When parents don't have the time or money to travel, kids can see the world with their grandparents.By Emily BrandonSept. 28, 2009, at 9:56 a.m.
Pat and Jim Solan of Rockville, Md., have taken seven of their 12 grandchildren on vacation—no parents present. The couple usually takes one or two grandchildren at a time on a one-week trip anywhere from the Grand Canyon to the Grand Tetons. Pat, a retired software programmer, and Jim, a former chemist, are continuing a family tradition of intergenerational travel that started with Pat's mother and father, who took each of her four children to Ireland in turn. "It's special to have them all by themselves when there are no parents around," says Pat, 69. "If you had just stayed at home, you wouldn't have gone for that walk in the woods or gone rafting down the Colorado with them."
Here are some tips for successful trips with grandchildren:
Don't be outnumbered. It's a good rule of thumb to travel with only one grandchild per grandparent. "I recommend that you take one at a time because it's your opportunity to be with that grandchild and for you to learn about them," says Helena Koenig, a grandmother of 10 and founder of Grandtravel, a Washington-based travel agency that specializes in intergenerational travel programs. Elderhostel's recently renamed Exploritas programs offer group travel opportunities for seniors with grandchildren in tow. Exploritas, which organizes trips ranging from hot-air ballooning in Park City, Utah, to Harry Potter-themed jaunts in the United Kingdom, has a rule that there may only be one child per grandparent. "We wanted to be sure that the grandparents and the grandchild actually spend time together," says James Moses, the organization's president and chief executive. "When people brought more than one grandchild, they really weren't having the bonding experience that we think is critical to these programs."
When traveling abroad, bring the required documentation. Passports and health insurance aren't the only necessities for international travel with grandchildren. Grandparents need a notarized letter from a parent or guardian in order to take a child to a foreign country. Cheryl Delisle, manager of Generations Touring Co. in Nobleboro, Maine, recommends that both parents sign the letter. "In some cases, if you don't have it from both parents, they will not let you in the country," she says.
Consider age. Babies can be demanding travel partners, and teenagers may prefer to explore the world with their friends. Somewhere between is the ideal age to vacation with grandchildren. "The kids need to be old enough so they can be apart from their parents and confident enough to do things, but at a certain point they get too old," says Peter Spiers, a senior vice president at Exploritas. "I think the sweet spot is in the 9-to-14 age range, and after that, they become less interested." Delisle says that ages 8 to 14 are ideal, while Koeing says that most people who book trips through Grandtravel have grandchildren between 12 and 14. "From the time they are able to talk they are generally fine to travel," says Georgia Hope Witkin, a psychologist and contributing editor to Grandparents.com. She adds, "If you offer them the right trip, they could be 19 or 22 and going with you."
Make it a family affair. Some grandparents prefer to take the entire family on vacation instead of one or two grandchildren. Every April, Joan and Ben Wood of Acton, Maine, invite their three children, the children's spouses, and seven grandchildren to a resort in Florida. "If we took two brothers, then we would have to take three sisters and then the other two sisters. . . . That just wouldn't work for our family," says Wood, 70. "The grandchildren really love to be together, and they don't get together that often."
Travel at a child's pace. When Lynda Gardner, 57, of St. Louis took her 9-year-old granddaughter to the Caribbean for a week in April, she packed books and games to keep the child entertained on the 4½-hour flight. "You have to make sure that the place you are going has activities you can take the child to that will keep their interest at that age, like museums, arts and crafts places, the planetarium, or the zoo," she says. "We went to this one place that had stingrays, and she got a chance to feed them and touch them, and that was so exciting to her." You should also adjust the pace of your schedule to meet the child's needs. "I have to allow an extra hour when I get up to go somewhere so I can get myself together and then get her together," says Gardner.
Author: Emily Brandon