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TAKING THE KIDS

Parents' parents are also welcome

August 17, 2003|Eileen Ogintz | Special to The Times

Many young moms would love to be in Jayme Sitzman's shoes this month. Sitzman is heading to Maui with her husband and toddler and can count on plenty of adult time without having to hire a baby sitter.

"My in-laws love to baby-sit," says Sitzman, who will be traveling with her husband's parents.

That's not to say the two generations of Sitzmans, who all live in Denver, will spend every minute together. They have separate condos. Smart move, says Dr. David Fassler, a child psychiatrist who teaches at the University of Vermont.

Rule No. 1 for planning a multigenerational trip is to make sure everyone has a chance to go off on their own. Nothing can ruin a family trip faster than not having enough bathrooms or not having room for the kids to spread out their toys and play somewhere away from Grandma and Grandpa.

"Chances are your in-laws may not remember and may no longer relish the realities of travel with children," Fassler says. Many families are taking vacations that span three or even four generations. One-fourth of this summer's trips -- more than 68 million -- will include some sort of a family reunion, according to the Travel Industry Assn., which monitors these trends. Cruise ships are full of these groups. You'll also see them in line for the rides at Disneyland, camping at national parks, strolling the Strip in Las Vegas. The travel industry clearly has noticed the rise in multigenerational family travel.

Loews Hotels, www.loewshotels.com, touts its successful Generation G packages, which are designed for grandparents and grandchildren and include discounted adjoining rooms. The Holiday Inn Family Suites Resort in Orlando, Fla., www.hifamilysuites.com, offers special discounts to seniors -- the older you are, the cheaper your suite -- along with free breakfast for everyone.

Grandtravel, www.grandtravel.com, a Maryland-based travel agency specializing in high-end multigenerational travel, offers a "birthday travel list" to help grandparents choose age-appropriate vacations for their gang. The trip might be a week at a rented beach house, a dinosaur dig for third-graders or a no-parents-invited tour of London and Paris for teens and grandparents.

The not-for-profit organization Elderhostel, www.elderhostel.org, allows families of 12 or more to "charter" an Elderhostel program for the family, provided one person in the group is 55 or older. Take your pick of nearly 2,500 programs, ranging from a raft trip down the Colorado River to an exploration of colonial life in Williamsburg, Va. Elderhostel will run the program from arrival to departure, organizing daily lectures, field trips, kid-friendly activities, lodging and meals. Some of the weeklong programs cost less than $500 per person.

Remember, the key to a happy trip isn't how lavish the hotel is or how expensive the meals are. It's all about planning smart, with everyone's needs and feelings in mind. Here's how to do it.

* Make sure everyone has a say in where you're going and when. Just because Grandma and Grandpa have offered to pick up the tab doesn't mean that they can run the show without anyone else's input. "That can easily lead to resentment," Fassler says.

* Keep the conversation light. Vacation isn't the time for a critique of a daughter-in-law's parenting style or a son's career choice. Ditto for the grown children who have never gotten over their mom's remarriage or the number of Little League games their dad missed. Focus on what you love about one another.

* Set clear boundaries and limits, whether it's how much baby-sitting Grandma will do or how many treats Grandpa can give the kids each day. Nothing can ruin a vacation like hurt feelings -- especially when no one wants to discuss the problem.

* Don't forget the kids. It's essential to plan with their needs in mind, whether that means nap time, pool time or the need for regularly scheduled meals. Don't schedule late meals unless you have a baby sitter.

Taking the kids appears twice a month. Write to Eileen Ogintz at eileen@takingthekids.com.

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