3 generations, 1 vacation

Extended families forge closer ties on shared vacations.

Scott Wallace - staff

When it's time to pack suitcases and head off on vacation, Alicia Rockmore and her family think big. They take a more-the-merrier approach, joining as many as 20 relatives for what she calls "our annual family getaway." One year the group enjoyed skiing in Park City, Utah. This year they'll relax at a resort in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"My husband, daughter, and I love these vacations," says Ms. Rockmore, CEO of Buttoned Up, an organizational firm in Los Angeles. "It's a time for deeper interaction and conversation than just a dinner here and there."

Extended-family vacations such as hers are growing in popularity, travel specialists say. Although no statistics quantify the trend, the travel industry has a name for it: "togethering." Such trips offer a way for time-short, far-flung families to connect and forge new bonds. Groups can include everyone from grandparents, parents, and children to stepparents, in-laws, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Some families vote for cruises or resorts. Others prefer tours or adventure travel. Still others keep trips low-key and low-budget by heading for state parks or lakeside cabins. Many avoid cities, where logistics can be daunting.

Whatever the destination, careful planning is essential. Rockmore's family begins by soliciting e-mail suggestions from everyone about preferred destinations. After they agree on a place, one person makes the reservations.

In other groups, each family books its own reservations.

Occasionally grandparents foot the entire bill. Martha and Ed Monaco of San Antonio just returned from an Alaskan cruise with 17 relatives, paid for by Mr. Monaco's parents to celebrate their 60th anniversary. His parents also hosted trips to mark their 40th, 50th, and 55th anniversaries. They choose the cruise line and destination. Each family pays for its own shore excursions and gratuities.

"My darling mother-in-law said, 'We decided we'd like to enjoy some of your inheritance with you,' " Mrs. Monaco says. "Cruises work out nicely because you don't have to worry about food. Everyone can do different activities. Teenagers can sleep late, and parents can stay up late."

For some families, adventure is the lure. "Over the last two to three years we have seen a noticeable increase in large family groups," says Steve Markle, marketing director for O.A.R.S. in Angels Camp, Calif., which offers river rafting.

His family groups average 16 to 20 people. "About 40 percent have never done anything like this," he says.

Next month Kristi Mendez of North Aurora, Ill., will drive with her husband and son to Rend Lake State Park in southern Illinois for a four-day weekend with 19 relatives. Last year the group met at a state park in Kentucky.

"Because our family is so spread out, we traditionally get together only for weddings and funerals," Mrs. Mendez says. "We decided that really wasn't enough."

She reserves the lodges, then sends an e-mail giving dates and costs. Each family pays the lodge directly.

"This year it'll be a little more expensive, gas being what it is," Mendez says. "But we're not staying in a five-star hotel and getting room service." They keep expenses down by cooking two dinners.

Family members enjoy playing golf, renting a pontoon boat, and "hanging out" at the pool. "We all get together so rarely that it doesn't really matter what you're doing," Mendez says.

What does matter for every group is having activities to suit all generations.

Sarah Clark-Lynn of Silver Spring, Md., her husband, two children, and two dogs just returned from a vacation with 24 relatives in Deep Creek Lake, Md.

Activities included white-water rafting, boating, swimming, and cookouts. Although family members could go their separate ways during the day, everyone had to show up for dinner. "It was a way to make sure the family was together every day," Mrs. Clark-Lynn says.

The week was so successful that her husband has asked his family to meet in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and her family hopes to gather again in three years.

Still, supersize vacations have their pitfalls. Some participants complain of too much togetherness and too little privacy. John, a hair stylist in Boston who does not want his full name used, spent 10 very long days in Florida with 12 relatives. "It can be a real nightmare if you're with people who don't like to do the things you do," he says. "I was with people who love to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I like to go out. Some people don't like to spend two cents. Others like to spend all their money."

But when groups are compatible, warm memories linger on.

Every August, Belinda Rachman, her husband, and assorted relatives travel from California, Michigan, and Illinois to a family camp north of Toronto.

"The kids are in camp all day and are with us for meals and at night," says Ms. Rachman, a divorce lawyer in Carlsbad, Calif. "The adults can swim, boat, and play tennis, but usually we sit around and visit. I love these times together. It's an amazing way to stay in touch."

She adds, "Time is precious. If you don't make a concerted effort to get together, it's very easy to drift apart. That's sad. You only have one family, so you have to take care of your relationships."

Tips for your trip

• Make plans and reservations early. This gives you more options for flights, accommodations, and activities. One family always books in February for a December trip.

• Be mindful of budgets, and be sure each family knows the general costs in advance.

• Ask for large-group discounts. These are often available on cruises and at resorts. Also ask about free upgrades.

• Choose a destination that offers activities for all generations.

• Let each family take part in choosing vacation activities. Giving everyone a voice helps to keep all the group's members satisfied.

• Make a general plan so everyone knows what's on the agenda. At the same time, allow for spontaneity.

• Work out restaurant choices in advance, so there won't be last-minute disagreements about where to eat.

• Allow time for rest and privacy. Too much togetherness can be wearing.

• Be flexible and polite. This helps to avoid conflict and preserve harmony in the group.

• Enjoy one another and take a live-and-let-live approach. Telling people how to raise their children doesn't go over very well.

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