As my kids were growing up, I took them on major trips at least once per year, especially as they approached their teen years. I wanted them to experience other places, cultures, foods, people and geography. But as children turn 18 and develop into adulthood, and then get married and have kids of their own, is it still possible to travel together and still get along? Here are seven tips on how to make a vacation with your adult children a fun and memorable experience.
1. Talk About Priorities and Goals Beforehand
With kids, you might give them a couple of choices on where to go, say Florida or South Carolina, early in the planning process. But with adult children, you have to come into the discussion more as equals.
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If you don’t already have a place in mind (or if it’s already been decided, as in you’re all going to a relative’s destination wedding together), get their input from the beginning. That doesn’t just mean the physical place you’re traveling to. Ask what do they want out of the trip? Adventure? Discovery? Relaxation? Quality family time together? Have everyone sit down, or even get on Facetime together, and really discuss everyone’s interests, priorities and goals for the trip.
2. You Have to Talk About Money
During the planning stage, budget has to be a part of the discussion. Are you covering everything? Are you paying for the cruise, but the kids are on their own for alcohol, excursions and extras? Are you splitting everything 50-50?
Don’t let your children think you’re paying for everything like you always did in the past, and then have an argument in a restaurant when the bill comes. That’s not fun for anyone. If they need to save/budget for the trip, let them know that way in advance.
3. Remember to Compromise
While this is important with most any trip, now that your children are adults, they might have very specific preferences about things that weren’t on your radar. They could have strong opinions on things like hotel type and location, what excursions or side trips are important to them and how much money to spend.
Even food choices can be an issue. You might want to have a big breakfast every morning while they want to sleep in and have lazy mornings. Don’t fume over when they’re going to get up—talk about that before you leave home so no one is disappointed or surprised. Similarly, if they want 9:30 p.m.-ish dinners at a steakhouse and you’re more interested in light, healthy early dinners, that can lead to conflict. One solution could be to rotate meal preferences as well as eat occasional meals separately.
4. Add in Some Flexibility
Some free time to add in something you didn’t think about—or just to have quiet time—is important, especially if you’re all traveling as adults for the first time as some surprises are bound to come up. Someone may be a lot more tired from the activities than everyone else, or a few people may be restless with the idea of yet another day at the beach.
Giving your schedule some days that are more free-form may be the stress-release everyone needs midway through the trip, especially if some things aren’t going the way they expected.
5. Don’t Make Assumptions
The first time I traveled with my adult son, I assumed he’d want a lot of free time to himself at our all-inclusive resort. Thus, I gave him plenty of opportunities to go hang out without me, because that’s what I assumed he was craving. In the end, while he did take some time for himself, he also craved time together and didn’t mind tagging along with me to the beach or the pool or the bar.
6. If Your Kids Have Small Children of Their Own, Take Their Needs Into Account First
It’s easy to forget how central to vacation planning the needs of little ones becomes. Give your adult children plenty of say in everything, and stick to family friendly places, from resorts to restaurants. Don’t try to fit in too much, as that is stressful for both parents and little kids. And most of all, remember that everyone has different parenting styles.
7. If They’re Younger Adults, Give Them the Chance to Screw Up
If your kids are in their late teens or early 20s, you likely have always led the way through strange airports, cities and streets before. But remember how much more you paid attention to street names, landmarks and so forth the first time you sat in the driver’s seat of a car? When you were a passenger, it wasn’t vital for you to know exactly how to get around.
So, let them find a taxi or plan the subway route to your daily activity. Let them pick which boat company to hire for an afternoon snorkel trip—and negotiate the price. Allow them to pick a restaurant and sell the rest of the group on it. Let them plan a day that you haven’t shored up plans for. Give them space to fail—or succeed—because even most screw-ups will be fine and give you plenty to reminisce and laugh about in the coming years.