Family Travel - how to survive a multi-generational family trip without killing each other

Travelling with your extended family is rarely a stress-free experience. Here are some tips to make sure that your next trip with parents and kids runs smoothly, from setting guidelines to having your own space

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For many travellers, the thought of bringing their family along on their journeys is a real bubble-burster, a tension headache from the whining or the infirm. However, multi-generational trips (three or more generations) are becoming more common, with tour operators reporting more family groups booking their trips.

While travelling with those closest to us can deepen our travel experiences and our relationships, keeping everyone happy is a tricky juggling act. How do we ensure that our first big family trip is enriching, instead of exhausting? And how can we avoid screaming at one another?


Plan for the whole

Mother and daughter on holiday (Dreamstime)

With so many different pockets of family members to cater for, it can be tricky to know where to start with a multi-gen trip. It’s worth getting the ball rolling well in advance (roughly a year), so that you can suss out everybody’s availability. Then, nail down a date and make sure you all stick to it. When it comes to the actual decision making, ‘inclusive’ should be the operative word.

“Get the whole family involved in the planning,” advises Simon McGrath, author of Camping With Kids. “Throw a nice big Sunday lunch for everyone and get chatting about where you want go and what you want to do. That builds up excitement.” This way, you’ll be able to gauge everyone’s limits and draw on their ideas to put together a trip that has things which will appeal to everyone.

“You need to remember everyone’s different physical capabilities,” adds Carmen Sognonvi, from Top Flight Family. “With your family ranging from young children to grandparents, it’s important to make sure there are activities they can all manage.”

Rural retreats in Spain are a good first family trip, with epic landscapes for walks, wine estates for the adults and open space for youngsters to enjoy. Home rentals in your own country are always a winner too, while places where meals are included avoid frequent disputes over payment.

If you’ve never been on a multi-gen trip before, planning so far in advance also means you have time to test the water by embarking on a family day trip or weekend away beforehand. That way, you have a clearer idea of everyone’s interests, energy levels and, crucially, tolerance for each other, which you can then factor into the planning.


Have your own space

Mount Kilimanjaro (Dreamstime)

Just because you’re all away together, it doesn’t mean you have to live in each other’s pockets 24/7. “What’s worked for us is to be really relaxed about whether everyone joins in with things or not,” explains Jae Hopkins who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with her mum and son, among many other multi-gen trips. “As long as there’s no pressure on people, the trip feels seamless and easy.” 

Everyone doing the same thing can feel a little like shepherding cattle, especially if your family is large. With ages potentially ranging from 8-88, it’s good to include different activities for specific ages, to break up the large group at times.

“Everyone will enjoy their time together much more if you allow people to be apart sometimes, too,” adds Lissa Poirot from Family Vacation Critic. This provides opportunities for those not involved to recharge and relax, too. Don’t be afraid to make these spin-off adventures spontaneous as well, especially if people are feeling restless. A random activity or spot of relaxation off the cuff can be exciting.

“Parents should plan their own day trips with the kids to have some breathing space from the wider family circle as well,” advises Simon. “Grandparents can act as babysitters too, if parents want some alone time.” 

It’s tricky, but once you strike the right balance between all-inclusive activities and things for different family members to do, your trip should feel much more fluid.

Keep the peace, too. It’s inevitable on family trips that arguments will flare up at least once. “When things get a little heated, know when to head off for some quiet time,” suggests Simon. “Avoid bringing up sensitive family subjects. They can wait for another day back at home.”

Setting guidelines is an easy solution to preventing awkward situations. For example, people may have daily routines they need to stick to, such as children’s bedtimes, or be early risers. “It’s important to communicate,” adds Carmen. “When you’re together for such an intense amount of time, by talking to each other you can avoid things blowing up.”

But make sure you reunite at some stage in the evening to reminisce, too. “We all connect again in the evening and catch up with everyone about their day,” adds Jae. “There’s something really lovely about the post mortem around the dinner table, hearing about what everyone’s been up to.”


Capture the memories

Family taking photo (Dreamstime)

Don’t be so preoccupied keeping everyone happy that you forget to take a photo. Your first multi-generational trip should be remembered, so get that group shot in front of Uluru or in the Outer Hebrides’ wild beaches. “Time spent as a wider family group is precious time together, so make sure you capture and preserve those memories,” says Simon.

A book with all your images in one place acts as a good keepsake and will serve as a handy tool to remember the holiday at future family gatherings (and may be a prompt for further adventures). 

You’ve probably always wondered what a trip abroad with the whole family might be like (and possibly shuddered at the thought). But with a bit of preparation and sensitivity, your experience doesn’t have to end in arguments. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. With any luck, your intrepid travels together could even become a family tradition.


Case Study - Katie Maundrell

Katie Maundrell

Reader Katie explains how she got through a multi-gen trip unscathed

How did you plan a multi-generational trip?

The key for us was delegating different jobs to different people. My family live all over the country, so to get everyone to one airport at the same time can prove difficult. You need to set a date and stick to it. 

Choose one person to be in charge of flights and arranging special requirements at airports. This is crucial if you have people who aren’t very mobile. Similarly, it’s also good to organise transport at the other end in advance too.

How do you balance everyone’s different demands and interests?

We stick to activities that everyone can join in with. Although we all have different interests, everyone enjoys going on a sightseeing tours of different cities and vineyards. When planning, we look for things that are accessible for the very young and very old, such as a sightseeing tour that involves transport, rather than just walking.

How do you get the most out of multi-generational trips?

Making sure you organise enough inclusive activities, but also allowing enough time for people to relax and spend quality time together. For the old and young, travelling can be tiring, so making sure you have enough breaks helps and also allows you to enjoy quality time. 

Flexibility is also important: if someone doesn’t feel well, then the plans can change quickly.

What different experience does a multi-generational trip offer to your travelling?

It gives you the chance to do things that you may not do with people your own age. Considering activities that other people would enjoy means you broaden your horizons as well. It’s great to catch up with people you haven’t seen for a while and keep the family connection intact.

Would you go on another one?

I would, yes. It was fun, and having three generations together means you have so many different experiences.


Extended family on holiday (Dreamstime)

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