How to make the most of a multi-generational holiday

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If your family is anything like mine (busy!), getting the youngest and oldest together for dedicated quality time can feel like an impossible task. Could a multi-generational family holiday be the answer? So-called ‘3G’ travel – where grandparents, parents and kids all holiday together – is on the rise. Over 70% of families have now tried it, according to a 2019 Virgin Holidays survey. As well as giving busy families dedicated bonding time, 3G travel can help save money and has the added bonus of built-in childcare.

It sounds like a win-win for everyone, so I assembled my own 3G crew consisting of my husband and our daughter, Annie (15 months), plus my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and their two girls, Ivy (two) and four-week-old Elma. Planning a break for six adults and three infants was not without headaches, especially because we left it quite late. The hardest part was carving out holiday dates that suited everyone from multiple hectic diaries. Like 48% of families who take 3G holidays, we opted to stay in the UK.  To maximize our time together, we chose self-catering over a hotel.

Our 3G HQ: Lavender Cottage

The garden at Lavender Cottage

HomeAway is a leading holiday rental company, with over two million houses, cottages and cabins across 190 countries. It sounds daunting, but using the website’s filtered search I soon found Lavender Cottage, an attractive, spacious property (with a tennis court!) in the impossibly picturesque village of Yalding near Maidstone in Kent. The location meant everyone’s journey to the cottage would be under an hour – good news when small children are involved. 

After booking, my contact at HomeAway introduced me to Tony, the owner of Lavender Cottage, who was quick to answer my questions by phone (Is there a cot? Yes. Are pets allowed? No). Our 3G clan was well catered for and Tony even offered us early check-in and late check-out. Basic baby equipment was provided and there were no stairs to worry about. The open-plan sitting room, kitchen and dining area worked well for keeping an eye on the toddlers, Annie and Ivy, but I sensed grandparents would have occasionally appreciated having somewhere to go to escape the ruckus. 

The south-facing balcony overlooking the grounds and tennis court was a scenic spot for family meals. Although the stone steps down to the garden were tricky for little legs, the four-acre grounds were a paradise playground, with a huge lawn, bright flower beds and storybook woodland. Tony encouraged us to help ourselves to the stash of garden toys in the summer house – slides, push-along toys and sit-and-rides. This bounty alone made me glad we’d chosen Lavender Cottage. Annie was happy to whizz down the slide on her tummy and face-plant into the soft grass, over and over again, while her two-year-old cousin Ivy took Grandpa by the hand and led him on a bear hunt through the woodland, shrieking when she heard growls coming from behind trees where her uncle was hiding. 

A sunny family meal on the balcony

Grandparents and granddaughters play in the garden

Lucy and new baby, Elma

We spent an afternoon at nearby family attraction Kent Life where the miniature train was a hit all-round (some things it seems you’re never too old for). Mostly though, all generations were content to enjoy the garden and the occasional short stroll into Yalding. My parents offered to babysit after the children went to bed, so my sister and I could go out for the evening with our husbands. In the end though, neither my sister or I took them up on it, preferring to enjoy a glass of wine on the balcony, gossiping as we watched the sky turn pink.

Of course, this is real life, so forget any fantasies of three generations skipping merrily down the beach, hand-in-hand. According to one study, 52% of families admit to arguing on multi-generational holidays, with eating arrangements causing the most squabbles (ICarHireInsurance.com, May 2019). We avoided dining disagreements by planning our meals beforehand, each couple taking responsibility for one dinner, but there were certainly moments when I questioned why we were doing this. During our farm visit, for instance, Annie did an explosive poo just as I realised my sister had accidentally driven off with my nappy bag, in her haste to get her fractious newborn home. But, when I look back on this trip – the photo of Annie and Ivy holding holds or the video of my mum teaching Annie to say ‘beep beep’ as Grandmother and Granddaughter push a toy car around the garden – I’ll know why we did.

Having tried it, I understand why multi-generational travel is so popular. Yes, it has certain practical benefits, but for me it comes down to this; children are happiest when they’re surrounded by all their favourite people, and happy children equals happy holidays. Travelling with your extended family doesn’t have to be complicated or exotic. We travelled less than an hour from our homes and yet everyone in my 3G posse agreed the holiday had been special. Our family WhatsApp group is already buzzing with ideas for the next one.

We booked with HomeAway. A night at Lavender Cottage in August costs approx £450.

Sunset over Lavender Cottage

Tips for a 3G holiday

  • Plan early – coordinating multiple diaries isn’t easy, so get the dates locked down several months in advance 
  • Be clear on finances from the start – it’s not always easy to discuss, but establish everyone’s budget and who is paying for what 
  • If you’re going self-catering, have a cooking rota and prepare as many meals in advance as possible 
  • Choose accommodation that suits your style – a cottage let like ours fosters togetherness, whereas separate hotel rooms allow for more privacy 
  • If you choose a hotel, ask about discounts for group bookings 
  • Make sure there is at least one activity for everyone to enjoy
  • Be realistic – a 3G holiday will be rewarding, but it’s unlikely to be relaxing. A week is long enough for most families! 
  • Share the childcare so that each grown-up couple gets to enjoy some alone time. Don’t overtax the grandparents, even if they offer. It’s their holiday too.
  • Share your packing lists to avoid doubling up on things like hair dryers
  • Take separate cars on days out 
  • Check there is enough parking for all the cars
  • Consider neighbours when booking. Lots of kids = lots of noise 
  • Consider the layout of your accommodation – is there somewhere to get away from it all? Are there enough bathrooms?
  • Take a group photo! It will make a lovely thank-you card if one member of the family picked up the bill for the trip
  • Stay in the UK to eliminate the hassle of coordinating flights and jetlag, plus reduce costs and carbon footprint
  • Ask for help! Many companies like HomeAway will help you every step of the way. For overseas trips, Activities Abroad has a team of family travel experts who specialise in 3G travel and help take care of the finer details

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