The Family Vacation
Let’s skip the usual arguments for traveling with your extended family — bonding across the generations, reliving happy childhood memories while making new ones, blah, blah, blah — and jump straight to crass, economic self-interest. “Many grandparents aren’t focused on passing down material wealth,” says Rainer Jenss, president of the Family Travel Association. Instead, Jenss says, they want to use their cash “to share experiences with their kids — they’re focused on experiences as inheritance.”
To put it another way: When someone asks, “Where should we go on vacation with the family?” the right answer just might be, “Wherever grandma and grandpa want.”
That’s how it started for Lorraine Gyulay, a real estate manager in Orange County, California. More than two decades ago, her father offered to treat the whole brood to a vacation as long as he could choose the location. Ever since, for their biennial family retreat, the family patriarch has picked the same kind of destination: a dude ranch. This year, he chose the C Lazy U, an 8,500-acre ranch in Granby, Colorado. The guest list included four generations, with a head count of 50.
The best destinations for extended families provide diverse activities, so there’s something for everyone, regardless of age, in addition to opportunities for the whole group to gather together and relax. A dude ranch, as it happens, fits the bill perfectly: The kids are kept busy with riding lessons and day-camp activities like carnival games and capture the flag. Grown-ups, meantime, can hike, fly-fish, mountain bike, or ride horses. This year, Gyulay rode a palomino gelding every day. Her now 92-year-old dad was in the saddle right next to her.
So even if you go in with mercenary intentions, like it or not, you’ll still get a healthy dose of bonding. “You spend a whole week together, participating in activities and sharing down-time. Singing Johnny Cash around the campfire,” says Gyulay. “There’s not a single one of us that didn’t come away with a greater love for each other.”
THREE WAYS TO GET THE FAMILY TOGETHER
DIG INTO YOUR ROOTS
Skip the cruise ship and do something that can lead to genuine bonding. Thanks to the popularity of sites like Ancestry.com, more families are journeying back to the old country. Services like Family Tree Tours will design custom trips, even connecting you with far-flung relatives you’ve never met.
LEND A HAND
Sure it’s noble, but pitching in on a volunteer project can also be fun. Pam Brick, a Chicago book editor, took her clan to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. Grandma worked in the senior center, her son did construction, and her granddaughter cared for some foster kids. “I think it brought everyone closer,” Brick says.
“Cool cruise” does not have to be an oxymoron. The trick is to steer clear of those floating amusement parks and think small. Companies like Lindblad Expeditions and (the aptly named) UnCruise Adventures use smaller ships, allowing you to create custom trips with activities geared to people of all ages.