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Mother-daughter travel creates lasting memories

With minutes to spare before our train departed, my mother and I sped through the streets of Florence toward the rental car return. I weaved through traffic like a race-car driver, while she read the map and shouted out directions. Miraculously, we found the correct garage, then raced to the train depot with all our luggage, arriving out-of-breath and one minute ahead of our coach. As we collapsed into our seats, my mom looked at me and said, “Thank goodness your father isn’t here. He’d have had a heart attack.”

Women’s travel and girls’ getaways are gaining popularity with dedicated hotel packages and tours, but multigenerational women’s travel is an oft-overlooked but equally important segment of this trend. Mother-daughter travel is the most common, but grandmothers and granddaughters, aunts, cousins, and nieces should not be forgotten. I’ve traveled alone with my mother on four continents, but I’ve also traveled with an older cousin and a great-aunt. When you travel with women of differing ages, you have the advantage of getting different perspectives on the place you’re visiting. Plus, you create some of your best memories of the women who play such a big role in your life.

Why travel with your mom or daughter?

If you haven’t spent 24 continuous hours with your mom since you moved out of your parents’ house, a mother-daughter trip may sound intimidating. But once on the road, you’ll find that there are many perks to traveling with women of a different generation.

“For daughters, there’s often an ‘a-ha’ moment when they realize Mom isn’t so bad,” says Debbie Jacobs, president and founder of Explorations in Travel, a vacation provider for women over 40. Traveling puts family members in a foreign environment, so mothers and daughters can see each other in a new light. Maybe, family members will develop newfound respect for each other when the mom braves a white-water rafting trip or the daughter negotiates a low rate for a taxi.

Foreign travel especially helps the older generation realize how capable the younger generation is and deflates any stereotypes each age group may have about the other. SmarterTravel.com Associate Editor Sarah Pascarella and her sister took their mother to Italy, a place where the siblings had both lived and learned the language. Their mother hadn’t been out of the country since her honeymoon. “Mom was dependent on us and let us steer her around,” Pascarella remembers. “It was a nice role reversal. You learn a lot about people when you travel with them.”

Another positive aspect is the conversations you’ll have without the guys around. “You can have conversations about sensitive issues rather than politics,” says Lori Cowen, who took a cruise with her mom, her friend, and the friend’s mother. “There’s less light conversation and more intimate conversations.” Not to mention the freedom you have to talk about fashion, cute men, and great chocolate without incurring the ridicule of your male travel companions.

“You can have some amazing conversations you wouldn’t have at home,” agrees Phyllis Stoller, Founder of The Women’s Travel Club, a women’s tour company. When women with different life experiences come together, they can enlighten each other with new perspectives and fascinating anecdotes.

And women’s travel in general lets the girls plan a trip that suits them. If Dad wouldn’t be caught dead in a mud bath with cucumbers on his eyes, you can leave him at home and take Mom on a spa vacation. The boys have been heading out on fishing trips for generations, so now it’s the gals’ turn to pack up and go on shopping, theater, or hiking trips sans men.

Women-only travel also gives the control to the ladies. Does your husband insist on always building the campfire or does your father never let anyone else touch the maps? A trip with your mom, daughter, aunt, cousin, or niece means that all the responsibility falls to the women, empowering them to make decisions and choices. You might be surprised at how capable your female relations really are.

Tips for planning a multigenerational women’s getaway

When you plan a trip with someone who’s much older or younger, you will need to make different choices than if you were traveling with a spouse or a peer. A few quick tips can put you on the right path to planning the perfect vacation.

Tip 1: Choose the right trip: You can put together a vacation yourself or select a tour, cruise, or vacation package. If you’re considering the do-it-yourself option, you’ll need to decide whether the planning chores will fall to one person or be split among the travelers. You don’t want to stress out one vacationer by handing her all the responsibility. If you’re looking into a group trip, consider whether the continual presence of other travelers is a help or a hindrance. For example, “group trips make it easier for moms and daughters to spend so much time together,” says Jacobs. “Other people help to diffuse the tension.” But if you don’t want a strict schedule or prefer to focus just on each other, an independent trip may be best. You’ll also want to choose a destination or vacation type that suits the interests of all the travelers, not just the one who suggested the trip.

Tip 2: Discuss travel needs and expectations: Even the best of friends can have vastly different ideas about the best way to travel. Before you book the first hotel, get on the phone with your travel companion and discuss your budgets, what level of comfort you want, what you must or refuse to splurge on, and what your everyday needs are. By being open and up front, you can come to a consensus of what shape your trip will take so no unpleasant surprises crop up later. For instance, I tend to stay in the cheapest accommodations possible, but my mother prefers comfortable hotels. When we traveled to Italy together, we compromised on less expensive inns and B&Bs, but the rooms had to have ensuite bathrooms. And both of us OK’d each property before we booked it.

Tip 3: Be honest about alone time: Just because you’re traveling together, you don’t have to spend every waking (or sleeping) hour with your companion. “Think how much time you want together—24/7 or should each person have her own room,” suggests Jacobs. If you haven’t spent much time with mom in years, perhaps separate rooms will give you each some breathing space and a place to escape. On the other hand, sharing a room can bring you closer together. “The best times we had together were in the cabin,” Cowen says of her mother-daughter cruise. “It wouldn’t be the same in different cabins. When you share a room, you have downtime together and get ready together. Your worlds collide.” When mother and daughter share a room, they not only learn each other’s routines, but they can have some of the best conversations while tucked in bed before falling asleep.

Tip 4: Find options for different energy levels: Women of disparate ages will be interested in and capable of varying levels of activity. A young woman might prefer a jam-packed schedule or yearn for nightlife, while an older companion might need to take several breaks throughout the day or pass a quiet evening at the hotel. A trip will be a success if travel companions cater to each other’s abilities and perhaps split up to pursue separate activities on occasion. When Pascarella took her mother to Italy, she says she “tried not to cram too much in one day and left time for wandering.” Cowen solved this problem by taking a cruise on which her mother could enjoy herself by the pool, while she participated in more active pursuits. And on a mixed-age group tour, other travelers provide instant companions when a duo needs to split up for an evening.

Tip 5: Solve money issues in advance: If you’ve ever spent a plane ride home sorting through receipts and complicated mathematical equations to determine who owes whom what, you know it’s a pain. And when women of different financial means travel together, money can be the sore spot in an otherwise wonderful vacation. The best advice is to agree on budget levels beforehand. Do you plan to eat every meal in restaurants or snack on fruit and cheese for some meals? Will you choose five-star hotels or budget hostels? On the road, have each person contribute an equal amount to a kitty and pay all shared bills from that. When the kitty runs out, ante up again. That way you won’t ruin your newly strengthened relationship at the end of the trip by fighting over reimbursements.

I have not given any tips for choosing a destination because a mother-daughter or multigenerational trip can happen anywhere. You can have an equally great time sailing on a Caribbean cruise, hiking in the Rockies, relaxing at an Arizona spa, or sightseeing in Italy. As long as all of the women traveling approve of the trip, you’ll create a vacation that provides you with fantastic stories and strengthened relationships. And that’s something you just can’t do at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

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