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How to Travel with Grandparents

With multi-generational travel booming, it’s time to talk about planning vacations that meet everyone’s needs.

I’m lucky enough to have grown up surrounded by a lot of avid travelers. Now that I’m approaching middle age, those friends and family are in their 70s and 80s. These are people who, as a rule, are more eager to explore the world than ever before. And since many of them are lifelong travelers, they know how to do it. But in order to vacation these days, they’re modifying their speed and goals.

Why is this part of a family-travel story? Because as multigenerational travel continues to boom, adult children and grandchildren need to understand and adjust expectations for aging parents, aunts, uncles, and friends. It’s better to confront a mildly uncomfortable truth than to create a vacation full of tension and frustration.

Here are five things to take into account when you’re traveling with older grandparents.

Transportation is Exhausting

Travel is often a physically uncomfortable test of endurance. Maybe you and the kids can hit the ground running, but if older family members are dragging a bit as you pull into the hotel or vacation rental after a long flight, it can be a good idea to let everyone do their own thing for a few hours. For kids (and you), that might mean a trip to the pool. For grandparents, it might be a quick nap before rejoining the group.

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Downtime Is Key

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a family in pursuit of a good vacation should not schedule every minute. If you’re a planning family, make sure to include some unscheduled time. Not only will you open up opportunities for spontaneous adventures, you’ll also create time during which older travelers can recharge.

Physical Limitations Are Real

Just because your mother used to climb trees with you as a kid, does not mean you should schedule the whole family for a multi-hour zip lining adventure. Joint pain, arthritis, osteoporosis—older members of your traveling party may be lugging the baggage of aging. When you’re planning physical activities, make sure you account for the physical limitations of all your group’s members.

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Stairs Can Be a Deal-Breaker

A friend recently accompanied an adventurous 80-year-old on a trip to Paris. Instead of staying in hotels (with elevators), they opted for Airbnb rentals. The rentals were great, but the stairs in these walkup apartments posed a significant physical challenge. If a family member has trouble with stairs at home, it’s a safe bet that stairs present a challenge on vacation, too.

Everyone Should Have the Chance to Succeed

Everyone—adults and children alike—is going to have a better time if group activities are achievable. For young kids, that probably means no three-hour dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants (and if your kids are good at this … can I borrow them?). For older adults, that might mean opting for the shorter walk to the waterfall rather than the epic hike around it.

As you’re planning (and I know you’re the planner because planners do stuff like read articles called “How to Travel with Grandparents”), be brutally honest about the limitations of the individual members of your traveling family. Don’t want to miss that three-hour meal or epic hike? That’s the joy of traveling with a big group—you can break off into smaller groups that will allow everyone to enjoy vacation at their own speed.

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Christine Sarkis has gone on family vacations as a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, aunt, and parent. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

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By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Aisle all the way.

Email Christine Sarkis at editor@smartertravel.com.