with grandchildren a pleasure for all of you.
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But before we get to the travel tips, you need to decide on what kind of grandparent grandchild trip you’ll be taking. Ultimate bucket list trips, eg. an African safari or Galapagos cruise, would be amazing adventures for grandparents and grandchildren, but the cost and complications of these adventures are better reserved until you’ve learned how well you travel together. We suggest beginning with trips which include the parents, especially if the children are young. Plan something easy – a road trip, a trip to New York City or San Diego, or a trip to a Disney park- all would be a good introduction to family travel without the stress of high expectations.
Note: if you are traveling with grandchildren alone (without parents) you will need documentation from the parents. For more information read: Grandma Poppins Bag: traveling with kids
10 Tips to Make Your Trip the Best Multigenerational Family Vacation
- Involve the kids well before the trip. Let them help plan the trip if they’re able, and begin introducing them to the destination with books or movies.
When we took our kids to Europe, we created a weekly film festival featuring movies about each of the countries we were to visit. (Our favorite was the timeless Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Our kids thoroughly enjoyed visiting the spots in Rome they’d seen in the movie.)
- Don’t over-plan. Allow down time and alone time for everyone. If you’re taking a road trip, the kids will need time to run and play while the grandparents may want some quiet. If you’re cruising, decide in advance when you’ll be together as a family.
On one family cruise, we ate dinner together every night and went our own ways during the day. On another cruise, we toured together, but ate meals separately. Both allowed a healthy dose of togetherness without being overwhelming.
This same strategy might be considered for theme park visits. After two grueling Walt Disney World trips, we’ve decided in the future to only join the family for selected park activities, spending the rest of the day on our own at the resort.
- BYO Food – Go grocery shopping on your first day. Buy staples the kids will eat, and snacks the whole family can enjoy. If you can, make a few meals at your lodging. Simple, familiar foods are the definition of comfort when you’re traveling, and will be healthier for everyone. On road trips, pack a cooler with water, snacks and simple sandwiches. Not only does this save you money, but you can use car breaks as times to get physical activity rather than fast food.
Picnics are regular features on our trips. Our picnics in Hyde Park in London, and on the Seine in Paris will always be favorite travel memories.
- Entertainment. Long flights and car rides will test anyone’s patience. This is when we embrace technology. Let the kids watch their favorite movies on their devices if that keeps them happy. (This might be a good time to suggest headphones. Sometimes the price of peace IS quiet.)
Consider, however, that a long road trip is the perfect time for the whole family to enjoy a special audiobook. We highly recommend any of the Harry Potter audiobooks read by Jim Dale.
Once at your destination, having some games and activities to entertain will be wonderful. Grandparents can take this on. Teach the kids the card games you enjoyed as a child. Plan a scavenger hunt. Bring along some art supplies to encourage everyone to draw. Pencils and paper should always be at hand. For more ideas read Grandma Poppins Bag: big list of suggestions for traveling with kids
On our last family road trip, I created an A to Z chart for the little ones, and together we found things that began with each letter as we traveled. When we returned home, I put together an A to Z book with the pictures we took.
We also put together a writing pouch – a couple of small blank notebooks, stickers, colored pencils, and pens – for our grandchild to use as a “journal”. To encourage her participation I kept, and shared, my own journal as we traveled.
- Free (or almost free) Activities – there’s so much to do without spending a lot of money. Picnicking in a park, hiking, and exploring nature are all free. Many museums are free, or open at reduced price on special days. Walking around a city is free, and there’s so much in every city to appreciate. This is a great opportunity for a scavenger hunt!
And, for a ridiculously small amount of money, grandparents (over 62) in the United States can get a lifetime pass to the National Parks. The Senior Pass allows free entry to the parks for EVERYONE in the passholders car – a huge savings for the whole family to enjoy America’s Best Idea. Check to see if your U.S. state also offers a senior pass!
- Make time to talk. Multigenerational travel is the perfect time to tell stories of your childhood, and share family history. And it’s the perfect time to listen. Learn what matters to your grandchildren, and what their lives are like.
Simple questions about the day can generate a good discussion – what was the best thing that happened today? what happened today that has NEVER happened to you before? If the child has had a bad moment, you can use this to open a discussion – eg. what is the bravest thing you ever did? (Defer to the parents if there’s a situation to be handled.)
If you’re having trouble coming up with topics to chat about, buy a game like Tabletopics Family which contains a pack of thought provoking questions for kids of all ages. More conversation inspiring questions can be found on this post or this one.
- Know your limits – physically – research planned walks, hikes, etc., ahead of time, and don’t hesitate to set limits for yourself and the kids. Little ones will really enjoy a short easy hike but will need to be carried if you’re too ambitious. Not fun for anyone. Similarly, Grandparents, don’t undertake an activity that is too difficult or stressful to you. Be your own advocate. The family can do the activity and you can stay behind and enjoy something else.
Be aware of other physical limits the travelers may have. For example, if you’re traveling with a child prone to motion sickness, plan your driving routes carefully.
- Know your limits – financially – vacation expenses can get out of control quickly. Establish a budget ahead of time and stick to it. This is a good opportunity to teach kids about handling money. Tell them early how much you’ve allocated for souvenirs. As the trip progresses, they’ll learn to prioritize things that mean a lot to them.
This is a great exercise for kids anytime. When we visit toy stores, or gift shops, we allot them x dollars each. It’s fun to watch them calculate what they can buy and what they should pass on. And often, what they can buy if they combine their money!
- Ten Essentials – In the 1930s, a outdoor group called the Mountaineers, created a list of 10 essentials to be carried whenever one ventured into the wilderness. You and your family may not be traveling in the wilderness, but it’s a good checklist to consider where ever you’re traveling. As a grandparent not involved in the nitty-gritty of kid packing, I try to cover these items. And I carry many of them on day trips with my grandchildren. Take a look at the 10 Essentials:
- Navigation – cell phones will usually cover this, but pick up a map if you’re exploring in an area with little cell service. Bring along a back up battery too. Always handy when traveling.
- Sun protection – hats, sunscreen. Enough said.
- Extra Clothing – true whether on a day trip or a road trip. Bring extra layers and backup clothing. Warm dry socks can be wonderful to put on after being caught in a rain shower.
- Lighting – Your phone might suffice, but I pack a small flashlight/lantern whenever I travel. You’d be surprised how often I’ve needed it. Like the time when an elephant took down all the power lines in our camp in Botswana…
- First Aid kit – in addition to the usual, I include hand sanitizer, face masks, basic pain medication, and a lollypop or two…
- Fire – I don’t need this on most of my Grandparent Grandchild trips, but if you’re camping, hiking, or even on a long road trip, make sure to pack what you’ll need to make a fire.
- Repair kit and tools – I carry a multitool, and a tiny roll of duct tape. If you’re cycling, or on a road trip, prepare accordingly.
- Extra Food – always!
- Extra Water – always!!!
- Shelter – not necessary on most of our trips, though a cheap plastic poncho can work in a pinch to keep the kids dry.
- Have Fun! Things will go wrong, or will be disappointing. As grandparents, you can set the tone here. If you laugh it off, your grandkids will too. This is a great opportunity to teach the kids resilience.
Now that we’re formally retired, we are hoping to do much more travel with our six grandchildren. We are always looking for suggestions for adventures and ideas to make our travel easier, so please share your favorite travel with grandchildren tip in the comments below.