Family Vacations Now Fun for All Ages

August 20, 2006 | By Susan Felt

Ten years ago, Gloria Moulton, her husband, their four children and six grandchildren began what would become a family tradition: vacationing together.

At the time, it seemed like a reasonable solution for a family of 10 with conflicting work and school schedules and scattered throughout the United States. A vacation every other summer was something everyone could manage.

Their first destination was an all-inclusive resort on Jamaica. “That way the kids wouldn’t have to cook,” Moulton said.

Since then, they’ve gone on a cruise, vacationed at two other all-inclusive resorts, and next year they’re considering Costa Rica.

“It’s been beautiful,” said Moulton, 80, who doubts whether her two sons and two daughters, ages 43 to 57, and their respective children, ages 13 to 31, would be nearly as close as they are now without those biennial vacations.

The Moulton clan represents a growing trend in the $645 billion-a-year travel industry.

Four in 10 of those taking family vacation trips in 2004 said that at least one of those trips included three generations of family members traveling together, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. That is double the number reported in 1999.

Called intergenerational travel, it’s a trend that is expected to get bigger, said Allen Kay, spokesman for the travel association, a non-profit, national lobbying, research and promotional organization for the industry.

And while the summer travel season may be winding down, it’s not too soon to begin talking to family members about planning a vacation like this, and booking accommodations for next summer needs to start now, travel experts say.

Although Moulton and her late husband were ahead of their time, her baby-boomer children are the ones Kay says are driving the trend.

There’s an obvious reason: There are 78 million boomers, they have the money and the time. “And they can’t get enough of their families,” Kay added.

Neil Howe, author, demographer and historian, agrees that baby boomers, the much-studied generation born between 1946 and 1964, are crazy about their kids, and their grandchildren.

In this multigenerational vacation boom, Kathy Peel, family coach and founder of Family Manager Inc., said it’s possible to have four and even five generations together on a vacation.

“You could have the 80-year-old grandmother, the late-50s boomer, the 30-year-old children and their kids, and the boomer might have a late-life baby,” Peel said.

Although there’s an increasing desire for families to move beyond just Mom, Dad and the kids hopping in the car and driving to Disneyland, the multigeneration vacation requires planning, patience, flexibility and guidelines, Peel said. The upside is that family history can be created and deepened relationships can be nurtured among the generations during a weeklong vacation.

The downside is that differences between generations can threaten to divide. Baby boomers want everyone to get along and are more collegial in their decision-making, Peel said. Their parents have a more authoritarian approach: Do what I say, not what I do. Boomers’ offspring are always asking why or want to be included in the decision-making, Peel said.

She recommends getting everyone’s expectations on the table before the trip as critical to planning a successful family outing.

“Define what is a good time and talk about those activities,” Peel says. “And define what are the activities where everyone participates.”

For Marla Folsom, a 51-year-old single mom from Phoenix, traveling with her 28-year-old son and her 79-year-old mother has meant one rule: “You must come to dinner or you must tell us you had a better offer.”

In the 12 years the three have taken vacations together—mostly cruises—the only one to miss dinner was Grandma, Folsom said.

Another guideline the family follows is independence. “We’re not joined at the hip,” Folsom said. Everyone is able to do what he or she enjoys most, which for her mother is bridge, her son the casino and for Folsom any of the activities offered on board the ship.

A native of Holland who came to Arizona 25 years ago, Anneke Wagner wanted her children, and now her grandchildren, to experience travel and different cultures.

The owner of Elan Travel Agency in Glendale, Wagner, her husband, Jon, their children and grandchildren have traveled extensively in the United States and Europe.

Next summer, the European contingent of the Wagner family will join the American group and caravan across the country in RVs.

“It is so important to let the younger people know what the world is all about,” Anneke said.

And in those moments, they also discover each other, she said.

For Moulton, that discovery is worth the time, trouble and expense.

Her advice to families planning similar multigenerational outings: “If things don’t work out (the first year), don’t let it fall by the wayside.” And if there’s a problem, you should laugh about it “because things will always go wrong.”

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