“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens once wrote. While he was telling a tale of two cities, he could just as easily been writing about a multi-generational RV trip. Traveling with extended family promises great joy, as long as you can work through the woes.
My in-laws bought a pop-up trailer many years ago and took our family on our first RV trip. In the years since, we purchased an RV of our own, and we have continued to travel together ever since. Sometimes, we bunk with them in their big motorhome; other times, we retreat to our own travel trailer. Over the years, we discovered several tips to help make a multi-generational trip a success.
Adding extra families adds extra complications to trip planning. You have to work around each other’s schedules and preferences. You might have different ideas about when and where to book campsites or how to set the itinerary. It may take some trial and error, but try to find a planning method that incorporates everyone’s preferences, without getting bogged down by co-planning every single element. One person might take the lead on campground selection, while still touching base with the others before booking.
Give Each Other Some Space
Just because you’ve co-planned a trip doesn’t mean you have to spend every minute of it together. Try to include lots of time together, while leaving plenty of down time apart. We recommend you hit the biggest attractions together as a family, but plan time apart so each generation can explore their own interests. This also gives each group some quiet time and keeps everyone from getting annoyed by too much togetherness.
Share the Meal Planning
One of the biggest benefits of a multi-generational trip is the opportunity to share the cooking chores. Take turns preparing meals, or divide the labor. My kids happen to LOVE their grandma’s cooking, and she LOVES to feed them. It’s a win-win that gives me a break from food prep. However, we don’t force Grandma to play chef for the whole vacation by making sure to do our share of the cooking or shopping as well.
Set Some Ground Rules
Putting grandchildren and grandparents together for several days can get out of control! We all know grandparents love to spoil their grandchildren, whether it comes in the form of junk food, extra sweets, tons of souvenirs, or lenient rules. Therefore, parents may need to clarify what things are acceptable, and which are not. It’s better to be clear about these things than to silently stew.
Allow SOME Spoiling
Despite what I said above about setting ground rules for the grandparents, parents shouldn’t overdo it. Be willing to adapt and bend your expectations, after all what’s allowed on a vacation lasting a week or two doesn’t have to match your expectations at home. If you’re constantly correcting or limiting the grandparents, you’ll strain the relationships, and that’s no fun for anyone.
When you’re spending extra time together with multiple generations, you’ll have plenty of moments where there are differing ideas about the travel itinerary, schedule, meals, etc. Be flexible and willing to accommodate other people’s wishes. A multi-generational trip is not the time to live by the “it’s my way or the highway” motto. Besides, by opening yourself up to new experiences, you just might find something new to enjoy.
Respect Each Other’s Schedules
Each family has a natural schedule, whether they be early risers or night owls. When planning a multi-generational trip, you have to realize the other family has routines you need to respect as much as possible. Those travelling with very young children are especially mindful of naptimes and meal times. Try to find a schedule that works for every generation, or spend some time apart and meet in the middle.
Be Mindful of Budgeting
When traveling with multiple generations, sometimes it’s easier for one person to pick up the bill at one place and another to do so elsewhere. Do not, however, expect your parents or grandparents to pay your way. You still need to pay your share. It’s also important for each generation to be upfront about their spending limits, so they don’t wind up in big debt after vacation. One family might enjoy doing all of the high-end attractions that you cannot afford. Don’t compromise your financial situation just to go along.
Share the Parenting Duties
One of the awesome things about traveling with grandparents is that you have an extra set of hands to help with the kids. One set of adults can entertain the children at the pool or playground while the others relax or tidy up the campsite. This also gives you the unique opportunity to plan a date night while on vacation. You and your spouse can sneak away to enjoy a fine meal or some activities the kids wouldn’t enjoy, allowing you to experience your vacation in a totally different way. Of course, you shouldn’t take advantage of this too much and become a burden on the grandparents.
Our boys visited their first mountains and first beaches with their grandparents and those grandparents got to experience the special joys of watching their grandkids be awed by Disneyworld and Niagara Falls. We’ve spent a lot of time around campground picnic tables and campfires together and we’ve huddled together in an RV while waiting out a rainstorm.
I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to travel with my in-laws, and most importantly, I know they and my boys have made precious memories together. Planning a multi-generational trip is not always easy, but it is always worth the effort.