Multigenerational travel is endlessly rewarding for kids and their travel companions. Rather than simply seeing a place, you are sharing an experience and making family memories that will outlive you. Sharing a special place with young ones not only enriches them, but it can help you discover new dimensions of a place you think you know. Here are some tips we hope you will find useful.
1. Plan the trip together.
Based on what is age appropriate, invite young travelers to help in decision making and give them responsibility. Ask them to handle a practical detail or non-essential part of the planning. If your daughter is artsy, ask her to pick the best museums to visit. If your grandson is a foodie, ask him to research restaurants. Periodic planning meetings can be fun, especially if you cap them with something festive, like a meal or movie that reflects the culture of your destination.
2. Prepare well.
Involve the whole family in reading and research. There are good destination-specific story books for even the youngest members of your family. Lay in travel guidebooks early, but also look for novels and movies about your destination. Even a light story set in the place you plan to visit will stoke their enthusiasm. Learn about the local history and culture. Work with your (grand)kids’ schools to find tie-ins with curriculum. If traveling abroad, learn some of the local language together.
3. Embrace technology.
Crowdsource suggestions for family travel. Ahead of a family trip to Venice, we asked about playgrounds in a TripAdvisor forum and got helpful suggestions. We never would have found that darling playground near Ca Rezzonico without online help. If your kids have specific hobbies, ask for tips on the travel boards. Download map and transit apps ahead of time. While traveling, let your teenagers help navigate or screen restaurants using online reviews. If traveling abroad, be sure your plan covers you, or switch all phones to only work on Wi-Fi.
4. Have a good system.
Decide who is carrying travel documents for the family, and assign each kid responsibility for their stuff. Pack smartly, with all essentials in your carry-on bags. On site, be sure your kids always have some kind of identification with them, along with the address of their hotel or apartment, a cell phone number for you or a local contact, and some currency. Work hard to avoid unplanned separation, but have a back-up plan. Set an emergency meeting spot as you head into crowded areas.
5. Slow down and keep your schedule loose.
It is important to adjust your expectations, especially if you are used to traveling without kids. Don’t expect to enjoy a relaxing three-course dinner. Allow a lot of flex in your schedule so you can linger in places that unexpectedly intrigue the kids. Enjoy people watching, parks, and the local pets. Be sure to check in with everyone as your trip unfolds, in a family meeting or small side conversations. Be sure everyone is having fun and rebalance the pacing and activities as needed.
6. Stay in an apartment.
We are biased, but the truth is, eating out with a family is expensive. Not all young people have the patience to sit through a restaurant meal every night. Picky eaters or those with food allergies may prefer to eat in, and food markets can become an exciting stop in your travels. It is easier to maintain reasonable bedtimes and other routines. You’ll enjoy having a living room to hang out in, a fridge to hold the picnic supplies, and extra space to spread out. In some spots, pools, gardens, yards and terraces are an added bonus.
7. Mix it up.
Don’t plan more than one cultural sight a day unless your kiddos enjoy that sort of thing. Spend time shopping or hanging out on the beach. Hang out in the town square. Plan walks and physical activities. Look into horseback riding, bikes rentals, and local sports. Remember, getting there (by train, boat, taxi, or subway) may be more than half the fun for them. Enjoy seeing things from their perspective, and savor the new way you interact with your surroundings and the local people.
8. Hang out where the other kids do.
If you have little ones, ask the local parents you see for a park or restaurant recommendation. We came to know some of the neighborhood moms when we stayed in Rome, sharing memorable conversations as we followed them and their strollers to the local park. Going to the zoo in a place like Rome or Paris, you are truly among locals. If your kids are old enough, allow them to explore on their own. Ask your hosts where to hang out for free Wi-Fi, the best ice cream, or pick-up soccer games.
9. Be sure everyone has a camera and travel journal.
For the youngest travelers, find a kid-safe camera or a heavy-duty case so you can share your phone or camera with them. Ask them about their favorite part of each day and record their answers. Grade school kids may be happy with a blank book, markers, and a glue stick, so they can draw, write and collect things. For teens who may be Instagramming the whole thing, you might ask them to put down their phones. Hand them a travel journal or sketchbook and encourage them to record the experience a different way.
10. Create a trip album when you return.
Take time to share photos and memories when you return. Edit and delete your bad or redundant images and encourage your kids to do the same, so you’ll narrow it down to a collection of good shots you’ll actually enjoy flipping through later. Collect the best of your images, memories and stories in an album of some sort. That could be an online blog, and old-fashioned scrap book, or a Snapfish book that you can print for everyone to enjoy for years to come. These are the ultimate souvenirs.
Enjoy your family vacation, whether your travels take you to a different state or a different country. For some travel tips I learned from my toddler, check out this post. Please add your own family travel tips in the comments below!