Three generations packed in a van, navigating winding roads and family dramas: It sounds like a scene from Season 2 of “The White Lotus.” But the show’s fictional Di Grasso clan isn’t the only extended family hitting the road together as Covid retreats. Real-life parents, grandparents and grandchildren are packing their bags for long-delayed multigenerational trips.
Audrey Fine, a consultant in Seattle with children in their 20s, couldn’t have been happier to revive her clan’s tradition of traveling together to places like Hawaii, Cuba and Spain after a pandemic pause. Late last year, one octogenarian grandparent, eight parents, and 14 grandchildren and a few of their partners converged in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, from eight U.S. cities. They spent time hiking, playing family card games and catching up in a gathering that Ms. Fine said she had been looking forward to all year.
Bookings for three-generation travel shot up beginning last year, said Franziska Wirth, the director of sales and partnerships at Insight Guides, which connects travelers with local travel advisers. “In 2021 we had a lot of inquiries but not that many bookings,” she said. Now, she said, “the over-65 crowd is coming back, and they are bringing their families.”
Multigenerational trips are approaching pre-pandemic levels, according to AARP’s Travel Trends studies, which track why, where and when those over 50 are planning to travel. And while some families are meeting up at lower-priced locales like beaches, others are booking big adventures to make up for lost time. African Travel Inc., a company that arranges safaris, says bookings are up 20 percent over last year, and at least 40 percent of its trips are arranged and paid for by grandparents. Sherwin Banda, the company’s president, says grandparents are excited to celebrate milestone events like anniversaries or make a bucket list experience possible for their families.
Those planning multigenerational trips expect to spend an average of $6,500 on travel this year, “which is close to pre-pandemic spending,” said Patty David, vice president for consumer insights for AARP. “They’ve saved up their money, and they’re just pretty excited to travel again.”
While quarantine, testing and vaccine requirements have mostly been lifted, Covid and the flu are still circulating, so planning can still feel fraught. Heidi Hellring, a retired lawyer in Maplewood, N.J., said there was “a lot of discussion” when it came to precautions for her annual family trip to North Carolina last summer. “What do we do, how do we do it and how do we ensure it’s safe? It was difficult and very stressful.”
In the summer of 2020, only five of the more than 30 family members made it to the 12-bedroom beach house they had rented in the Outer Banks. Ms. Hellring said she and her husband, Nate, “drove 10 straight hours and brought our own sheets and blankets” as a precaution against Covid.
In 2022, the group was back in force, renting two houses for 36 family members ages 1 to 89, Ms. Hellring said. The annual get-togethers have always been “a big deal” she said, because they let young cousins growing up in far-flung cities get to know one another.
As multigenerational travel roars back, so does a tricky topic: money — who is paying for flights, lodging, meals and activities, and how luxurious those aspects will be.
It’s important to understand the amount that family members can and want to pay for a group vacation, said Arleta Cosby, the chief executive of Cosby Travel Consultants, a travel agency in Virginia. “If you just present a plan, some will opt out due to cost,” she said, and might even be too embarrassed to disclose their discomfort, so there’s little chance of addressing it for the next trip. The most important thing, her clients tell her, is to “be inclusive,” she said, so she suggests booking less-fancy places that everyone can afford.
There can be some behind-the-scenes machinations. Ms. Fine said her in-laws began the travel tradition by inviting the extended family on an all-expenses-paid vacation. Over the years, Ms. Fine’s generation began paying the airfare for themselves, their children and now their children’s partners. And these days, there’s more discussion about where everyone wants to go, rather than relying on an invitation from the older generation, she said.
Thinking about getting the whole extended family together to make up for lost time? Here are nine tips:
Start planning at least six months in advance
Coordinating school and work vacations for multiple branches of a family and creating an inclusive itinerary should start about half a year before the trip, said Ms. Wirth of Insight Guides. A professional travel agent can make suggestions, track details and manage communications, she said.
You don’t have to book, or fly, together
Groups of 10 or more may find discounted airfares, but those often come with significant change restrictions, said Ellen Regenstreif, a travel adviser who plans multigenerational trips for ProTravel International, in Beverly Hills, Calif. It’s usually easier for each family branch to make its own reservations, she said. As for the sticky question of who sits where, Ms. Regenstreif counsels grandparents who want to fly business class that it’s OK if the whole clan isn’t with them at the front of the plane.
Schedule activities all can join
Riding in a van with a guide and a driver for sightseeing may be easier than taking a walking tour on cobblestone streets. Elders may enjoy family time poolside or watching kids take surfing lessons if they can’t join in. “If grandma sleeps late, plan energetic activities in the morning and then come back and collect her,” Ms. Regenstreif said.
Don’t try to see too much
Scheduling one day of leisure for every three days of activity can give elders a chance to recharge and give young kids some downtime “just to play in the hotel room,” Ms. Wirth said. She also suggests spending more time at fewer places rather than aiming to see every city and site because “six-hour car rides usually aren’t fun for anyone.”
Free time matters
“You don’t all need to be doing the same things at all times,” said Ms. Fine, who has gone on more than 20 vacations with her extended family. She has found that “a mix lets people spend time together but also do what’s important to them.” Young children may get cranky in the afternoon and need a nap. So may some adults. Teens may want to shop rather than tour another museum. Some families segment the day with a group activity in the morning, free time in the afternoon and then a group dinner.
Cooking’s cheaper, but dining out is special
Cooking together can save on dining costs and avoid the hassle of making reservations and arranging group transportation, but staying in every night might make the experience less of a vacation, Ms. Regenstreif said. “Experiencing the food culture and interacting with people is part of the experience,” when traveling, she said. A hybrid approach of some cooking and some dining out usually works, she said. Also consider varying your dinner companions, Ms. Fine said: “You don’t all have to eat together every night.” The younger generation may want to venture out on their own, or grandparents may want time alone with the grandchildren.
Discuss sharing costs and remember to say thank you
If one branch of the family, or grandparents, are picking up the tab, Ms. Regenstreif suggests that each part of the group pay for dinner one night, buy snacks on a tour day or find another way to say thank you. When costs are being shared more widely, the family should discuss how finances will be handled in advance, she said, “and do it in whatever way is comfortable for the group,” whether that is taking turns making grocery runs or keeping a more detailed spreadsheet of who’s been paying for what.
Be mindful of health concerns
For minor illnesses, be sure to pack basic medical supplies like a thermometer, a pulse oximeter, disposable masks, Covid self-tests and over-the-counter symptom relievers like cough medicine, said Rebecca Acosta, a nurse in Manhattan whose Traveler’s Medical Service helps people prepare for trips. If any family members come down with Covid or another contagious bug, the advice is the same as at home, Ms. Acosta said: Isolate the sick people if possible, treat their symptoms, and ask them to wear masks in shared spaces. If they are having trouble breathing or experiencing other serious symptoms, take them to an emergency room, and if they have a significant pre-existing condition, check in with their home physicians, Ms. Acosta said. To keep the rest of the family healthy, open the windows to increase fresh air and move activities outside if possible. You’re still on vacation, so “try to set things up so you can avoid risk but keep enjoying yourselves,” Ms. Acosta said.
Make space for everyone
Each family has its own needs when it comes to lodging. A common kitchen or hangout area may be a high priority for teenage cousins, while families with young children may want separate spaces so they don’t have to worry about making too much early-morning noise. There’s a price range for every lodging category, and it’s important to weigh the trade-offs, Ms. Regenstreif said: “When you go for a lower price, you may be giving up on location, amenities, size, or other important factors.”
When choosing a destination, think about the aspects of the family that need the most attention, Ms. Regenstreif said. Accessibility issues may be important. Alvaro Silberstein, a co-founder of Wheel the World, which specializes in accessible travel, advises those with medical or mobility needs to keep medications handy (not in their checked luggage), reserve airport wheelchairs in advance, and make sure lodging offers elevators or ramps and showers with grab bars.
And don’t forget that some family members, for example those who identify as L.G.B.T.Q. or those in an interracial relationship, may not feel comfortable in certain destinations. “The goal is to pick a place everyone can be themselves,” Ms. Regenstreif said. “Making a trip beautiful is to respond to each person’s needs but also create a dynamic that works for everyone.”
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