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Jan.-Feb. 2012, Vol. XXVII, No. 1
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Traveling with three generations?
Plan ahead for a smooth trip

When Stephanie Diehl's husband, Terry, retired, they talked about what their future would hold. Dream trips to Greece? The Galapagos Islands? Australia?

"And then I threw into the mix: What do you think about a family vacation?" Diehl says. Her husband agreed immediately.

So plans for a romantic cruise were scrapped. Instead, Diehl, owner of Travel Designed by Stephanie, a travel agency in Freeport, Ill., planned a trip to an all-inclusive resort in
Mexico for six adults and four children ages 4 to 11.

That makes Diehl and her extended family part of one of the biggest trends in family vacations: multigenerational travel.

When Luxury Link Travel Group polled users of its website in 2010, 82 percent said they travel with immediate family. But more than half of those polled said their children were over the age of 18 or that they travel with adult children and grandchildren.

Stay flexible

Traveling with an extended family requires more advance planning, more communication, and more flexibility than a typical family vacation.

"Listening is a lost art when it comes to travel planning, but it's crucial to a harmonious multigenerational trip," says Kelly Merritt, author of "The Everything Family Guide to Budget Travel."

Start talking early about where you want to go, what you want to do, and who will be paying for what, advises Cheryl Sturm, vice president of marketing and product development for R Crusoe & Son, a Chicago-based travel agency specializing in customized international trips. And make sure everyone gets a say.

"What's really important is to know your own family and figure out what everyone's wants and needs are," Sturm says. "Most kids are not going to want to be dragged through art museums. They want time at the pool." You can accommodate everyone's needs "if everyone has communicated, particularly parents about their kids."

Coordinate calendars

Diehl recommends starting early when you have to coordinate calendars among working adults, kids' school vacation schedules, summer sports, and other demands.

Kim Moldofsky of Morton Grove, Ill, travels frequently with her parents, her two sons, and husband--and sometimes with her brother's family and a cousin's family, as well. She says traveling over the winter holiday break from school makes scheduling easier. Destinations are more crowded, but there are fewer other activities to schedule around.

Once you have travel dates firmed up, it's time to think about where you'll go. If you'll be traveling with family members of varying ages, interests and physical abilities, travel experts suggest cruises, all-inclusive resorts or house rentals.

"All-inclusive resorts are designed to keep guests on the property," says Diane McDavitt, president of Luxury Link Travel Group. So they offer multitudes of activities, services and amenities.

Cruises also offer a variety of entertainment and activity options, with an added perk: You get to see more of the world without the hassle of moving.

Some families opt to rent a big house at the beach or some other location. This keeps everyone together, but Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, founder of travel website , warns that it's important to get a large enough place for everyone to have their own space.

"We're an Indian family, so there is lots of togetherness," she says. "If my husband had his way, he would have us all in a loft in sleeping bags sharing a bathroom because that's how much he loves proximity. My firm rule is that everyone should have the option to shut a room door and get some privacy."

Another firm rule for multigenerational trips: Don't overschedule. It's fine to include some mandatory family togetherness--requiring everyone to have dinner together each night, for example. But it's also important to be flexible enough that every vacationer gets a chance to do things they want to do according to their own interests and needs.

Dollars and sense

Finally, the planning process should include a thorough discussion of who will pay for what. When Francesca Folinazzo travels with her husband, mom, and daughter, everyone buys their own plane ticket. Folinazzo pays for the lodging, and her mom pays for most meals. "It kind of evens out," the Chicago native says.

After the decisions have been made and the money paid, multigenerational travelers need to do one more thing before heading off on their adventure, says Nancy Schretter, managing editor for the Family Travel Network website: "Leave the expectations at home."

"Multigenerational family vacations are one of most anticipated events of the year, so it's easy for grandparents and parents to get all misty-eyed envisioning the great memories and intimate bonding moments that will be created," she says.

"If we're being honest, however, we know family vacations never go exactly as planned. There may be bumpy moments, relationship issues may surface, travel snafus happen, the weather might not cooperate, and the kids might have a meltdown or two. It's OK. Just take the experience as it comes, don't dwell on it, and go with the flow."

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

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