Going It Alone: 12 Tips For Vacationing With Grandchildren

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Many of today's seniors are craving more time to connect with their grandchildren. That's just one reason why multigenerational travel is one of the fastest growing segments of the leisure travel market. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, thirty percent of traveling grandparents in the U.S. have taken at least one vacation with their grandchildren and that number is expected to skyrocket.

Independent grandparents who are seasoned travelers have taken this trend one step further by planning vacations alone with their grandchildren. This allows lots of one-on-one time together, forging strong bonds and creating memories that will last a lifetime. Many grandparents plan these events around a special occasion, such as a graduation or birthday. Others start taking regular trips alone with their grandchildren once the kids reach eight or nine years of age.

If you are contemplating traveling with the grandchildren in tow, make sure to walk before you run. Ease into intergenerational travel with careful planning and an open mind. Here are twelve tips to help make your vacation with the grandkids an "awesome" success:

  1. Have your grandchildren take turns. Many grandparents have found that traveling with one or two grandchildren at a time works out best. Taking two provides each grandchild with companionship and entertainment, but double the pleasure may not be double the fun. Traveling with one grandchild at a time is generally less stressful and allows more time for those special one-on-one bonding experiences grandparents crave.
  2. Do a test run. Start with a short trip together before traveling alone with your grandchildren for an extended vacation. Take an excursion to the zoo, a day trip to a nearby lake or beach, or invite them to stay at your house for the weekend. This will let you see how you interact together and find out if your grandchildren are ready to go with you on a longer journey away from home.
  3. Talk with the parents. Creating successful vacations with grandchildren depends on developing a good understanding of their interests, preferences, habits and personalities. Talk with your children about your travel plans and ask for their advice on the length and type of trip. Parents can provide invaluable insights about their children's favorite interests, activity levels, needs for supervision and peer companionship, as well as their sleeping and eating habits. Use this information to help design your trip.
  4. Consider health, safety and personality issues. Plan an intergenerational vacation that will cater to the needs of all ages rather than one solely designed with the grandchildren in mind. Be honest about your own preferences and limitations as well as those of the grandchildren, and keep in mind any activity, diet or health restrictions. If standing in long lines is not comfortable for you, think twice about going to a theme park. Likewise, if your grandchildren are accustomed to plenty of daily structured activities with kids their own age, you may wish to choose a cruise line, tour or resort that offers daily children's and teens' programs.
  5. Brainstorm and plan the trip together. Travel experts have found that the most successful family vacations are those that involve both parents and children in choosing destinations and planning for their trip. The same is true for intergenerational travel. Talk with your grandchildren about their interests, activities, favorite sports and dream destinations. Tell them more about your goals for the trip - such as having fun, getting to know each other better, experiencing enriching activities together, and learning about the world. Take the time to share your own experiences and travel interests as well. Through these conversations, you will learn more about each other and find destinations and activities that all of you can enjoy.
  6. Look for travel agents with experience in intergenerational vacations. Trips with grandchildren have grown in popularity over the last decade. As a result, travel agents are more experienced in catering to the needs of this burgeoning market. Using the information gleaned from your discussions with your children and grandchildren, knowledgeable travel specialists can direct you to a variety of vacation destinations, tour companies, cruise lines, theme parks and resorts that will meet your needs. These agents can also help design a fun-filled itinerary that will allow you to bond with your grandchildren in a way that is only possible through travel. If you are interested in a group travel experience, companies such as Grandtravel, Adventures by Disney, and Elderhostel Intergenerational Tours are experienced in intergenerational travel and offer a variety of tours from which to choose.
  7. Set a budget and shop for savings. Successful trips with grandchildren do not have to be expensive ones. The best intergenerational vacations are those that are designed with your personalities, needs and interests in mind. Decide on a comfortable budget for your trip and make sure to include such items as souvenirs, tips, and a few unexpected activities or necessities. To help stretch your vacation dollars, make sure to look for discounts provided by membership organizations like AAA and AARP as well as special travel promotions offered by cruise lines, resorts, and tour operators. Search the Internet for deals and discounts, too. When calculating your budget, however, be careful to consider the needs of your traveling companions and cut corners wisely. For example, even though on-property theme park lodging may be more expensive, it is often well worth the cost for easy proximity at naptime or to provide the chance for a relaxing afternoon swim. Go over your final itinerary with your children and make sure they feel comfortable with your travel plans.
  8. Build in private time together as well as "down" or "apart" time. While the goal of your trip is to create shared memories, it is also important to remember that children need time to burn off energy and enjoy the company of kids their own age. Likewise, grandparents need quiet periods for rest and some adult company as well. Keep this in mind when sorting through your vacation options. Cruises and intergenerational tours are popular for this reason. They offer supervised activities and programs for children and teens, allowing grandparents to enjoy some time on their own. These itineraries typically also include blocks of time for shared activities, such as meals, tours, excursions to local attractions, entertainment, and group events. Remember to stay flexible on your trip, as children's moods and interests can change constantly. If you and your grandchildren find something you'd rather do, be spontaneous and go with the flow rather than sticking with the planned schedule.
  9. Keep up the excitement. Travel plans are often made far in advance of the trip, but out of sight doesn't have to mean out of mind. Pick up some travel brochures and a guidebook and share them with your grandchildren. Look for books that are set in your vacation destination and send them along in the mail. The Internet contains a variety of websites with pictures of your destination and information on activities that can be easily shared via e-mail. As the date draws closer, send along a suggested packing list for the trip.
  10. Be prepared and expect the unexpected. Make a list of items that you and your grandchildren will need to bring on your trip. These include identification, contact and health insurance information, a notarized letter empowering you to act in case of medical emergencies, recent photos, and medicines. In addition, check the latest federal requirements well in advance and bring the proper travel documents with you. If your grandchildren have any dietary needs or medication requirements, make sure to be aware of those and have a written record as well. In addition, bring along a notarized letter from the parents authorizing travel with the grandchildren if you will be traveling internationally. Some countries require this and rules vary, so it is better to be safe than sorry. Take a few additional items in your carry-on luggage along with medicines and travel documents, such as a cell phone for emergencies, a change of clothes and bathing suit in case luggage is lost, and travel games and snacks for the trip. Think ahead and plan for occurrences such as air travel delays, illness, and homesickness. If unforeseen events happen, stay positive. Your grandchildren will learn important life lessons from watching you on this trip.
  11. Make space for a few favorite items. Allow your grandchildren to bring along a few comfort items on the trip, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, books, or a portable music source with headphones. If your grandchildren usually sleep with a night light, make sure to pack one for your room. Travel backpacks and activity kits can be a lifesaver on plane and car rides. Make one easily by filling a small backpack with items such as colored pencils, story books, activity books, magnetic games, card games, travel-size board games, hand held electronic games, sticker books, non-melting crayons, coloring books, Mad-Libs, paper dolls, magic slates, small cars, finger puppets, small action figures, felt books with stick-ons, sewing cards, puzzles, pipe cleaners, and origami paper.
  12. Capture and preserve your vacation memories. Consider giving each grandchild a journal and a disposable camera to bring along on your journey. Kids love taking their own pictures and it is fascinating to see travel through their eyes. In addition, be sure to bring along plenty of digital memory cards or film to capture every moment of your trip. Pictures and postcards can be put into a scrapbook after you return, providing a lasting keepsake of your wonderful experiences together.

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