I just returned from a week in Galway with my entire family.
There are eight of us, ranging in age from 20 to 61. Put that many different personalities into a room and there’s bound to be conflicts, alliances, and — with any hope — lots of laughter.
I’m an obsessive, type A traveler. On our trip, I had to remind myself often that this wasn’t a typical work trip where I could indulge my curiosity at my own pace (I missed three sites I wanted to see in beautiful Sligo. Unacceptable!). It took me until Day 3 to realize the rest of my family preferred leisurely mornings at the house and as little drive time as possible. But like all important endeavors, practice makes perfect (or, at least, better).
We may all be connected online, but offline connection is crucial to meaningful relationships. “As families continue to move farther and farther apart geographically, multigenerational travel provides the opportunity to spend quality time together while discovering a new destination,” Atlanta-based travel adviser Kristen Pike said. Win win!
Here are my hard-won tips for multigenerational travel.
1. Rent a house (you’ll love it!). Renting accommodations (whether it’s a house, an apartment, or somewhere in between) is almost a necessity when you’re traveling with your whole family for many reasons — common space and affordability chief among them. The beautiful stone cottage we rented in Ireland slept eight and had three bathrooms, a huge yard, and a gourmet kitchen. We could even do laundry! You may not believe the price, though. For all seven nights, it ended up costing us about $20 a night per person. Sold!
2. Ask for villa options at hotels. Many hotels, from bare-bones to luxury, offer great options for families. Pike recently returned from Borgo Egnazia in Puglia and was impressed by the resort’s ability to cater to multigenerational travelers. “Each of Borgo Egnazia’s villas is equipped with multiple bedrooms, a private swimming pool, gardens, terraces, and the amenities of a 5-star luxury hotel,” she said. “With no shortage of culture or activities like the beach, golf, biking, cooking classes, and wine tasting, there was something to offer all generations.”
3. Forget the first day. After a long day of getting there, everyone is bound to be tired. Levels of grumpiness may be higher than normal. I always consider Day 2, when everyone is rested and showered, to be the first official day of the trip. The best way to get to a good Day 2 is to take it easy when you arrive at your destination. We had a casual pub dinner and called it an early night, and everyone was happier for it.
4. Accept that someone always needs something. My brother made the astute observation that “at any one time, someone has to pee, or is hungry or tired.” Though the process of getting coffee and using the restroom can eat up precious minutes, it’s important to make sure everyone’s basic needs are met before you head out to soak up history and culture. And be prepared: I always bring packets of peanut butter in case hunger strikes. No one wants to see me hangry.
5. Agree on departure times the night before. Because we had to drive to everything from our cottage, I tried to get all of us to talk about when to leave for the next day’s activities the night before. When you’ve set a time, people can do whatever they want before you leave, whether it’s sleeping in or enjoying a more leisurely breakfast. Respect the agreed-upon time, but try to be flexible when it matters.
6. Split up. My dad and brothers are fine with pub grub every day. In Galway, I was desperate for something lighter, so my mom, sister, and I struck out on our own one day for lunch and “girl time” for a change of pace. We shopped, and they sat in a pub. Everyone was happy. No family should spend 24 hours a day together.
7. Money matters. Don’t assume the traditional head of the family is paying for everything. Each capable adult should alternate paying for meals out. To keep our budget down, we cooked and ate together many a night in our rental’s gourmet kitchen.
8. Empathy, empathy, empathy. In life and in travel, being empathetic is essential. Making the extra effort to understand where someone is coming from can change the mood instantly.