Friday, July 18, 2008

Traveling with Grandchildren

Looking for a chance to spend quality time with a grandchild? How about taking them on a trip?

Travel experts report a boom in intergenerational travel fueled in part by the bulge in boomer retirees with time on their hands, good health and plump wallets. And why not? Properly planned, a trip with grandchildren can be a wonderful experience for everyone involved.

The grandparent gets quality, one-on-one time with the child.

The parents, who are often both still working, know their child is in good hands having the time of their young lives.

The kids get to go on an adventure to remember.

As one traveling grandparent said, “I’d rather leave them with memories than money. Money is quickly spent but memories last a lifetime.”

The range of destinations is limitless; from independent travel to organized tours targeted specifically at the grandparent/grandchild combination. Activity levels vary from going and looking to going and doing; visit Yellowstone, tour the nation’s capital, take a cruise, raft the Colorado River, cycle Vermont, hike in the Rockies…. The idea list is limited only by one’s imagination and can be tailored to the interests and ability of the participants.

As wonderful as a good trip can be, a poorly planned excursion can leave the wrong kind of memories. So, don’t simply select a trip that you, the adult, will enjoy. Talk to the child and their parents about options. Having them involved in the planning will make it more their trip, not simply your trip that they are joining. Besides, it’s good to talk with grandchildren. You may be surprised at where their interests lie.

Pick the destination carefully. Do you want to try something new or revisit a place you previously enjoyed? If you recall a great hike from your past, consider it. If you know your way around New York City you can be the tour guide. Or think about a place that will be new to all of you. Whatever you consider, don’t forget the child. Do they like to read or run? Have they ever slept in a tent or is a bed preferred? Have they ever been away from the parents before? If not, a short “test” trip might be in order. Do they live nearby (so you know them well) or across the country (so you are a gray haired stranger.)

Some travelers like to plan their own trips. There are advantages to independent travel as opposed to an organized tour. You will likely be together with the child more and free of group distractions. That works well for some grandparents.

Other travelers prefer the guided tour approach to travel. The child might enjoy having other kids along. Often tours offer educational opportunities that grandparents would have trouble duplicating. And the grandparents may welcome some quiet time when the child is engaged with a guide or other young people.

Consider the ages involved. There is no “best” age to travel. But an effort should be made to match the destination with the ages of all parties. The six year old might do well at Disneyland but poorly on a trip to Florence. Rock climbing might attract the sixteen year old but be a bit tough on Grandpa. There are enough choices out there that age appropriate activities are not hard to find. Some of the organized tours, Elderhostel for example, tailors each tour to children of a certain age range. That allows them to focus the adventure on kids of similar abilities and insures they are surrounded by peers as well as their grandparents.

Pick an activity level that suits all parties. If little Johnny lives a sedimentary existence don’t try to turn the trip into a two week boot camp. You may try to amp up the activity level from what he is used to but don’t try to remake the child. It will only frustrate the grandparent and irritate the child. So consider the child’s interests, match them with your own and try to select an activity both can enjoy.

As an alternative, consider a trip that has different activities for adults and kids. For example, if you visit a dude ranch, you don’t have to ride your assigned steed every day or at all. Let the child go with the guide. You will still have quality time together. Some cruise lines offer family suites and programs for kids of all ages. You can turn the kids loose in the morning and see them at dinner. The same is true for all-inclusive resorts, like Club Med. The time together comes when they return from the day’s activity and report in.

Planning for travel success doesn’t end once you have selected an interest, age and activity appropriate destination. Next think about the little things.

Help the grandchild put together a packing list; things they shouldn’t leave home without. On an organized tour, the operator may have a suggested packing list for you. Do you need special shoes; a backpack or sunscreen? Don’t forget the earphones, a benefit if you have different musical tastes. Other ideas:
· Get a medical release from the parents in case care is needed on the trip.
· Plan ahead if a passport will be required.
· Are there any books, videos or web sites they should experience that will enhance their enjoyment or understanding of the destination?
· A camera and journal will add to the memory of the trip. If the child doesn’t have one, consider providing one. You know how important they can be even if the child may not.

Most important, once you are on your way, relax and enjoy yourself. Remember, kids will be kids. Traveling with kids is different from traveling with your spouse of many years. You might have to share the bathroom. They might leave their things around the room. You may be surprised by their choice of clothing. Go with the flow and you will stitch a memory for the child that will last them forever; and that’s a good thing.

Whether traveling independently or with a group, the web is a resource. A Google search of “intergenerational travel” reveals a wealth of resources and ideas. The list below targets some specific tour groups. Even if you don’t chose a tour company you will find some wonderful destination ideas in their listings.

The Sierra Club offers a range of outings targeted to families and suitable for grandparent/grandchild travel. They tend to be more physical than some tours. Opportunities exist to work on trail building and other public service activities while you enjoy the outdoors.

Grandtravel is the high end choice. They can take you from Africa to Alaska and many places in between. This firm specifically targets intergenerational trips.

Most of the cruise lines offer family programs that work for Grandparent/Grandchild travel. The Norwegian Cruise Line offers Freestyle Family Fun with programs for all age groups. Holland America, through Club HAL and a teen program, can also keep the kids occupied. Disney Cruise Lines is all about kids and families. With a busy cruise activity program the child may be away from the grandparent as much as they are with them. But they are sure to come home with lots of memories.

As the name implies, Rascals in Paradise delivers a menu of family friendly, active tours appropriate for an active grandparent/grandchild team.

Butterfield & Robinson offers a range of age specific tours. You can select from tours for kids 5+, 8+ and 12+. Most are abroad and involve cycling. Each trip is rated for “activity” level so you can judge how strenuous they might be.

Don’t be fooled by the Elderhostel name. Elderhostel trips are not for wimps. Originally they focused on adults, 55 and up. Now they offer over 150 tours designed for grandparents with grandchildren. You can select different activities and activity levels that are designed for specific age groups. The Elderhostel program mixes activity with education in a package that has an appeal across generations.

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