When our kids were young, my husband and I took them on plenty of memorable vacations—to northern Michigan, upstate New York, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Badlands, England’s Lake District, and Ireland’s County Cork. Then we became empty nesters, and the family trips stopped. Our kids were young adults with their own zip codes, lives, commitments, and ideas of fun. Gone were the days when we had control: “OK, kids, hop in the van! Off we go!”
But last June, the six of us—our son and daughter, plus my step-daughter and her new husband—gathered in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a result of advanced diplomatic skills, detailed consultations, and a little nudging. I started by nonchalantly making the case that a family vacation kinda made sense, since we were already trekking to Jackson Hole for my cousin’s destination wedding. Why not add a “just us” trip? Then my husband and I sweetened the deal by offering to foot much of the bill, especially for our 20-something son and daughter, so everyone could afford to come.
We were careful to get the kids’ input, reserving the bossy-parent card for crucial things, like making the final call on a cozy Airbnb cottage with a view of the Tetons. Yes, we had many group e-mails about syncing up flights, but major details (general dates, for example) were already determined by the wedding, which gave us more time to discuss the fun stuff.
And that’s where the benefit of traveling with adult children comes in: I could step back from my usual trip planner/tour guide role because the kids stepped up. Cooking break- fast and dinner became a group activity, which is how I found myself learning to make grilled kale. Our son-in-law turned out to be the kind of traveler everyone wants on a group trip. Enthusiastic and curious, he’d done his Jackson Hole home- work and suggested what ended up being our favorite hike in Grand Teton National Park. It also produced a new favorite family tale: the one where we set off on a gorgeous trail but left all our water in the car.
Although we came up with a general game plan each morning, we were not overly ambitious, and attendance was optional. We typically wound up together—but not always. And that was fine. The cottage was affordable (paying for everyone’s separate hotel rooms would have been less so). And while there was spectacular scenery, wildlife viewing, and cookouts, what I loved most was being able to do something I no longer take for granted: hang out as a family. We had the rare opportunity to catch up and relax in this stage of family life. It was a trip that felt different, almost more special, than the cherished trips we’d taken when our children were little. And on one of our lunches out, the kids even picked up the tab.
Trip Tips for Empty Nesters
Mark Big Birthdays.
No family destination weddings on the horizon? Get adult kids on board by planning around Mom’s 60th birthday or Katie’s 30th.
Rent Two Cars.
Even if everyone can fit in one minivan, don’t. Have at least two cars so you’re able to split up when you want.
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Divide Dinner Duty.
You’re all adults, and cooking at home keeps costs down. Let everyone plan and execute the menu for a night. this also works for activities—each family member plays tour guide for a day.