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Multigenerational travel: family comedy time!

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What do we do when we have time to ourselves? Spend it with others! Recently retired – but bubbly as ever – grandparents are keen on treating the kids to a break by taking them on holidays. So parents have time out… Unless they decide to come along for the ride too. Multigenerational travel is the top trend in 2014, and has every ingredient for a family comedy – reconnecting, fun and games – provided, of course, everyone is on the same wavelength.

Gathering the full family tree

In many countries, “nuclear families” have prevailed over the more extended variants of yesteryear. Nuclear families comprise two adults and, possibly, their children, i.e. one generation, two at most. They do not include grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts, grandchildren and so forth. Family trees, in other words, very often only have one branch these days! And they get on with their own lives, probably because independence is more convenient now. When holidaymakers say “I’m going on holidays with my family”, they often mean “with my wife (husband) and kids.”

That said, travel specialist Virtuoso  claims that “Multigenerational Family Travel” is “the top trend” in 2014. And a recent AAA (American Automobile Association) survey shows that 36% of Americans are planning a trip with their extended family in the next 12 months, which is 4% more than in 2013.

Baby-boomers, as it happens, are stubborn. This golden generation born during the post-war boom is determined to enjoy its ripe old age in good company. Baby-boomers saw tourism go mainstream and many of them have become full-fledged globe-trotters. Now that they have retired, they have plenty of free time and are hoping to enjoy their travels more than ever… and enjoy their full families at the same time! These pensioners in their prime want to travel with their progeny, with their progeny’s progeny… and why not with their own parents if they feel up to it.

The big question, however, is whether their kinfolk will be keen. Yes, “the more the merrier”… But families can also have a habit of washing dirty laundry! It can be harder to make concessions with families than with friends… So it is important to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes, try to keep everyone happy, circumvent touchy topics and perhaps allow a little me-time and free time for all.

Any question – however incidental – can spark a clan clash. The first one is what (grandma and grandpa want to go hiking, mum and dad are avid culture buffs, and the tots want to build sand castles on a Spanish beach). Then how (Charles is afraid of flying, Kate gets seasick and little George can’t sit still in a car very long). Then where (a villa, hotel, flat-hotel, campground, etc.). And so on and so forth: who wants to go to the museum tomorrow? Who’s washing the dishes tonight? Who’s seen the tickets for the trip back? They were on the table!!! Ah… We don’t choose our family!

Returning to roots

It may be a good idea to avoid asking too many questions before heading off with kin, and start by looking at the upsides! First of all, traveling is always fun. Then, pampering your parents – retired baby-boomers or otherwise – won’t hurt. Especially as they could promptly become allies, taking care of the kids while the parents enjoy a well-deserved break! For example slipping away for a romantic stroll by the seaside and an unhurried tête-à-tête dinner.

Many aging baby boomers want to spend time with their grandchildren and will be delighted to take them along – with their parents, or without them if they are working. And the grandchildren will naturally be pandered as is their due. But it takes three or more generations to make travel multigenerational. For parents, who have endured more economic downturns than grandparents, another advantage is that traveling with the extended family can cost less. And, sometimes, the goal may be quite simply to reconnect and have a great time together.

Many families organize multigenerational trips for special occasions such as Christmas, weddings and anniversaries. In China, the New Year – or Spring Festival – is the one rendezvous that no family wants to miss. In 2014, 3.6 billion individual trips  were recorded in the world’s most populous country for this occasion. The longest journey starts with a single step and every step is worthwhile if it leads to where your nearest and dearest are congregating.

Some families therefore choose to travel during traditional family events, perhaps to kill two birds with one stone at first! Then they find that these big reunions are actually quite fun and decide to get together on another occasion, just to celebrate being together: sometimes it’s as simple as that.

Entertaining every generation

This is all the more important as some families are scattered across several continents. This year, Gabriella M., who was born in Mexico and moved to France to live with her husband, organized a trip to Spain and Portugal with their Parisian children, her Mexican parents, her sister who lives in Andalucía, and her brother who works in the US.

“We all came back with wonderful family memories. Of course, we didn’t all get to do everything we wanted every time. In Lisbon, for example: it’s a beautiful city, but it’s exhausting because it’s all up and down hills. My parents and the children wanted to stop to take breaks, enjoy the local pastéis de nata (pastries), and all that. If my husband and I had gone by ourselves, we would have seen and done more. But this time we shared more.”

Others have upgraded from 3G to 4G. In France, four generations from one same family flocked to a secluded country home for the summer. The house belongs to Jean-Claude and Marie-José, a couple of freshly retired baby boomers. Jean-Claude (the 2nd generation) brought his mother (the 1st generation) and their sons and daughters, who came along with their other halves (the 3rd generation) and their own children (4th generation). Sebastian (3rd generation) recalls, “It’s heaven for the kids because we take turns to look after them. They get to know everyone better and feel closer to everyone in the family this way. It’s important at their age. It’s something they’ll always remember!”

There are several ways to travel with your extended family. Some take cruises because they provide an ample choice of attractions on board to keep everyone entertained, and first- and second-class cabins to suit everyone’s budget. Others may prefer to visit a city because they would rather do their own thing in the daytime and enjoy more variety: some can go to the zoo, others to the flight exhibition and others to the knitting machine museum. For shorter stays – weekend breaks for example – amusement and other leisure parks will have something for everyone.

In any case, it is impossible not to come up with plenty of great ideas when there are so many people raring to go. So families are back with a bang. One final social trend, which ties in with all the above, is the Pank  (Professional, Aunt, No Kids) or aunties-cum-nannies who will stop at nothing to indulge their gorgeous nephews’ and nieces’ every caprice. So, parents, remember to pack a pank for your next holiday!

NB: Article on hotel industry trends drafted by the Accor Group’s communication department.

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