By Carolynne Dear
Autumn mid-term break is almost upon us. Yes, it’s granny season, and as Hong Kong temperatures drop to a slightly more liveable level, waves of relatives will shortly be making the long trip east.
But as any frazzled expat mum can tell you, hosting elderly parents plus your husband’s bossy older sister and her kids in a Hong Kong apartment is no walk in the park. In the interests of #selfkindness and #givingyourselfabreak, booking a large, fully serviced villa and getting out of town is often a no-brainer. Welcome to the world of multi-generational holidays, the latest travel industry ‘buzz’ word.
As a concept, multi-generational travel is brilliant. Meeting extended family on neutral turf and perhaps a few hours closer to home – preferably in the sunshine and near a beach – rather than a full-blown long-haul flight followed by camping out in the mother-in-law’s chilly guest bedroom or – shudder, hosting everyone in Hong Kong – has got to be a good thing. The stop-off options between Hong Kong and Europe, or Hong Kong and the US, are numerous and aspirational. Think Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the Middle East; the world really is our oyster.
According to research in the UK, almost 12 million Brits alone were estimated to have taken a holiday involving at least three generations in 2017. Reasons for holidaying with extended family included making up for lost time due to busy schedules and living apart, while splitting the cost of accommodation was also a motivating factor.
But how do these ‘dream’ breaks really pan out?
“We did a lot of trips when my daughter was younger and the grandparents still willing and able to do long distance,” says Janet, a mum-of-one and long-term Hong Kong resident. “In a way they all had the same needs – endless questions, regular stops for the loo, and an early dinner that wasn’t too spicy. I think those of us in the middle end up becoming the parent for everybody.”
It seems the age-old ‘a view, a brew and a loo’ formula remains a winner.
Many report mostly positive memories. “We do a family holiday every year with my mom, brother and our children,” says Aparna. “We’ve done everything from a chilled beach resort in Boracay to more adventurous trips to Iceland and Australia.”
Preparation and communication are the name of the game pre-departure. Grandparents may be looking forward to spending lots of time with their grandchildren, or they may be dreading having their precious relaxation taken up by demanding toddlers. Equally, parents expecting some decent ‘downtime’ alone as a couple might be surprised when family members are slow to step up. Either way, expectations need to be discussed before stepping on the ‘plane.
“I must admit, I was nervous when my daughter-in-law suggested we meet in Thailand last year,” says Margaret, grandmother to six grandchildren between the ages of four and 16. “We were holidaying with her, my son and their two children, aged 10 and four. Thailand is a long and reasonably expensive trip for us and I was worried I would be expected to be on-hand for babysitting duties when all I really wanted to do was relax by the pool. Fortunately this didn’t happen, my son and daughter-in-law were on-hand the whole time and it was nice to be able to enjoy the children in a warm, exotic and relaxed location.”
But for some, it’s a not-to-be-repeated experience. “We did a multi-generational holiday this summer,” says Anna. “It involved four generations, including my 101 year old grandmother. We stayed in the middle of nowhere in the Yorkshire Dales (an area of outstanding natural beauty in the north of England) and I nearly lost my mind. I promised myself, never again.”
Finding a location that everybody is happy with is key. While a desert island in Indonesia was an amazing experience with the kids one year, a return visit with grandparents in tow the following autumn was a disaster for one family. “We’d completely not factored in my father-in-law’s hip replacement,” says mum-of-three Jane. “He walks with a stick and the eco-resort was all sand-based. He really struggled and I felt terrible. It was a good holiday but not as fun for everyone as it could have been. I regret not discussing destination options in more detail.”
“Kids are pretty flexible,” says Janet. “But grandparents are a mixed bag. We once got locked out of our hotel rooms in Singapore for several hours. While my daughter just headed for the pool, it turned out my mother-in-law needed to take medication at specific times of the day, and her pills were locked in the room.”
“If you’re sharing accommodation, it really has to be big enough that you can’t see or hear other people if you don’t want to,” adds Anna. “Also, be clear about shopping or splitting costs. And trying to sort out suitable excursions for such varied age and interest groups is not easy.”
Organising a trip through a professional tour operator can often guarantee a much smoother landing. Lightfoot Travel, which has offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, has a heap of destination suggestions to suit varying age groups.
“I’d always recommend a villa holiday over a hotel if you have young children,” says Lightfoot Travel co-founder Lucy Jackson. “If you’re in your own space, it’s way less stressful and means you can run the day to your own timetable.”
Jackson also recommends inviting travel professionals to tailor the group activities. “Perhaps teens are looking for adventure, while mum and gran might enjoy trying some gently yoga on the deck. We have local experts on the ground who can recommend all sorts of add-ons to make your holiday a success.” Jackson also stresses that professional tour operators can ensure the nitty gritty elements of a holiday – like flight connections and pick-ups – are seamless and as stress-free as possible. “Things like having the local car come and pick you up fully prepared with baby seats and boosters after a long flight is invaluable.”
Make or break it
Flashpoints to think about pre-departure:
Accommodation – a villa offers more freedom and communal space to relax, a hotel more facilities and privacy.
Money – will you organise a group kitty, or are people happier to pay as they go? What expectations do family members have with regard meals out or day trips? Plan for varying budgets.
Babysitting – are family members willing to step up? Or would pre-booking a professional babysitter be a better way to go? If you’re in a hotel, is there a kids club?
Catering – how many evenings do individuals expect to eat out? Would booking a local chef to come in for a few nights help?
Amenities – do you have enough bedrooms and bathrooms in your accommodation for everyone to be comfortable? Will you need a cleaner to pop in?
Parenting – clarify if, and which, treats are acceptable for grandparents to be lavishing on the children. And discuss behavioural expectations with the parents of similarly-aged cousins to your own brood.
What the experts recommend
Marianne Rogerson is a travel blogger and mum-of-two
Hyatt Regency Danang
The Hyatt Regency Danang is ideal for family groups, with a choice of two and three-bedroom residences, and also three-bedroom beach villas. There’s a kids club, a large swimming pool with a water slide and sandy play area – but also a quieter pool where the grandparents can escape to if they need. There are food and cultural tours locally, plus fabulous restaurants and shopping. And there’s also a golf course down the road.
The Andaman Langkawi
The Andaman boasts an enviable location on one of the most beautiful beaches in Asia and as it’s also a private beach, it’s always quiet. The resort has a beautiful swimming pool with water slide and a fun kids club – leave the kids while you treat the grandparents to a round of golf at the Ernie Els designed course next door. There’s a good choice of easy day trips, including mangrove boat tours and a cable car ride to the Skybridge.
Shangri-La Hotel Singapore
For a city-centre hotel, it doesn’t get much better than this. With three different wings, grandparents can choose if they would like to be close by or prefer their own space. Parents with young kids should opt for the dedicated family floor in the Tower Wing. There’s a fabulous kids club with outdoor water play area and playground, a gorgeous swimming pool and several restaurants. All this and just a 10-minute walk from Orchard Road, or an easy taxi ride from all the family attractions Singapore has to offer. mumonthemove.com
Lucy Jackson is co-founder of Lightfoot Travel and mum-of-two
Soneva Fushi, Maldives
This ticks all the boxes for a multi-generational trip. Adults get to enjoy the stunning surroundings, the luxury beachfront villas and amazing spa, while the children can dive into The Den – an incredible kids playground with eight-metre tall pirate ship, DJ corner, mocktail bar, cooking classes, Lego room and teenage lounge. Meet up in the evening at one of the restaurants or enjoy a picnic on the sand.
Meda Gaedara private villa, Sri Lanka
This is a seven-bedroom, colonial-style villa in Dikwella which will keep the whole family happy. Step through the antique double-fronted doors to discover a bright living space, followed by a tropical garden and killer ocean views. The kids will love the villa’s own water slide into a private plunge pool, while the adults can stretch out and relax. There’s space for a game of cricket on the lawns and there’s a private chef on-hand to cater for all tastes. lightfoottravel.com