Whether parasailing, beach bumming, or pounding the theme park pavement, grandparents and grandchildren can take advantage of traveling together as a way of getting to know one another better.
"I've had a blast taking my grandchildren with me on vacation," says Yvonne, who has four grandchildren ages eight to 17. "I'm doing things with them, like white water rafting and scuba diving, that I didn't do with my own kids."
"Parents are busy," she explains. "Grandparent travel is really on the upswing."
Orlando, the Disney theme parks, and cruises are great destinations for grandparents and grandchildren, because they offer activities that both generations will enjoy.
Patty and Ron of Winter Park, Florida, frequently take their eight-year-old grandson with them on vacation. They have already visited theme parks as well as a family-centered vacation at a lakefront house, rekindling memories of a previous summer spent in North Carolina.
"Austin gets up in the morning and runs down to see Gramps, who's sipping coffee on the dock," says Patty. "They swim off the dock and fish and have a great time."
In addition to having fun together, traveling with your grandkids will help establish and maintain the relationship. When the entire family gets together, there aren't many opportunities for grandparents and their grandchildren to interact on a one-on-one basis.
Years ago, when multiple generations lived in the same household, there were many opportunities to pass along family history and wisdom. Now families must create those times.
Grandparents and grandchildren can follow-up their vacations by continuing to stay in touch through letters, phone calls, texts, and e-mails. They can become an important part of their grandchildren's lives by spending a couple of weeks alone with them during the year.
As an added benefit, when grandchildren travel with grandparents, it gives their parents some much needed time alone together.
A good place to start is with a short, three-day trip when a grandchild reaches school age. Younger children handle shorter trips better than they do lengthy vacations. A teen might appreciate a two-week trip packed with activities, but shorten the stay if you're traveling with little ones. If you're unsure if a child is ready for a night away from Mom and Dad, consider a trial run—an overnight stay at a hotel not far from home, just in case you have to make a midnight run for home.
The experts recommend several tips to make your trip the best it can be.
- Discuss plans with and obtain support for the trip from the parents.
- Include the children in planning. Prepare with a library or Internet visit, researching activities and learning about possible destinations.
- Tailor plans to the children's ages and interests, keeping museum stops short unless they include a hands-on area for the younger ones.
- Arrange time for swimming and playing. This way, youngsters can expend a little energy while the grown-ups relax.
- Alternate major activities with those that are more tranquil. For instance, after spending a day at a theme park, plan the next day at the beach or a nature preserve.
- Stay at a kid-friendly hotel or suite property, which affords a bit more privacy. If you're unsure about the hotel, call the property before booking. If you're going to the beach, consider staying at a condo nearby.
- Before leaving, tell the children what behavior you expect.
- If you are driving, let an auto technician check the car. You should also obtain safety seats for small children.
- Find the travel option that best suits you and your grandchildren, such as a vacation spent volunteering, a stay at an Elder hostel, a family-oriented cruise, or a tour specifically designed for grandparents and grandchildren.
- Incorporate as much of the child's regular routine into the trip as possible, maintaining nap, meal, and bed times.
- Pack a night light, first-aid kit, suntan lotion, and comfortable shoes.
- Leave an itinerary with the children's parents.
- Bring along the parents' notarized authorization for medical care in case of an emergency and for crossing international borders.
- Colorfully wrap and take along books, games, and age-appropriate activities that can be opened along the way.
- Let the children bring a music player with headphones.
- When driving, stop at least every two hours for stretching and restroom breaks. Go with the children into the restroom.
- Drink plenty of water, eat healthful snacks and meals, and pack a few moist towels for clean up.
Spend time reading together, watching a movie, or
- Stay flexible. Allow room for spontaneity.
Encourage the children to keep a
journal, writing or drawing pictures about the adventure.
- Take photos and record the young one's comments. After the trip, review the pictures and relive the memories together.
"The secret is to have fun with the kids," Yvonne says. "They give you a different perspective. It's the most wonderful experience. It slows you down and helps you take a breath."
"My grandkids will grow up thinking I'm the coolest grandmother in town. Traveling has been my best times with the grandkids," she concludes. "Some people may be hesitant to take their grandchildren, but once they do it, they probably won't want to travel without one."