When Traveling Is a Family Affair
Intergenerational travelers share the experience of journeying together
It's a postcard-perfect day in the Cotswolds: Sheep dot the rolling hills. Hedgerows and stone walls divide pastures and plowed fields, creating a patchwork of greens and browns. Cotton-puff clouds drift in the sky.
As Joanne Kelley nears the end of a five-day walking tour through this breathtaking landscape, she knows she won't need to describe it to her grown son and daughter later. They're here too, sharing the adventure with her.
"You travel as a family when they're young, but during the college years you often don't see them," explains Mrs. Kelley, of Plymouth, Mass. "Now it's a way to reconnect with them and share some time together."
"Reconnecting" and "sharing some time together" are two common reasons for the growing popularity of intergenerational travel, a market that tour companies, cruise lines, resorts, and hotels are increasingly eager to accommodate.
Whether a family group consists of parents and adult children or grandparents and grandchildren, the rewards include strengthened family bonds and lasting memories.
"We're seeing a lot of this," says Judy Allpress, United States representative of The Wayfarers in Newport, R.I., the British company that conducted Kelley's walking tour. Ms. Allpress herself once spent a week walking with her father in Devon - an experience both still cherish.
"We were up in the moors, in the middle of nowhere," she says. "It was such a great thing to do with Daddy. He still has all the pictures next to his bed."
For Kelley, trips with her daughter and son, Rebecca and Jim Nidositko of Boston, have become an annual event since she was widowed five years ago. Previous destinations include Montreal, San Francisco, and the Caribbean. Next month, Ms. Nidositko and her mother will head off again, this time to Italy.
"One of the rewards of raising children is having well-raised adult companions," says Kelley. "You see things through their young eyes, and they see things through your experience."
Glen Sullivan of Pasadena, Calif., who shared three Wayfarers walks with his father in the Lake District, Cornwall, and Wales, says, "It was a good way for both of us to get away from the pressures of the office." Although his father died before the two could go again, Mr. Sullivan adds, "It helped in dealing with his death to know that I'd had the opportunity to spend this kind of time with my father as an adult."
Trips like these, Allpress finds, encourage easy communication.
"No matter how much time you spend together otherwise, the closeness is just different when you're out doing something physical and it's a beautiful place. You can have conversations that don't necessarily happen on the telephone or at family gatherings," says Allpress.
For grandparents interested in traveling with the youngest generation, choices range from modest, independently arranged trips near home to luxury tours in the US and abroad. Whatever their destination or budget, the underlying goal is often the same.
"All grandparents want to feel they're contributing greatly to their grandchildren's education and broadening their horizons," says Theresa Detchemendy, president of Rascals in Paradise tours in San Francisco.
Some grandparents take a grandchild on a trip as an eighth-grade graduation present. "They'll go through their whole brood, so all the kids know they get special time with their grandparents, one on one," says Ms. Detchemendy. Others use a special event, such as a 50th anniversary, as a catalyst for a trip together.
At Grandtravel in Chevy Chase, Md., president Helena Koenig finds few age barriers. The oldest grandfather on one of her company's tours was 87 and the youngest grandmother was 50. A safari in Kenya remains the most popular destination.
Both Ms. Koenig and Detchemendy consider these experiences part of the senior generation's legacy.
"A sense of adventure is the bonding element that grandparents are passing on to their grandchildren," Detchemendy says.
These adventures must be carefully planned, of course. Virginia Smith Spurlock, author of "Have Grandchildren, Will Travel" (Pilot Books), began traveling with her grandchildren eight years ago, when her first granddaughter was 4 years old. Washington, D.C., and Boston remain her favorite destinations.
She emphasizes the importance of talking to parents before mentioning a trip to the children. Then, she explains, "if the parents say no, it won't make them look like the bad guys in the kids' eyes."
Mrs. Spurlock also recommends one-on-one travel whenever possible. "You get to know the child so much better," she says. "And it lessens discipline problems, because you're like best friends traveling." For a single grandparent, the maximum should be two children.
Koenig suggests that both generations sit down together to find out what each person is interested in and what children are studying in school. This helps in planning a trip that benefits everyone.
Other details are more practical. "People need to discuss things like who takes a shower first, what time children go to bed, whether they read at night or want to leave a light on, and what foods they enjoy," Koenig says.
Prices vary widely. At Grandtravel, an eight-day, seven-night luxury tour of the Washington and Williamsburg, Va., costs $3,510 per person for a double room, excluding airfare. An eight-night trip to London and Paris costs $4,550 per person, excluding airfare. At Rascals in Paradise, escorted tours range from $2,100 for a week in Mexico, for a family of four, to approximately $11,000 for a 12-night African safari, also for a family of four.
Intergenerational activities have also become popular at Elderhostel, encompassing 220 programs in 45 states, according to spokeswoman Heather Baines. Last year about 3,000 grandparents enrolled with grandchildren. The most common age for children is 9 or 10.
Programs require 22.5 hours of academics and typically last five or six days. The cost for grandparents averages $385 each and for grandchildren $340. Subjects range from drama in Idaho to mountain astronomy in California and nature activities in Wyoming.
"It's a lot of hiking and learning about nature and animals," says Ms. Baines. "It's done in such a way that both older and younger generations find it interesting, which is always a challenge."
Other grandparents spend time during multigenerational trips baby-sitting for young grandchildren, enabling parents to sightsee, relax on a beach, or enjoy leisurely dinners.
Barbara Catalano, a real estate broker in Locust Valley, N.Y., will vacation next month in Nassau with her daughter, son-in-law, and 18-month-old grandson. "I'm going as a nanny to Alexander," Ms. Catalano says cheerfully, adding, "Many of my friends are taking big family vacations now." Last year Catalano walked in the Cotswolds with another daughter, Donna, of Chicago.
Whatever the activity or generational configuration, Allpress speaks for many families and tour leaders when she says of intergenerational travel, "It's a nice way to share love."
On the Go With Grandkids
Virginia Smith Spurlock, author of "Have Grandchildren, Will Travel," offers these suggestions for successful trips with your children's children:
* Don't travel with grandchildren under the age of 4.
* If you live a distance from your grandchild, spend a few days visiting the family before deciding about a vacation. Become familiar with grandchildren's schedules, likes, and dislikes before you go.
* Consider an overnight "shakedown cruise" in the child's town to test the feasibility of a trip together. If somebody wakes up in the middle of the night miserable, you can always get them home easily.
* Get a notarized statement signed by the parents, allowing you to travel with the child and authorizing help if an emergency should arise.
* Pack light. Take a suitcase on wheels for yourself, and have your grandchild use a backpack. Share a tote bag for items such as toothpaste, shampoo, hair dryer.
* Keep plans flexible.
* Don't try any activity that you do not feel up to physically, emotionally, or financially.
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