A Dad Navigates
Inclusive Family Vacations
By Clay Nichols
Several days of close confinement with the in-laws isn’t what most people call “fun.” It is, however, what an increasing number of families are calling “vacation.”
Multigenerational travel has been on the rise in the last several years, and it’s not difficult to guess why. With fewer days off, we live farther apart and budgets are tighter than ever. Combining Spring Break and a trip to Grandma’s house into a single outing seems reasonable, if somewhat risky.
Our family has taken several vacations of this kind, and they provided some of our happiest memories. There are, however, plenty of pitfalls for extended family travelers – in-laws, siblings and cousins traversing unfamiliar territory together can easily stumble upon simmering rivalries and long-dormant family issues. Three topics in particular can trip up multi-gen travelers, and all can be addressed long before you ever strap Grandma to the roof of the family truckster: Money, Logistics and Rules.
When sitting down to plan a vacation, all of the parties need to disclose their budget with specific dollar amounts, as awkward and painful as it may be. If anyone is hosting anything, whether it’s airfare or a group meal, that needs to be very specifically discussed. Stick to the plan. Although the sentiment, “If you get in a pinch, we can help out” is nice; it can really lead to misunderstandings.
Disclosure may feel awkward, but it will minimize hurt feelings down the road, and might even serve to start a healthy conversation between generations about financial reality.
Travel separately and plan all meals ahead of time. Airports make people crazy, families especially. Spare yourself your mother-in-law’s need to be at the airport four hours early. Spare her the sight of her grandchild throwing a kicking and screaming fit in 37C, D and parts of E. Time in transit is not of the “quality” sort. Start the clock on the family vacation when you arrive at your destination. Pre-planning every vacation meal may make you feel like a control freak or the kind of traveler that prefers fanny-packs, but remember that hungry kids are a nightmare. Adults are worse. Sure spontaneity takes a hit, but hissy fits are spontaneous, too.
At some point, your kids’ behavior will embarrass you. They will suffer utter lapses of gratitude, they will whine, they will declare stone hatred for their favorite food. These episodes will pass. Overreacting will only lengthen the episode. In addition, your fellow traveling parents/relatives will inevitably have a precisely opposing philosophy on nutrition, sleep, discipline and everything else. Let your kids know ahead of time that things may be relaxed on the trip, but the rules are waiting patiently at home for their return.
In days of yore, generations of Austin families gathered for dinner at a single table. They still do, it’s just that the table is in Orlando or San Diego or Aspen. And with a little planning, it’s a damn fine meal.
Clay Nichols is co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at DadLabs.com, the web’s leading resource for all things dad. He is also an author, playwright, former teacher, husband and father of three living in Austin, Texas.