5 Tips for a Stress-Free Sandwich Generation Vacation
It's vacation season, and for those of us in the Sandwich Generation, that probably means a family trip to see Grandma and Grandpa or maybe a trip somewhere with both kids and grandparents in tow.
For years, my family lived far away from my parents and in laws, so summer vacations inevitably meant a trip to see one set of grandparents or the other. We've also been on many extended family vacations, including one memorable trip to Paris where the oldest traveler was 70, the youngest was 5 and a good time was had by all.
Keeping three generations happy on vacation takes advance planning and realistic expectations. Here are my suggestions for a stress-free Sandwich Generation getaway.
1. Book separate accommodations. Vacationing together doesn't mean you have to stay with each other. When we visit my in-laws in their South Carolina beach community, as we did last week, my family of five rents a condo within biking distance of their house. The kids can spread out, make noise, raid the fridge and watch what they want on TV without bugging their quiet-loving grandparents. A few years ago my parents organized a weekend-long celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary at a resort in central Oregon and my siblings and I rented separate accommodations for our immediate families. We spent enough time together on the golf course, at the pool and sharing big family dinners that having separate retreats at the end of the day made sure we didn't get too much of a good thing.
2. Pick your (electronics) battles. There's no way I'd let my 17-year-old cart his beloved Xbox across country--and he knows me well enough not to ask. But I'm fine with having the kids bring cell phones, iPods, Nintendo DSs, laptops and portable DVD players. I wouldn't abandon my own electronics for an entire week--or risk an e-mail avalanche when I got back--and I don't expect them to either. But I do enforce one prime directive: Gadgets can't interfere with family activities.
3. Plan time to talk. Part of the pleasure of vacationing with family, especially if it's family you don't see often, is having time to talk. Don't crowd so many activities into each day there's no room for leisurely conversation. If you've got estate planning or other important matters to discuss, don't leave it to chance that you'll get around to it. When my nine closest female relatives and I went on a girls' weekend this year, we devoted an entire morning to sitting in a circle and taking turns sharing what was happening in our lives. It may sound corny, but for us it was the only way to make sure that each person got a turn to talk.
4. Go your own way, but gather daily. You can't please all of the people all of the time, so don't even try. Let people go their separate ways during most of the day, but pick a time when everyone is required to gather. Dinner's a good bet for this. But if that doesn't work, it could be getting together to watch home movies, take a hike, weed Grandpa's vegetable garden or see the little kids put on a show.
5. Share the work. If you plan to dine in together regularly, don't make Mom or Grandma do all the cooking--that's no vacation. Divide up meals so everyone takes a turn as head chef. Make assignments in advance so people have time to plan menus, shop and prep. Don't forget to have kids to do some of the work.
I'd love SecondAct readers to share their family travel tips. What's your secret for pulling off a stress-free, multi-generational getaway?
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