The Grandma Factor

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In less than a month we have a long awaited trip to London and Edinburgh coming up. This trip has been scraped in various forms and rebooked more than once over the past couple of years because of job changes, pregnancy, and brand new baby factors. I thought we finally had it all booked and squared away when an unanticipated variable entered the equation…because that’s how family travel works. 

That variable is the Grandma Factor. I’m a huge advocate of multi-generational travel on big trips whenever possible for many reasons, including of course creating lifelong memories, and when young kids are involved, an invaluable extra set of helping hands. That said, it is a careful balance between when a trip is simply something many family members are taking together as opposed to one when a family member or two is coming along primarily to help. In the latter case, I think that it is appropriate for the ones needing the help to shoulder the travel costs of the family members coming to help, if if the one(s) helping aren’t (hopefully) 24/7 “nannies”.

Along those lines, we had asked if Grandma could come along on this trip back when it was booked, and it for a variety of reasons it didn’t seem that would be possible this time around. However, she now could probably make the trip, and that has thrown my plans into a tail spin.

I could simply say “thanks, but no thanks” to her offer, and she would be no worse for wear. However, I know how much better the trip could be with her on it, plus I know there are parts of it she would really enjoy, so I’m torn on what to do.

Remember that time she flew in with her Grandma Cape and saved a ski trip?

Three generations in Spain

Three generations in Spain

As you can probably guess, adding a person to a trip to an already booked trip to Europe is not as easy as booking a last minute ticket to Colorado. Flight prices and availability are different than when we booked. We can’t just squeeze an extra person into our hotel room, and room availability has changed there since we booked. I also hate the idea of us sitting in business class and her potentially being in economy because that’s all that is available. In other words, there are some real logistical and financial hurdles to adding another person to this trip that is less than a month away.

This process of trying to decide what is best has required me to totally re-examine almost everything I had booked to see what would now be best with the Grandma Factor. I’m thrilled at the idea of getting to experience a bit more in London and Scotland than we would have if it was just us and the two little ones, but I’m a little overwhelmed at trying to fit this square peg (party of five) into a round hole (reservations for four).


If budgets were unlimited it would be a pretty easy fix, but since that is very much not our reality, this is a bit harder.

Have you added a person to a big trip at the “last minute”? I’d love to hear any stories, advice, or tips! I really want to make this work, and at the same time avoid going broke…not that Grandma’s not worth that, but she would not be pleased with that outcome!

Oh, and expect many more questions and family travel ideas related to London and Edinburgh in the coming days…


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  1. I’ve got a Grandpa Factor, though from the beginning. We are heading to Scotland and England this weekend. Five of us plus Grandpa. Honestly, it was hard booking hotels and award flights even when I did know that he was coming. We ended up with an apt in EDI and 3 hotel rooms everywhere else. While it is costing me a lot more money than 1-2 rooms, in the end I’m kind of glad that we were forced to spread out like that (and suck up the cost), b/c it means my husband and I will have our own room/privacy for our 3 week trip. I will really enjoy that. You have young kids, right? If you can find a hotel with 2 double beds, I’d consider doing that with cot or z-bed for your youngest. And then trade to another hotel with 2 rooms. If you can afford it, I think it will be worth the added pleasure you’ll get out of your trip. I’m actually looking forward to having my dad along and we have older kids that we can leave at hotel (or let go off on their own). My dad will engage with them when we are tired and he will take naps and let youngest play on ipad with him.

  2. This is a different sort of question MP, but how do you balance both sets of parents? We find that it is easier to go it alone, rather than trying to foot the bill for both sets of parents or risk the hurt feelings of leaving one set behind.

  3. We were just there in April. We decided to forego using points in Edinburgh and rented a really cute apartment in Grassmarket just below the castle with a spectacular castle view. It was wonderful and in walking distance to everything. We ended up walking by the hotels I had looked at booking and I was very glad we opted for the apartment. Of course we booked it when Amex had the airbnb $50 statement credit and both booked 1 night.

  4. I’d leave it like it is, tell Grandma thanks, but no thanks. You can do it!! There is something magical about your little nuclear family accomplishing it all on your own. Our memories of Christmas in Vienna were crazy when hubby got sick and I took 3 kids under the age of 9 around Vienna in the snow for a few days. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

  5. It’s a very American concept to focus just on the nuclear family. The rest of the world does great traveling as multi-generational families. It’s better for everyone.

    Grandparents – mentally engaged + time with grandchildren to impart values and culture.

    Parents – less stressful and can go out in the evenings for dates/nightlife while kids and grandparents sleep.

    Kids – more adults to watch them and learn from. Grandparents to spoil them.

    Have done numerous international trips with grandparents and they are awesome.

    • Agreed, except when the Grandparents grind the TSA line to a HALT because they act like they have never been on a plane in the past 15 years. Leaving belts on, leaving shoes on, leaving metal on, leaving items in pockets, it’s insane. As long at the one running the trip goes over how to get through a checkpoint BEFORE getting to the airport it’s a great concept.

  6. Not sure how you planned your hotels since having 3 people in a room in Europe is not that easy but maybe you can manage it. We were just in Europe 2 weeks ago and I had to book 2 rooms everywhere since we were a party of 4 and none of the hotels would let us book just one room. I guess the air travel is easier if you can book her on a separate flight. If that is not an issue you could have her fly on another airline or even on another date and meet you guys there. Any help if welcome if that will make your trip more enjoyable. I guess on the ages of your kids you could really benefit from having your mother on the trip. I love to travel with my kids and we never have a vacation without them but it limits what you can do. For example, I love to try good restaurants and sometimes I book the top ones well in advance. Well, there were many times when we had a dinner reservation and by the time we were getting ready the kids were exhausted and we had to cancel. If grandma was there I am sure she would be happy to stay with the kids at the hotel and me and my wife could enjoy dinner. Again, it is a trade off but I hope you can manage it the best way.

  7. We added a ninth (!) to our party of 8 at the last(ish) minute, going to London, Paris, Verona, and Milan (leaving in about 10 days!). The biggest trick there was getting the exact same flights and train tickets; due to the fact that the ninth was a recent HS grad, and we already had two other recent HS grads in our group, it was easy (with a bit of flexibility) to split up the group and move folks around a bit.

    Advice? I’d try to make it work, and I’d hit up HomeAway and Airbnb properties to see about getting a last-minute deal. Many times you can find a creative homeowner looking to make a deal in order to get a little extra time filled in their flat.

    Good luck!

  8. As a 74 year old grandma, let me give you some advice.
    1) Who knows how much longer I am going to be able to travel?
    2) What price can one put on the joy of grandchildren being with their grandparents.
    3) How wonderful is it to share new adventures through a child’s eyes.
    4) How wonderful is it for the parents to to be able to go out at knowing that their children are well cared for.
    I could, because of loyalty programs, book myself and my 77 year old husband (grandpa) business class. However, if we could not, coach would not be a problem even if the rest of the family was in business class.
    Life is short, life is fragile. Make it work.

  9. You’re going to be saving a ton of money on meals etc. with the much better exchange rate on the pound sterling – about $1.30 last time I checked vs. $1.50 before Brexit – so think of that as offsetting some of the additional costs of traveling with Grandma. Plus life is uncertain: you never know what is around the corner and how many opportunities you’ll have to take that European trip together in future, so I say go for it and be happy for the memories it will bring all of you, including her. My parents are both gone now, and the regrets I have are for the things we didn’t do, not for anything we did together. And after all, gIven your experience, you’re much better able to sort out last minute travel at the best possible cost than most travelers.

  10. Thanks for those who shared their thoughts! I can assure you this isn’t the kind of Grandma who adds work to the trip or slows up a line. Entirely the opposite in fact. She would be nothing but an asset to all of us, but we still have to decide what is best for everyone overall. It’s a really tough call for sure and I’m still not sure which route we will take!

  11. You should not feel the least bit bad that you could only seat her in economy. You would still be giving her transatlantic flights, and it’s all that’s available!! My mom is the same type of grandma as yours, and I know she would feel that way. Do you absolutely have to pay the full cost for her room, too? I completely understand your philosophy on paying for parents when they are helping you out so much, but it sounds like a big chunk of money, and you would already be getting her flights. My mom would certainly pay at least some of her own costs. Anyway, given your both hilariously and sadly real trip report from Las Vegas recently, I really think you could use the help. I am sure the little one is sleeping much better, but I think this trip, too, could be a lot more taxing than you may anticipate… especially on her. Jet lag could really throw her off… just saying! Grandma could make the difference between a miserable trip and a great one despite challenges! And of course, the memories will be priceless.

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