Two-plus years of pandemic have sharpened families’ yearnings for vacations. A segment of those stuffing bags into car trunks and overhead compartments this summer will be what travel agents call “multi-gen,” or multigenerational, travelers. Bring the kids? Hell, bring the parents, too. Everybody needs to get away.
These kinds of trips can enrich, entertain, and satisfy. They can also be big, complicated pains in the posterior—especially as the threat of COVID still looms. “I have a multi-gen family right now going to Africa in June,” says Candy Geiler, a travel agent in Charlotte for nearly 40 years and a partner at the Charlotte agency World Travel Mates. The family consists of two couples; five children, ages 7 to 17; and one set of grandparents.
“There are 11 of them, and we’re flying them to South Africa,” Geiler says in March. “Right now, with the COVID restrictions, they’re stopping in London on the way in, and we’ve had to find a place in London to get them COVID tests, because they’re going into Zambia, and they have to be taken no less than 72 hours before the time they arrive in Zambia …”
Travel alone is complex enough, and health restrictions and the juggling act of multi-gen travel further complicate families’ plans. A 2021 survey by the Michigan-based Family Travel Association and New York University found that 52% of respondents planned to take multi-gen trips within a year, and 88% of parents planned to travel with their children. That’s double the percentage of parents who took trips with their kids in 2020, according to the survey.
The desire to get out of town means more pressure on agents like Geiler, who suggests that all-inclusive resorts or destinations closer to home might be better multi-gen bets for now. “You certainly don’t want, you know, 11 people going to South Africa, and they can’t get in. You have a lot of responsibility to your client to make sure that you’re well informed on the dynamic of their location,” she says. “Now, if you’re taking a bunch of kids to Disney World, it’s a whole different story.”
An easier and less expensive one, in other words. Here are four travel options that suit all ages, and three lie within a day’s drive from Charlotte. They can scratch the travel itch until it’s safe, or safer, to take the family on sojourns that require passports.
The Beach: Bald Head Island
Leave your car on the mainland, and take a ferry or private boat to this 12,000-acre island. Bicycles and golf carts are the only transportation options. Rent a beach house through Airbnb or Vrbo, or stay at The Marsh Harbour Inn, which has 13 rooms and serves hot breakfast each morning.
The Maritime Market has everything you need for family meals. When the group wants to eat out, Jules’ Salty Grub & Island Pub has a wide selection of seafood and a kids’ menu. Copper’s Wood-Fired Kitchen, Jailhouse Provisions, and Horizons all have family-friendly options.
Traverse the island on a beach cruiser from Riverside Adventure Company. Kids’ bikes, trailer attachments, and child bike seats are available to rent. Book an excursion with Coastal Urge, and see the island from a kayak or paddleboard, or stop by Jailhouse Provisions to play trivia or bingo. Visit Southport by ferry and take a self-guided tour of filming locations from Dawson’s Creek, Matlock, Safe Haven, Weekend at Bernie’s, and dozens more. Then explore Old Baldy Lighthouse and the Smith Island Museum.
More information: ncbrunswick.com
The Mountains: Burnsville
Roam Mount Mitchell Eco Retreat’s 28 acres of fields and creeks. Lodges have rocking chairs with views of the Black Mountains. Some units have bunk beds, and the lodges are within walking distance of each other. Cook family dinners in the community kitchen and eat in the dining area in the main lodge. Play cards and board games by the fireplace, relax in a hammock, roast marshmallows by the fire pit, or challenge Grandpa to a game of ping-pong.
The lunch and dinner menus at Pig & Grits in downtown Burnsville include burgers, barbecue, chicken tenders, fish, and a variety of sides. A full breakfast menu is also available until 11 a.m.
Homeplace Beer Company and Hog Hollow Wood-Fired Pizza have plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Wood-fired pizzas are the specialty, but small plates and sandwiches are also on the menu. The brewery specializes in malts and dark and sour beers. In the summer months, the outdoor area has horseshoes, fire pits, tabletop games, and live music on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Visit Westside Quilt Block Trail in western Yancey County and take photos of all 17 quilt squares on barns and buildings. Purchase a guidebook at One of a Kind Art Gallery in Micaville, or go online for an interactive map. Bring crayons or colored pencils to color in the sketches of each quilt block in the guidebook. See constellations, galaxies, satellites, and meteors at the Mayland Earth to Sky Park’s Bare Dark Sky Observatory. Hike to Crabtree Falls, a 70-foot waterfall, in Pisgah National Forest along the Blue Ridge Parkway; just be aware that the loop trail is more than two hours and includes three flights of stairs.
More information: exploreburnsville.com
To the South: Oconee County, South Carolina
Put the family up in a cabin, lodge, or yurt at Wildwater in Oconee County. The Corkscrew Cabin sleeps 12, and the Jawbone accommodates eight. Each unit has a full kitchen and large dining and outdoor areas. Book rafting and zipline adventures when you reserve your rooms.
Finding a restaurant in the mountains can be tricky, so stock up on snacks at Long Creek General Store. Near Wildwater, Humble Pie serves pizza, sandwiches, wraps, and quesadillas. Brasstown Creek Gathering Place BBQ is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 9 p.m.
Visit Stumphouse Park to see Stumphouse Tunnel, Issaqueena Falls, and walk along the Blue Ridge Railroad hiking trail, an easy-to-moderate 2.5-mile hike through the forest. The nearby Yellow Branch Falls is a moderate, 45-minute hike to a 50-foot falls. Book a pontoon boat with Jocassee Lake Tours and see Lake Jocassee, or head to Devils Fork State Park for camping, fishing, scuba diving, swimming, and a 1.5-mile nature trail. Rent canoes and kayaks through Eclectic Sun.
More information: visitoconeesc.com
Farther South: Naples, Florida
Edgewater Beach Hotel has beach access and a range of activities. Enjoy two outdoor pools, the Reflections Pool Bar, and Coast, the hotel’s famed restaurant. Rent paddleboards, kayaks, and bikes for family outings, and treat yourself to milk and cookies each afternoon at the hotel.
Coast at Edgewater serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and provides in-room service and delivery to the beach and pool area. Venture into downtown Naples for pizza, pasta, and seafood at Osteria Tulia. For a large group with varied tastes, try the food trucks at Celebration Park along Haldeman Creek. For a casual meal, head to Riverwalk at Tin City for burgers, fish, salads, sandwiches, tacos, and a raw bar. Save room for ice cream at M&M’s Café.
Visit Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, a 43-acre plot with black bears, cheetahs, lions, panthers, and pythons in gardens filled with ficus, orchids, and palm trees. Stroll the boardwalks and paths of the Naples Botanical Garden to see ponds, sculptures, and plants from all over the world. Take the wheelchair-accessible path to the birding tower near Lake Tupke to spot feathered friends. Book a boat ride with Pure Florida to learn about dolphins, manatees, and local birds, then stop at Keewaydin Island to search for shells. Thrill-seekers can see the Everglades from an airboat.
More information: paradisecoast.com
Tips on multi-gen travel from Shanell Varner, CEO and chief travel advisor at Moonglade Travel in Charlotte:
- Review the types of accommodations. Check with family members about their vacation budgets and preferences before you book. Members may prefer camping to a four-star resort, and it’s best to discuss ahead of time.
- Stay flexible. Make reservations for excursions with the entire group but leave time for relaxing and enjoying each other.
- Split up. You don’t have to do every activity together, but use a buddy system for safety and inclusion. This way, everyone gets to do things they enjoy.
- Share the cooking duties. Ask everyone to pitch in to create menus, purchase groceries, and prepare meals. Consider food allergies and dietary restrictions.
- Enjoy the moment. Consider journaling about your getaway, and take a moment to reflect on why you took this trip and who came along for the ride.