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How to Travel With a 6- and 60-Year-Old

Photograph by Twenty20

Family travel is getting a makeover. The traditional Mom and Pop trip used to consist of parents with their kids. But the sandwich generation has begun to embrace multi-generational travel, which spans from the smallest of children through their aging grandparents—or even great-grandparents.

It's easy to dismiss the idea of multi-generational travel. After all, isn't organizing everyone for a holiday dinner hard enough? But there's something special about traveling with family members who span a wide age range, and there's no doubt that the power of this bonding experience simply can't be matched in any other way.

Here are a few tips to make this potentially disastrous trip into one that you'll fondly remember for years to come:

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1. Involve everyone in planning

Everyone has opinions, so make sure everyone has a voice when you begin planning your multi-generational trip. Ask people where they'd like to go, and what they'd like to do. Consider everyone's needs: Can Grandma handle a city with lots of hills and stairs given the state of her knees? Are there facilities and amenities to make your baby comfortable? Is there support for someone who is hard of hearing?

If everyone has a chance to voice opinions and contribute to the conversation from the beginning, they are more likely to enjoy and appreciate the trip you are all taking together.

2. Be realistic about timing

As valuable as this sort of trip is, you can't sustain the enjoyment of being together for too long. Some people will be constrained by the amount of vacation time available through their work or school, so expecting anyone to be on the road for more than one or two weeks is impractical.

Better yet, if this is your first multi-generational family trip, start with a long weekend. If things go well, plan a longer trip next time.

3. Talk about finances

From the early planning stages, be upfront about money. Consider what everyone has to budget on this experience and be clear about who will pay for what aspects of the trip. Obviously, you can appropriately split some costs up front, such as airfare and accommodations. But frankly discuss fees you'll encounter while you travel as well, such as tips and meals.

Don't forget to pack board games and other activities to pass the time together.

As you book things in advance, don't forget to inquire about discounts for children, senior citizens, military members and other organizational memberships such as AAA and Rotary Club.

4. Choose the right experience

You have lots of choices when deciding on exactly where to go and what to do on your multi-generational vacation.

Cruises are a popular choice for families, because there is a set booking price (and the option for everyone to add on excursions and other experiences as they see fit) and activities that appeal to a multitude of age ranges. Onboard facilities can accommodate everyone from babies and teens to senior citizens. People can easily escape the rest of the family if necessary, while also knowing that everyone is relatively close by. Many resort packages are similar.

Alternatively, education-oriented travel (such as an African safari or a trip to the Galapagos Islands) can be rewarding for family members of all ages (just make sure you check for baby-friendly facilities before booking). City getaways that combine parks, children's museums and aquariums for the little ones with cultural stops for the older ones interspersed with plenty of places to stop and rest can also be great options.

Of course, don't underestimate the power of renting a home for some relaxing downtime. Don't forget to pack board games and other activities to pass the time together.

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5. Pack patience (and a sense of humor)

When traveling with lots of people, there are bound to be some bumps in the road—and that's particularly true when talking about family members. Clashing personalities—and simply spending long periods of time with each other—can illuminate those things that most annoy you about your parents and kids. But if you travel with a sense of humor, it's easier to adapt to their idiosyncrasies on the road.

Likewise, not everyone is equally fast, nimble or energetic, so you may be required to move at a slower pace than you prefer. This vacation isn't about knocking things off of a to-do list, however. Be patient and enjoy the time you have with all of these wonderful people in your life.

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6. Plan in breathing room

Just because your family travels together doesn't mean they have to stay together all the time. Regardless of where you travel, make sure there are opportunities for everyone to go their separate ways occasionally. This may include signing up for different shore excursions on a cruise, spending a few hours visiting different attractions in a city or even leaving your kids with their grandparents so you and your partner can slip away for a nice dinner together.

[T]his is an increasingly popular travel trend, there are tour operators and travel agents (yes, they still exist!) who specialize in these packages.

That said, do make an effort to meet as a family at least once a day, perhaps for lunch or dinner. After all, the point of this trip is to bond and create memories together.

7. Consult an expert

If planning a multi-generational family vacation sounds too overwhelming, you're in luck! Because this is an increasingly popular travel trend, there are tour operators and travel agents (yes, they still exist!) who specialize in these packages. They can offer suggestions on where to go and when, how to get the best rates and how to juggle everyone's interests and needs.

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8. Enjoy every moment

Let's face it: We aren't all going to be around forever. Despite the fact you may encounter some stressful moments on your trip, this is a very special opportunity to enjoy and appreciate the fact that you are all together. Take pictures and capture these special moments, but don't forget to put down your camera and just embrace the experience as well.

If you do, trips like these will stay with you for years to come.

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