Estimate Time5 min

Planning the ultimate family vacation

Key takeaways

  • Travelling as a family can be enriching and enjoyable, but it requires plenty of planning.
  • For large groups and complex itineraries, you may want to consult a luxury travel agency.
  • It's important to come to a consensus on your travel goals, budget, and preferences before you head out.

The last time Susan King visited Paris, it was for a few days in 1980. At the time, she did a quick tour of the Louvre and saw the Eiffel Tower. More than 40 years later, she finally got to return—this time, on a slower-paced trip with her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and 2 young granddaughters. "We are trying to build those memories with our grandkids, because we won't always be here," says King, 67.

King, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. spent a week in France. While the family spent time all together during the day, she and her husband would babysit their granddaughters on several evenings while her son and daughter-in-law explored the city. "We wanted one-on-one time with the grandkids, and we were exhausted by the evening," says King, who adds that her family lives a plane ride away in San Francisco.

With long-distance travel rebounding in the wake of the pandemic, travelers are ticking off destinations that they've long wanted to visit—and they're bringing their families along. In addition to families who want to make up for lost time, there is still pent-up demand to go somewhere truly special for those who did not travel internationally for the last couple of years, says Amie O'Shaughnessy, founder of Ciao Bambino, a travel agency specializing in families. "People are now resurrecting their bucket list and bringing others along," she says.

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Confronting coordination challenges

The planning process can get tricky.

It can take months to get everyone on board, says Amelie Francois, who took part in planning an 80th birthday trip for her father in Iceland. The trip, which included 9 people from age 9 to 80 years old, required a mix of activities to engage both older and younger family members. The family exchanged emails and texts to research the itinerary and made sure there was enough flexibility for everyone. Once they arrived, younger family members spent time horseback riding and hiking to see glaciers, while Francois's parents took some easier hikes in national parks, visited hot springs, and dined out in Reykjavik. "It had a little bit of everything for everyone," says Francois who lives in New York.

To make up for lost time, more families are asking for itineraries that cover multiple countries and a wider array of destinations, says Ashley Isaacs Ganz, founder of Artisans of Leisure, a luxury travel agency. "Multi-generational families have been asking for customized multi-country tours," she says. In Europe that's meant combining Spain and Portugal, Morocco with a safari in Africa, or Israel, Jordan, and Egypt in the Middle East, she says. In each case, plans need to be balanced between activities and leisure. Ganz recently helped a family plan a trip to Egypt that included visiting the pyramids after-hours and a private meal along the Nile.

Who pays?

Who pays is another issue. While some grandparents treat the entire family, families are now more comfortable splitting the costs, says O'Shaughnessy. Other times, it's the adult children who end up paying for the trip to celebrate a milestone. One point of contention: being mindful of different budgets if all or a portion of the trip is split down the middle. To ward off potential conflicts, O'Shaughnessy recommends being honest with each other about what each family could afford during the initial planning stages. Deciding on the budget ahead of time can reduce the need for awkward mid-planning conversations. In some instances, older parents with less strict budgets choose to treat younger families for special parts of the trip. "We see many parents still budgeting for college while grandparents are in a different life stage where they can spend more," she adds.

Betty Schwartz makes it a point to travel with each grandchild overseas as a way to bond during their teenage years and commemorate each one's bar or bat mitzvah. Four years ago, Schwartz took her oldest grandchild to Rome and has since visited Paris and Florence. In each case, her grandchild gets to pick the destination and spends a week on an all-expense paid trip. This summer, she visited Florence and Pisa with 2 grandchildren, which included a bike ride through nearby Luca, a pizza- and gelato-making class, and climbing the Leaning Tower. There's always a shopping day and tours of the local Jewish sites. "I call it a grandma bonding trip," she says.

Once back home, Schwartz makes each child an album with photos from the trip. "It's a really nice memento—and they all keep it proudly in their bedrooms," says Schwartz, who is based in Livingston, New Jersey and organizes the trips through Ciao Bambino. Next year, the entire family—including her 3 adult children and their families—are hoping to travel on an African safari, she adds.

Consensus is key

For those considering a trip, there are some additional issues to keep in mind when traveling with extended family.

For one, it's important to set aside additional time to figure out—and reach a consensus on—the final itinerary. O'Shaughnessy also recommends designating one main contact person for planning to reduce miscommunication of who does what. While on the trip, different levels of mobility—be it for grandparents or younger children—require a variety of options. In some instances that may mean staying local or figuring out a cruise destination that makes it easier to pick from various activities. "It's rewarding, but you've got to think about logistics," she adds.

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