Doing Money: On Vacations With Parents As A Grown-Up

by Kacie Berghoef

One of the positives I see to our culture’s growing financial interdependence is greater familial closeness. With fewer traditional obligations than my parents had at my age, I have more flexibility and time to spend with my family. It’s even been easy for me to occasionally visit and stay in touch with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, despite living far away from them.

When they were my age, my parents had a toddler and a newborn. We’d visit my grandparents and cousins, but I rarely, if ever, recall seeing my parents’ cousins, uncles, or aunts. They kept family vacations simple, too. With two small children to keep happy, our trips in my early years mostly consisted of taking my brother and me on long drives to spend a week at a beach house.

I, on the other hand, have the luxury of taking adult-oriented vacations with my parents. My parents are divorced now, but both love to take my brother and me on trips. The trips we take together are almost always their idea. Thanks to my my parents’ desire to travel with me, I’ve been on some incredible adventures, to destinations like Ireland and Argentina, and cruising around the Caribbean.

With more Millennials delaying or forgoing traditional adult milestones, such as marriage, home ownership, and parenthood, more young adults have time to take vacations with their parents well into adulthood. But it leaves an awkward question my parents and grandparents didn’t need to address: who pays for this shared time away from home?

By the time my parents were my age, they were wealthier than my grandparents. However, times have changed. It’s no secret that a significant percentage of the Millennial generation still gets financial help from their parents. Between the recession, the student loan crisis, and the rising cost of buying a home, Millennials are largely believed to be financially worse off than their parents.

This can lead to the dynamic where the parent has more money to spend on vacation than their adult child — especially if, like many Baby Boomers, they’re receiving a pension. Young adults are also likely to be saving up for big ticket expenses like a house or parenthood. When Mom or Dad wants a nicer, more expensive vacation, should they help the adult child pay for it, or should they go on a more modest vacation in their adult children’s budget?

The question gets even more complicated when it includes siblings at different income levels and budgets for travel, like the dilemma raised in this Ask Amy column from last year. An informal poll of my friends tells me that this isn’t uncommon. One friend I talked to told me that she and her working sibling are buying their plane tickets to this summer’s family vacation and plan to chip in for food, while their mom is paying their all younger, unemployed brother’s expenses. Thankfully, in this case neither feels resentment toward their brother.

I’m very grateful that my parents offer to pay for my brother and me when we go on family vacations except, of course, for souvenirs or other extras we want for ourselves. My brother and I could both afford to pitch in financially on family trips, but the locations would probably be less exotic, the quality of housing a step lower than what my parents can afford and desire. It also gives them full creative control of the trip, allowing them to choose their favorite destinations without debate from their children. My parents see a trip as a gift: a fun way to spend their previously hard-earned money through a shared family experience, one that bears no relevance to my brothers’ and my financial status.

From talking to friends with varying situations, I think determining who should fund family is highly personal, something each family needs to decide themselves. Readers, how often do you vacation with your parents? Do you pay for your portion of the trip costs, or do your parents cover the full tab?

This story is part of our Travel Month series.

Kacie Berghoef is a freelance writer and Certified Enneagram Teacher. She teaches and writes about Enneagram personality types at Berghoef & Bell Innovations.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.