Traveling with grandkids: What you should know

There are two times during the year when grandparents are most likely to travel with their children's children. One is during the time-honored tradition called summer vacation, a relaxed, happy time of bonding activities, lazy schedules and lots of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors together. The other is during the holidays, a season of joy, certainly, but also with more excitement and potential for stressful situations if families aren't prepared.

Those who regularly travel together in a multi-generational pack often have a multitude of tricks for navigating the different personalities, interests and schedules of grandparents, kids and grandkids who have wound themselves into high gear as Christmas approaches.

Making plans to travel with your grandkids this year? Take a look at these strategies, and help yourselves enjoy a (mostly) stress-free holiday season.

Ask for input. If you are funding the family vacation, it may seem natural to create the itinerary yourself and insert your kids and grandkids into the destination. A thoughtful approach is to set up a family meeting, or, if you live a fair distance away, a conference call, to ask about activities, accommodations and transportation. Your kids are adults, too, and enlisting their input will smooth out any confusion and address concerns. Be willing to compromise and be open to additions to the itinerary that suit each individual family.

Set expectations. Many adult kids jump for joy when grandparents are along because it means they now have willing babysitters. No? Better lay out the ground rules for watching the grandkids during a multi-generational family vacation before you ever leave home. Yes? Ask your children to help you find grandkid-friendly activities in your destination area. What could be more fun than a special trip to the beach, ice cream parlor, or a community festival with grandma or grandpa?

Be as active as possible. While it is true that holiday meals and an abundance of sweet treats put everyone into a slight stupor no matter the age, it is also true that daily exercise in the great outdoors is beneficial for everybody. If you are able, take a daily walk with your spouse or adult child sans grandkids. It will not only refresh your body, but your spirit as well, and give some welcome connections to your own son or daughter. If you are staying at a hotel or resort with a swimming pool, gather the crew and make a party out of it, adding in a visit to the hot tub or sauna for you.

Teach lifelong skills. Is your pumpkin pie something to rave about? Do your grandkids love cooking? The holiday season is a perfect time to instruct budding chefs in the art of preparing meals or desserts for the family. If you're spending the holidays away from home, many resorts offer cooking classes or cookie-frosting activities during the days before Christmas, putting a smile on everyone's face. Crafting together is also a wonderful way to connect with kids and grandkids; check out the website for tips on crafting with your younger grandchildren.

Work as a team. Often, multi-generational families travel well as a group because they tackle difficulties as a cohesive team. Flights delayed? Send mom or dad to the ticket counter while you pull out a few books or coloring pages and help the grandkids settle into a diversion. Grandpa needs a nap every day? No problem. Use that time to explore a local park, playground, or museum.

Above all, remember that unlike generations past, family groups do not normally live within daily visiting distance from each other, and this alone can cause tension when several different personalities are thrown together all day, every day, for the duration of a vacation. Be honest with yourself, your needs, and how you communicate them to your adult children.

Erin Kirkland is a freelance travel writer, author, and mother of two sons. She lives in Anchorage.

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