On a recent family trip with the teens and both my mother and mother-in-law, we had a couple of days to play in The Motor City – Detroit, Michigan. Planning a trip that will include many different ages, interests and energy levels can be challenging because you have to make adjustments to ensure everyone has a great time. I’m a big believer in the virtues of inter-generational travel. I was brought up in a household, where we traveled with my grandmother whenever she was visiting us from South America. We seldom took holidays at home instead, we found ourselves touring Quebec, Ontario and north-eastern United States (Vermont, New York, Massachusetts). It was not unusual to find us camping or picnicking at a national or provincial park, visiting a museum or a tourist attraction. There was my grandmother (and sometimes my aunt too), along for the paseo (the day trip). I always remember traveling being a family affair!
As the children grew, we made sure to include grandparents on our vacations to the rental cottage. We move around each year to get a different location but for the most part, we have remained in south-western Ontario and The Bruce Peninsula. I want to continue to build memories with both my children and our parents by providing travel excursions that include the whole family and not just our immediate family. Intergenerational travel is not for the faint of heart, you have to take everyone’s needs, likes and dislikes into consideration. There is a fair amount of planning that is involved and you also need to be absolutely flexible. You have to know when to hold up, when to walk away and when to run (as the old Kenny Rogers song says). Having visited the Ford Rouge Plant and Greenfield village last fall, I knew that I needed to come back with my mom and MIL. I also knew that I needed to make the trip fun for the kids too. That is what inter-generational travel is all about.
Top 10 Tips for Inter-generational Travel
Plan, Organize and Make Alternative Plans: It is easiest to turn a ship when everyone is going in the same direction. Figuring out what each member is looking for in ‘their’ vacation helps you plan who gets to do what when and where. Once you start to plan, give your family a good idea about what to expect, when and for how long can save you from the headache of uncertainty. Everyone is a lot more patient when they know that after this comes that.
- Plan for the weather: Be sure and take the weather into consideration. If it’s going to rain in the afternoon, ensure you are indoors (and that you brought umbrellas … just in case). If it is hot and muggy, ensure you have events planned indoors with the air conditioning blasting. Always have a ‘rainy day’ alternative but don’t let a short sun shower change the whole day.
- Bring snacks: It doesn’t matter what age you are, we all get a bit peckish when we are tired and thirsty. Knowing that low blood sugar levels produce cranky kids (and grannies), you have to have snacks and water at the ready. Space out sit down meals accordingly. Don’t eat too early or too late but count on a sit down to give everyone a rest and time to regroup.
- Consider meal times carefully: If your parents need to eat on a set schedule, make sure that you have breakfast, lunch and dinner planned out. I made the fatal mistake of leaving dinner as a ‘lets see how we do by the end of the day’. Bad idea! It took us forever to decide when to eat, what to eat and where to eat. By the time we found a place, we were ordering dinner at 8:30 pm. Since it was a Sunday, our choices of restaurants were limited and not that great. We ended up at Chili’s. So the food was mediocre at best.
- Plan different activities for different people: On our trip to Detroit, my husband was keen to go to a Tiger’s baseball game with the kids … me and the grandmas … not so much. I was happy to take them to the Detroit Institute of Art. My eldest also decided she was not interested in the ball game so she joined us. Even at the museum, we ended up splitting up as my mom and I wanted to take a guided tour and my daughter and MIL wanted to see another area of the museum that was not covered in our tour.
Be vigilant for their safety: As our parents age, we need to be more vigilant about their safety. Teach your kids to ensure that grandmas have someone to walk with, cross a busy road with or does not misstep and fall. Both my MIL and I stumbled on a sidewalk because it had a raised ledge. My daughter was there to catch my MIL as she stumbled. Also, take into consideration them getting in and out of vehicles or closing van doors. Ours always sticks so my MIL was struggling closing it. Once I realized this, I made it a point to help her close it every time. They are not likely traveling with their handicap parking pass, so drop them off in front. I know this seems obvious but we forget that a small gesture means a lot (and besides, you’re teaching your kids good manners).
- Get enough rooms: Hubby and I shared a room with our son and the girls shared a room with the grandmas. Overall, we were all comfortable. This arrangement worked for us but you may need to make adjustments should the grandparents want their own space (to decompress from the kids – if they are young).
- Consider the budget: We were happy to make the drive and cover the hotel and most of the meals. It was our way of thanking our moms for coming along and also to celebrate their birthdays (as they are in the same month). It was greatly appreciated that each grandmother picked up one lunch for each of the days. Don’t assume that you or they will cover everything. Review the best family options. For admission to the museum and village, it was better for us to buy a year membership than to buy the individual tickets. This gave us the option of returning in the fall or next spring to see the rest of the museum. Review the policy of children under 18 being free and don’t forget to ask for the senior’s discount (because your parents will remind you).
- Keep it short and sweet: I have always invited my mother to the cottage with us for the whole week. My in-laws and my mother-in-law have come both for a whole week and for part of the week. Sometimes when you are not in your own home, it can be harder to adjust so keeping the visit reasonably stress-free by keeping the road trip short, you avoid possible annoyances. My suggestion is to do what works best for your family. It should feel like a relaxing vacation not your call to duty as a son or daughter.
- Take lots of pictures: and don’t be afraid to help your parent with the cell phone camera (you know they are still struggling with it). Have your kids take selfies with them and email them the best pics so they can print them off at home. Even having the pictures on their phone lets the grandparents show off their grandchildren at a moment’s notice.
- Have Fun: This is the most important part of the trip. Have fun. Laugh a lot. Leave your frustrations at home. Build those precious memories that your kids will treasure every day. We planned a quick two-day tour in Detroit, Michigan. Here is the itinerary:
- Drive from London to Detroit via Windsor (2 hrs)
- Quick drive through downtown Detroit (30 minutes)
- Detroit Tiger’s baseball game (for dad and two of the kids) (3-4 hours)
- Visit to the Detroit Institute of Art (for mom, older child and the grandmas) (3 hours)
- Meet up for a drive to hotel in Dearborne (20-minute drive)
- Short shopping trip
- Dinner at local restaurant
- Watching special 4th of July Fireworks
- Greenfield Village (2.5 hours)
- Lunch at the Tavern in Greenfield Village (1 hour)
- The Henry Ford Museum (3 hours)
- Drive back to London via Port Huron (2 hours)
When you are planning an intergenerational excursion, you need to build some buffers for rest time, meals and down time. Although we certainly took into consideration the weather (we went to the Greenfield Village in the morning when it was a bit overcast and toured the museum in the afternoon when it was sunny and muggy), in this jam-packed itinerary, we needed to have allotted rest time for the grandmas. So taking some time for breaks and snacks is always appreciated. We started the tour of Greenfield Village with a train ride. Walked around the grounds for a while, had a leisurely lunch and then made our way into The Henry Ford Museum. The museum is one of the more extravagent I’ve been to in my lifetime and I think my family would agree. My youngest has actually taken the time to write about his thoughts on the museum. He has written posts for the blog before and I welcome his straightforward approach and fresh voice on the blog. Check out the museum as seen through his 16-year-old eyes, here, complete with a short slideshow of his creation.
I’m proud to say that this trip was a great success with my family. The teens and grannies all expressed their delight on the trip back home (before promptly falling asleep for the rest of the drive) and there is very little that I would change about our stay. The only question that remains is: where to next?