The trick, travelers and industry experts say, is not location, location, location, but planning, planning, planning, and more planning. Here are three ways to minimize family drama while maximizing what many feel is the most important thing of all right now: family time.
“Ground rules” may sound like the ultimate vacation buzzkill, but the pandemic has made them necessary.
“Maybe these are questions you wouldn’t have asked of your family before, but we can ease everyone’s anxieties by going into detail about our level of risk and comfort,” says Dr. George James, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Council For Relationships, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit.
Rowe’s family settled on virus tests for the “sandwich generation.” Her brother- and sister-in-law also agreed to self-quarantine after flying in, before joining the rest of the family.
Louisa Gehring, 35, who lives in Cincinnati and vacationed in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, this summer with her husband, three children, parents, sister, brother-in-law, and two nieces and a nephew, hammered out the rules—try to avoid restaurants, for instance—over email before the trip. Any other year, they might have debated where to go; this year, they had frank discussions about risk tolerances and personal needs.
Ultimately, says Gehring, who owns Gehring Travel, an independent affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso agency, “We decided to move forward with the trip because our parents were very vocal about feeling comfortable with it.”
Scrap “cozy” for lots of space
Knowing her family would be spending a lot of time together under one roof, Rowe booked an eight-bedroom rental with a finished basement, a huge kitchen, and extra hangout space.
“We had been looking at houses that would fit exactly the right number of people, but I could just tell that we would have been on top of each other,” she says.
Gehring’s parents stayed in a small home on the beach—a strategic move designed to keep everyone outside. The so-called “kids’ house” nearby, where she and her family stayed with her sister’s family, was roomy enough to accommodate everyone, inside and out, for meals.
Hotels are also an option, provided there’s enough space. Eden Roc Cap Cana, in the Dominican Republic, has hosted more than a dozen multi-generational groups (mostly in villas or suites) since the pandemic began. The Ritz-Carlton, Naples has also seen an increase in bookings by large groups and families; in particular, for the connecting rooms and suites. At Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach, occupancy in the residences was up more than 11 percent in August and more than 9 percent in September, compared to those months last year.
“We have seen an increased demand for larger accommodations, especially ones with outdoor areas,” says Nadim Barrage, the Conrad’s manager. “Guests are looking to enjoy a different—and quite beautiful—view.”
Activities and amenities may look different now—so plan accordingly
“The number one thing that we discovered this summer is to set expectations from the get-go,” Gehring says. “You need to accept that you’re only traveling for a change of scenery.”
Translation: Kids’ clubs and restaurants may be closed or limited, and sightseeing may be scarce. But all the more reason to get creative. When Gehring’s dad expressed interest in a Charleston history tour—right as virus rates in the city looked worrisome—the guide agreed to drive in a separate car, directly ahead of them, and relay the tour over a Bluetooth connection.
Rowe’s family partook in lake activities like kayaking. But the relaxed pace made the trip even more worthwhile, especially for the grandparents, who relished the opportunity to lavish adoration on Max rather than contending with a jam-packed schedule.
And that, says James, is precisely the point.
“Everyone knows that 2020 is crazy, but how great is it when we’re able to go and spend time together?” he says. “When tough conversations are had beforehand and when people do what’s necessary to protect each other, you get real family moments and memories.”