How to do multigenerational travel right

Talk in advance about how you'll plan and pay for a family vacation that includes kids, parents and grandparents.

Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given its blessing for vaccinated grandparents to spend time with their loved ones in small groups, multigenerational travel is sure to be in the plans for many families this summer. Whether you're setting off on a road trip or thinking of going in on a vacation home, here are some practical financial tips to keep in mind.

Make a plan for expenses in advance

After you've made the decision to travel together, you'll want to agree on how your group will handle the trip's myriad expenses, from airfare and hotel stays to groceries and dining out. Will all expenses be split evenly across the board? Will the grandparents foot the bill for lodging, but everyone is on their own for transportation and meals?

Communicating clearly ahead of time about who is paying for what will help avoid arguments and hurt feelings later. After you've settled on expectations, share them up and down the chain of command. For example, teenagers—and grown-ups—need to know that just because Grandma is treating doesn't mean they can raid the minibar and rack up hotel movie charges with abandon.

Account for the cost of comfort and convenience

As part of the planning process, think about what accommodations could help all family members feel comfortable—and then factor those costs into the budget ahead of time.

Do you need to line up childcare for the kiddos so the adults can properly kick back and enjoy a well-deserved grown-up activity, like a winery or brewery tour? Would a motorized scooter help senior travelers manage a marathon day at a theme park? If the answer is "yes," then the cost of booking a babysitter or renting a scooter on-site could be well worth it.

Consider taking advantage of amenities that you might otherwise pass on if traveling alone but could make your experience more enjoyable as a group. For example, if you're headed to a busy beachfront resort, you normally might not mind rising early to claim your lounge chair; however, if that proves to be stressful for your whole group, paying the convenience fee for a reserved cabana could be worth the extra bucks.

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Take care before jumping into a timeshare

With so much pent-up wanderlust after pandemic lockdowns, now might feel like the right time to spring for that dreamy vacation home or timeshare you've been considering. Buying and maintaining a second home is a big undertaking in any circumstances, though, so it’s wise to take a beat and carefully consider whether it's the right long-term investment for your family.

  • Think about future needs. Think about how the needs of your multigenerational family will change over time. For example, how long will that duplex with the spiral staircase be manageable for older family members? Though young children may love the destination now, will it have the same appeal when they're teens? And perhaps most importantly, does your family have a genuine interest in returning to the same place season after season, year after year? These are important questions to discuss candidly.
  • Don’t rely on rental income. Though rental income is a possibility for vacation homeowners, consider it a bonus, not a guarantee, when working up your budget. Even if rental demand seems like a sure thing, unforeseen circumstances—economic downturns, weather crises or even a global pandemic—can change that rather quickly.
  • Get it in writing. If buying a vacation home will be a group effort—say, you're going in on the purchase with your siblings, parents or adult children—resist the inclination to wing it with a handshake. Buying property together turns family members into business partners, so it's a smart idea to meet with a lawyer and draw up a contractual agreement that clearly outlines your terms of ownership. Making that effort now could prevent disagreements down the line and ensure the experience of owning a vacation home together is a positive one.

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