Fresh take on multigenerational family travel

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Heather and her peeps.

As a board member for the Family Travel Association, I get to work regularly with some pretty incredible people. One of them: Heather Greenwood-Davis, one of the best family travel writers in the biz.

I’ve blogged previously about Heather’s prowess with the pen—her piece about canal boating around England with her husband and two kids was a tour de force (and a story I dreamed about writing when we lived in London back in 2013).

Last week, HGD was at it again, this time with a piece about multigenerational family travel.

The story first appeared in The (Toronto) Globe and Mail, but was reposted everywhere, including on the FTA website (hence the weird tiles you see when you click through that link above). IMHO the piece can’t be reposted enough; as it delivered one of the freshest and sincerest perspectives on multigenerational travel I’ve ever read.

I appreciated Heather’s tips regarding who will parent the kids on a multigenerational trip—the few times we’ve traveled with family members, this has been a source of tension for us as well. I also like her note about not over-planning.

But my absolute favorite part of the story is the section where she talks about using the generations against each other and to your advantage. Here’s a snip:

“Don’t ask your parents to babysit. Instead coach your kids in the exact words they can use on Grandma. Phrases like, ‘Granny, can we have some just-you-and-me time tonight?’ or, ‘Grandpa, I love the way you read me stories. Can I have a sleepover?’ are the types of things that evenings alone with your significant other are made of. Embrace it early and create opportunities for the generations to enjoy each other while you enjoy the quiet.”

Yes, this last bit from HGD is a different way of approaching a multigenerational trip. But it’s a great perspective. And one I intend to try the next chance I get.

What are your tips for surviving multigenerational family travel?

4 Things to Love About Intergenerational Travel

Grandma and L hit the park.

Grandma and L hit the park.

My parents have joined us here in London, essentially transforming the next 11 days of our experience into an intergenerational family trip.

At first, both my wife and I were concerned about the length of their stay: Eleven days is a long time for a visit from anyone. After the first 48 hours, however, those concerns have disappeared completely. We are delighted to have my folks in town, and we have identified a number of benefits to the notion of traveling with grandparents.

Benefit 1: Extra hands
If two hands are better than one, it stands to reason that eight hands are better than four. Translation: Adventures with the extended family are much easier because we’ve got two extra humans to pitch in.

From a logistical perspective, this means we’ve got four extra arms to carry children, push buggies, lug bags and/or help getting on and off the Tube. From a practical perspective, it means Powerwoman and I can breathe a little easier when we’re out and about and tired of schlepping around a bunch of crap.

It also means negotiating buggy time isn’t nearly as difficult as it usually is. Normally, when the girls are tired, we give each daughter ten minutes in the one-seat stroller before making the two of them switch. With two extra humans, however, there are three times as many options for carrying tired girls (and, subsequently, three times as many options for resting tired arms). That keeps everybody happier.

Benefit 2: Additional perspective
Our elders have been around a while, which means they’ve had plenty of time to get pretty smart. On a family trip, the addition of this perspective helps couch everything in a different light—a reality that usually enhances the experience for the kids.

During our first few days as a family of six, Grandma and Grandpa have pointed out stuff that Powerwoman and I never would have noticed. Animal statues! Men dressed in gold! M&M’s in footguard costumes! Dancing flautists!

It’s been a treat watching the girls see new stuff around London at the behest of such fresh perspective. It’s also helped Powerwoman and me recalibrate our own respective radars to be more aware of sights and sounds we otherwise might have overlooked.

Benefit 3: New dynamic
Normally, the dynamic in our tiny family involves four; when my folks (or my wife’s folks, for that matter) are around, that number increases by two. Extra humans in the mix mean a multiplicity of additional potential interpersonal interactions. Put differently, having grandparents in the mix simply changes up the vibe.

Admittedly, sometimes (especially when the kids are tired) these extra bodies can make things stressful. But most of the time, life as a party of six is more unpredictable, more lively, and—as a result—more fun.

Like when Baby R got silly during a diaper change and had her grandmother crying with laughter. Or when L forced her grandfather to watch her favorite episode of “Peppa Pig” and he spent ten minutes snorting like a swine. Long after my folks fly home, these are some of the moments I’ll remember most. So far, they are my favorite moments of this extended visit.

Benefit 4: Built-in babysitters
Finally, one of the best things about having my folks here is that we’ve got built-in babysitters—babysitters with whom the girls are completely and totally comfortable.

This will come in handy in the early part of this coming week, when I will call upon Mom and Dad to watch the girls on a few afternoons while I furiously wrap up a huge guidebook project. Later in the week, as Powerwoman and I celebrate our birthdays (which fall six days apart) with a romantic three days/two nights of solo time, the girls’ grandparents will come to our flat for some live-in help.

Could I/we survive without my folks watching the kids? Somehow, yes, I’m sure we could. That said, it sure is nice to know they’ve got our backs. And it sure will be wonderful to savor some Mommy & Daddy time for a change.

What are your favorite things about intergenerational family travel?

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