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4 Essential Tips for Vacationing with the Grandparents

Our friend Jamie Pearson, of TravelSavvyMom, shares the four essential components of vacationing with the grandparents.


A few years ago, my mother-in-law cautiously floated the idea of a family vacation in the south of France—her kids, her grandkids, her treat. She talked to friends, did a lot of research, and found an enormous converted farmhouse 20 miles from Avignon. This place had 6 bedrooms, its own fenced pool, vineyards, and a cherry orchard, but frankly she had me at “south of France.”

While you wouldn’t want to take all your vacations with your parents (nor they with you), there are good reasons to give it a try. Many of us live far from our parents, and don’t get much time off work. Also, our kids are growing up fast. Combining grandparent visits with family vacations just makes sense.

Since our trip to Provence, I’ve taken two more big family trips and learned a lot about what works (and what doesn’t). The bottom line? It’s not easy to accommodate three generations on vacation, but it’s not impossible either.

1. Find the perfect place

When my children were 3 and 5, my mother and I took them to Copenhagen for a few days. It didn’t go very well. The kids wanted to spend every waking moment at an amusement park called Tivoli Gardens. My mom wanted to shop in boutiques full of expensive, fragile merchandise. We did not have what sociologists call “a mutual coincidence of wants”, and everyone wound up frustrated.

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Ideal destinations offer lots of activities very close to your accommodations. The self-contained Sunriver Resort in Central Oregon is just such a place. The activities there include golf, tennis, biking, river rafting, and horseback riding. Plus there are miles of bike trails, abundant playgrounds, and a small village for shopping.

Our family pursued divergent interests in the mornings, and still had lunch together most days. I was never more relaxed in my life. It was the perfect vacation for all ages, energy levels, and interests.

2. Firm up finances

Be very clear about who’s paying for what up front. Are you splitting the cost of the lodging? Going in together on groceries? On your own for airfare? If you can’t afford to eat out every night or play golf daily, say so up front.

If, on the other hand, you have a mother-in-law like mine who insists on paying for everything right down to your pet sitting bills, find a nice way to thank her. My husband and I always take the whole family out for one big dinner. Twice, during the toddler years, we hired private chefs to bring the restaurant experience to us.

Another nice (and much cheaper) gesture is to take lots of great pictures and present your parents or in-laws with a photo album after the trip.

3. Give everyone some space

Mara Gorman, who blogs about family travel at The Mother of All Trips, tells a not-so-funny-when-it-happened story about a family Thanksgiving when her stone deaf great uncle slammed his bedroom door every five minutes right next to the room where her infant son was “sleeping”.

Every family has its door slammers. Not to mention its light sleepers, loud laughers, bathroom hogs, religious nappers, early risers, and late night news junkies. The good news is this: nowhere is it written that you have to all sleep together under the same roof.

Michele Duffy, author of Wanderlust and Lipstick: Traveling With Kids, has taken successful multi-generation trips to Portugal, Cyprus and Italy. She’s a big believer in not trying to pile everyone into one big house. “Finding accommodation where you can be just-next-door to grandparents, siblings, and cousins works much better.”

4. Short and sweet

Even if you love your parents or in-laws to pieces (and stay in separate condos), a week of togetherness may be too much. Consider a few days at a beach house or a mountain cabin instead.

Elementary school teacher Travis Mowbray takes his kids to visit his parents in Taos, New Mexico every winter. He thinks a long weekend provides plenty of bonding time. “A shorter trip forces us to schedule our activities—not quite down to the minute, but pretty close. This means there won’t be long, unstructured stretches of time where our expectations can drift apart.”

–Jamie Pearson

About the Writer

Jamie Pearson is a writer and mother of two. She sees the funny side of family travel, and blogs about it at

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