Traveling With Grandchildren
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 each other better.
"I've had a blast taking my grandchildren with me on vacation," says Yvonne Wesa, a travel agent in St. Louis, 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."
Wesa helps other grandparents plan trips through her travel agency. "Parents are busy," she explains. "Grandparent travel is really on the upswing."
Where Do Grandparents and Grandchildren Go?
Wesa says that 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 Love, of Winter Park, Florida, frequently take their eight-year-old grandson with them on vacation. They have already visited the theme parks, but this year they planned a more laid back, 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.
"The grandparent/grandchild bond is very special and unique. What I call 'the vital connection' depends on one-to-one attention," says researcher and medical writer Arthur Kornhaber, MD, founder and president of the Foundation For Grandparenting, in Ojai, California. "When the parents and grandparents get together, parents take up a lot of the grandparents' time, and the kids don't get to know them very well."
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. Grandparenting adds meaning and a sense of usefulness to later years.
"Grandparents are a living repository of knowledge," Kornhaber explains. "Kids learn things from grandparents [that] they learn from no one else."
Kornhaber's research has shown that the grandparent/grandchild bond is second only to the parental relationship.
"It's terribly important [for grandparents and kids] to be alone together," Kornhaber says. "And that time can be expanded, especially if it's followed up with individual phone calls, faxes, and emails. You can become a very important part of your grandchildren's lives, even if you just spend a couple of weeks alone with them during the year."
Plus, when grandchildren travel with grandparents, it gives their parents some much needed time alone together.
Kornhaber suggests that grandparents start with a short, three-day trip when the grandchild reaches school age, although the Grandparents' and Grandchildren's Camp that Kornhaber's foundation operates in the Adirondacks has played host to kids as young as two.
Younger children handle shorter trips better than they do lengthy vacations. A teen might appreciate a two-week sojourn 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.
Wesa recommends relaxing and thinking like a kid, which has been easier for her to do with her grandchildren than it was with her children.
"The secret is to have fun with the kids," Wesa 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," Wesa concludes. "Some people may be hesitant to take their grandchildren, but once they do it, they probably won't want to travel without one."
Foundation for Grandparenting
Seniors Canada On-line
Get kids involved in getaway plan. American Automobile Association (AAA) website. Available at: http://www.aaa.com/aaa/240/sne/index.html?zip=01982 .
Spurlock V. Have Grandchildren, Will Travel: The Hows and Wheres of a Glorious Vacation with Your Children's Children . Pilot Books; 1997.
Traveling with your grandchildren. American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) website. Available at: http://www.aarp.org/confacts/money/grandtrav.html .
Last reviewed August 2011 by Brian Randall, MD