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Negotiating a Family Vacation
with Adult Children

“Experiences, not stuff.”  That’s my sister’s mantra these days.  Spurred by downsizing, she now only buys gifts, from hostess to birthday, that either can be used (a scented candle) or enjoyed (a special restaurant).

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Experience not stuff also seems to be the driving force behind the boom in family travel, says Candyce H. Stapen, a travel expert, who tracks the trend back to the 2008 recession when money became tight.  “So many of us don’t live near parents or adult children and gather only once or twice year for holidays and then there’s so many other distractions.  There’s never enough time. What better way to spend money than on time together as a family?”

The finances of a family vacation depend on location (see our tips for surviving various locals) and luxury level.  Are we considering a cabin rental ?  A family beach house? An all-inclusive resort? A five star hotel?

Planning a family vacation can be like negotiating a peace treaty. As Ms. Stapen says, “There’s all kinds of issues from who pays to adult children taking time off from work.”  Based on her experiences, she offers some advice:

  • Begin with an honest discussion. Tell your children why a vacation is important to you.  It is a special birthday, anniversary or other life event or just time together?  Then be specific about what you can and can’t do financially: “I can pay the lodging but I can’t pay for meals.”
  •  Negotiate:  Provide several options in terms of locales and prices to reach an agreement. It may mean some back and forth but it’s important to work it out ahead of time.  You don’t want to be arguing about money while on vacation.
  •  Consider the finances of your adult children to minimize bad feelings: Siblings often have different disposable incomes.   The family dynamic is not going to change just because you are going on vacation together.  Find a middle ground.
  •  Think all-inclusive: Paying upfront means that everyone knows well in advance what the tally will be. All-inclusive trips range from resorts to safaris to cruises.
  •  Think regionally: While your dream may be Hawaii, it’s less expensive and time consuming to go to the Caribbean resort if you live on the East Coast.  Think Arizona for the Mid West.
  •  Consider segmenting the family: Maybe Dad wants to go fishing with his “boys.”  Why not let the guys head to a mountain lake and the rest of the family plan another trip.

Over the years when my three children were growing up, my father paid for me and one or two of our children to go with him on his annual August trip “home” to Ireland.  The children took turns, depending on age and activity (football practice starts in August!) going on the 10-day vacation.  To this day, they reminisce about staying on a farm and Granddad’s antics. And it’s one of my best memories too of time spent with my Dad.  An experience to never forget!

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