I Took 2 Travelers With a 70-year Age Gap on an International Trip — Here's How I Pulled It Off

Sure, you've heard of multi-gen travel. But have you heard of actually having fun on a multi-gen trip? One travel writer finds out if it's possible to actually enjoy the trend.

As I travel writer, I know that multigenerational travel is all the rage. Look no further than these stats: the 2022 Family Travel Association found that 47 percent of respondents were planning one of these “multi-gen” trips, in industry parlance, and new research by GlobalData found that 76 percent of respondents say their children are the main inspiration for taking a family trip.

What these numbers do not reveal, however, is how to actually have a good time with generational spans of 70 years and how to construct an itinerary so the adults don’t always have to suck it up for the sake of the kids (sorry, I’m just not doing Disney World again).

With the prospect of no school or camp for most of June, I set out to plan a girls’ getaway with my 73-year-old mom and five-year-old daughter, Leah. We were going to be Guinea pigs for my travel experiment: was it possible to go on a trip where we could all have fun in different ways? My mom could go see ruins and cultural sites, I could catch up on three years of sleep, and Leah could be entertained or entertain herself enough that this felt like a vacation, not just parenting with different scenery. In the past, multi-gen trips have made me think of the title of Jennifer Senior’s book about modern parenthood called “All Joy and No Fun.” Could we flip that paradigm to “all fun” (I’d even settle for “some fun”) at least for a few days?

In 2019, when Leah was 16 months, the three of us went to Greece for a week. My concept this time was the European sequel. Marbella, in the Andalusian region Spain, had been on my radar for a while and checked many boxes: fabulous hotel on the beach with a kids’ club and proximity to culture and good restaurants.

<p>David Soanes Photography/Getty Images</p>

David Soanes Photography/Getty Images

On June 5, we boarded a red-eye to Madrid. The first “win” was our flight on Air Europa, which has new fleet of Dreamliner airplanes. I was able to upgrade our $600 economy tickets for $500 a piece to lie-flat seats in business class. Leah went right to sleep. The other godsend was the Stokke JetKids BedBox suitcase I bought the day before we left — possibly the best $229 I have ever spent. The suitcase has a ride-on feature that allows an adult to pull their kid through the airport, which was crucial when making our connecting flight.

Less than 12 hours into our journey, it seemed — dare I say — relatively easy and yes, even fun. I made a rookie parenting error of not buying chicken nuggets at the Burger King we passed and had to run back through multiple terminals to fend off a hunger meltdown.

One of my travel theories is that the best places are the hardest to get to. After 18 hours, two airplanes, and an hour-long car ride, we arrived at the Marbella Club, a destination that certainly affirmed this theory. The hotel, which used to belong to Prince Alfonso Von Hohenlohe, is a tropical paradise with next-level landscaping. There’s a grande dame, Old World feeling to the property, but with all the modern creature comforts you’d want in a luxury hotel. We had a spacious garden-facing suite that was a one-minute walk to the swimming pool and five-minutes to the beach. If we couldn’t be blissed out here, there was no hope for us.

But kiddie jetlag can rear its head at any moment, no matter how fabulous the surroundings. While more sane people might have just ordered room service and called it a night after such a long travel day, my mom and I wanted to go out to dinner. We were testing the waters with how much of an “adult” vacation we could have. The three of us headed to The Grill, the fine dining establishment at the Marbella Club. What could go wrong bringing a five-year-old who had only slept six hours in the last 24 to a fancy restaurant?

I’ll call it “the scream heard around the world." I can’t remember exactly what set it off, but I do remember how loud it was and simultaneously questioning my decision to be so ambitious in my choice of destination. Why hadn’t I just opted for Florida and eliminated the time-zone change?

<p>Courtesy of Marbella Club</p>

Courtesy of Marbella Club

While we might be persona non grata at The Grill on future visits, the staff graciously settled us into a new table with banquettes so Leah could sleep. Three scoops of chocolate ice cream, however, had a miraculous effect. The evening — which looked like it was going to end with the adults eating dinner in shifts — instead culminated with Leah dancing the night away to Frank Sinatra songs with her newfound Australian friend, Bambi. Bringing a five-year-old to Europe for six days is not for the faint of heart, but it's certainly entertaining.

The next day Leah slept until 1 p.m. and woke up in time for the afternoon session of kids’ club. Kids’ club is a bit of a misnomer for a place that is more like a school. They do science experiments, sophisticated art projects, have a ropes course, and lunch is a multi-course affair.

The kids’ club was crucial to our multi-gen vacation. To enjoy our time together, we all needed time apart. My first stop after dropping Leah off was the spa where my massage therapist told me I was so stressed and tight that I needed to stay for a month, have a massage every day, and take a trip without children.

Too late for that.

<p>Edwin Remsberg/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images</p>

Edwin Remsberg/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

My mom’s big request was to go see the Alhambra, one of the oldest remnants of Islamic architecture that some consider the eighth wonder of the world. There were, of course, competing and conflicting interests. Did my mom get to spend as much time in the Alhambra as she wanted to? Definitely not. Leah needed to go to the bathroom the minute we got into the palace where, it turned out, there were no restrooms. So, we left my mom to explore and high-tailed it almost a mile to the closest bathroom. Our original plan was to eat at a restaurant known for its inventive Spanish cuisine about 30 minutes from the Alhambra. Sensing we might be on borrowed time, we dialed back our ambitions.

Even though Leah held it together quite well at the Alhambra — through more security check points than at an airport and getting caught in a torrential rainstorm — we didn’t want to push our luck. Instead, we headed for the Alhambra Palace Hotel, five minutes away from the historical site, where Leah happily feasted on pasta with butter and chocolate cake.

Every multi-gen trip needs a fixer. Ours was a concierge at the Marbella Club named Antonio. The only night Leah didn’t want to come out to dinner with us, Antonio found a babysitter for us at 9:40 p.m. (still early by Spanish standards), so my mom and I could go out to eat. Leah stayed behind with a new person she didn't know, and I was proud of her for being adaptable, a muscle she needed to flex on a vacation that wasn’t 100 percent kid-friendly. Leah probably won’t remember the Alhambra or the town of Marbella, but that’s not why I take her places. These trips are lessons, putting her out of her comfort zone — to learn that sometimes we are tired, hungry, and grumpy, but even in those moments, we have to accommodate other people. Thinking about it, I would say this holiday was about teaching her to exist, albeit briefly, in the adult world (while eating copious amounts of chicken tenders).

There were certainly times when the three of us were in perfect harmony. The last day we took a boat trip along the coast. Leah balanced on a paddleboard while my mom and I bobbed in the Mediterranean. “This is what we should have done every day," I thought.

<p>Courtesy of Nobu Hotel Marbella</p>

Courtesy of Nobu Hotel Marbella

On our last night in Marbella, we took Leah to our 9 p.m. reservation at Nobu. We were definitely the only people who brought a five-year-old to a restaurant that was really more akin to a nightclub. At first, Leah wanted to leave. It was too loud for her — which led to a discussion about nightclubs, what they are, and why they play music at such a loud decibel. But she pushed through, and even wound up trying sushi for the first time.

Overall, I think we figured how to make the trip fun, for both the adults and the kiddo. Like a family, though, it’s all a work in progress.

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