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In my day—back in the 1950s—spending time with my grandmother meant a LONG drive from New Jersey to Miami Beach and constant hugs from unidentifiable relatives. These days it seems that grandparents often live even farther from their families because of travel, work, and the vicissitudes of life. In fact, according to an AARP study, over 50 percent of grandparents have at least one grandchild who lives more than 200 miles away.
How to Form a Life-long Bond with Your Grandchild
Perhaps distance is the main reason more and more grandparents look for ways to bond with their grandchildren with “Skip-Gen” travel, meaning without parents. Adventurous grandparents take fortunate grandchildren on journeys everywhere from National Parks to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) sites to science and arts programs in the U.S. and abroad. On trips like these, grandparents can share everything from visiting Harry Potter filming sites in England, to paddling canoes in the foothills of the Ozarks, to visiting dinosaur fossils on digs in South Dakota. Or perhaps they will travel to observe monkeys and macaws in Costa Rica or go on a safari in Africa.
|Skip-Gen Travel – Grandparents traveling with grandkids without the parents along (i.e. skipping the “middle” generation).|
Number of “Skip-Gen” Travels Rise
According to the AARP Grandparents Study, about 40 percent of grandparents now travel with their grandchildren. And because Covid kept a lot of people home over the past several years, “Skip-Gen” travel came back even stronger. Grandparents realize there is a window of opportunity; the age range on Skip-Gen trips range from 8 to 18, depending on destination and activities. These grandparents know that grandkids grow up achingly fast.
Many grandparents find that an established tour is a great way to travel with grandkids. These inclusive programs include transportation, lodging and most meals, which make travel very easy. They also provide experienced guides and teachers—not to mention a group of potential friends for grandchildren.
If you are looking for ideas for a “Skip-Gen” travel adventure, Road Scholar is a popular not-for-profit travel organization that offers a wide variety of experiences. Below, participants described some of their trips with this organization.
On Safari and on Their Best Behavior
Gynnie Moody of Wilmington, Delaware waited until her grandchildren were 10 and 12 before she and her husband Terry took them on a life-changing trip to South Africa, Botswana and Zambia.
“We saw incredible animals in the bush, and our grandkids did everything from building fires to tracing footprints of animals. I cannot say enough good things about their guide; he grew up on a farm in Rhodesia and was artistic and related to kids and adults. In fact, we are still Facebook friends.”
Gynnie feels that her grandkids are much closer to she and her husband now because of their shared journey. She also valued seeing their resilience during the safari. She said,
“We did not have to remind them that we had to get up at 5:30 in the morning and be on the truck by 6. They were on their very best behavior. I don’t know what their parents said to them.”
photo credit: Gynnie Moody
Can I Have More Grandchildren So I Can Travel More, Please?
Constance Mettler of Fort Wayne, Indiana, went on three grandparent/grandchild trips. She said;
“I would almost like to have more grandchildren so I could do more! The other grandparents were very cool, and I totally enjoyed them. We did the Poconos, the Channel Islands (imagine grandparents in wetsuits), and a very comprehensive trip to Yellowstone National Park.”
My Expertise Was Pretty Slim: Of Legos, Robots, and Drones
Rita Meek of New Castle, Delaware took her grandson on a learning journey, inspired by her brother -in-law and sister-in-law who took 11 of their 13 grandchildren on Road Scholar trips. They went to Hawaii and Iceland, and then all over the world. The kids said it was the best thing that ever happened to them.
So she decided to take her eight and a half year old grandson on a trip to a science center in St. Louis. The children used Lego kits to learn how to build and program robots at this science center. Rita said she chose the trip because:
“Our grandson is the original Lego person, and the likelihood that I would find out about drones or make my own robot was pretty slim.”
As she watched her grandson interact with another boy to problem solve, she said she could see him “come into his own.” Another benefit for Rita was that they were able to get to know each other more as people without being overshadowed by other family members.
For their next trip, Rita plans to take her oldest granddaughter to New York City to one of the Broadway programs. She said their parents often took their children on visits to national parks and outdoor activities.
“I want to take them to places different from those that that their mother and father would have chosen.”
Who Chooses the Trip? “Well, I’m Paying”
Holly Robinson of Sedona, Arizona, reported that for their first trip she chose a Road Scholar program within driving distance of their home. The grandkids chose the second one by navigating the choices on the website by themselves. Robinson reported “I had some control (ha ha, as I was paying for it, it had to appeal to me too).” They went to the Grand Canyon, snorkeled in Florida, and went horseback riding in northern California.
“We all LOVED these times together, and we had so much fun,” she reported. “They quickly made friends, so I didn’t have to “play” with them all day long. Highly recommend!”
Gifts of Love: Enabling Grandkids to See the Wider World
The travelers I interviewed reported that these Road Scholar journeys helped cement a bond that they believe will last a lifetime. And they described how satisfying it was for them to enable a grandchild to see the wider world.
For those parents who feel left out as their children take off on some incredible journeys, remember that there are trips for all three generations—from Tuscany to Tanzania and beyond. Seize the Day!
Barbara Winard earned a B.A.in English literature and an M.S. in Journalism, both from Boston University, and, later in life, an M.A. in Gerontology from the University of Southern California. All of these were useful in her 25-year career as Senior Editor for two online encyclopedias for Scholastic publishing, where she wrote and edited articles about fine and performing arts, literature, film, archeology, anthropology, and other subjects.
Barbara began her solo travels in college. During her 20s and 30s she solo traveled to Europe, Asia, and North and South America. After returning from a 6-month trip to Asia, she wandered in off the street and was hired by the Asia Society in New York City to produce films and print materials for adults and children about Asian culture. She also worked as a film programmer and traveled to film festivals around the world. Barbara got her start in film with New York City’s public television station, WNET/13. There, she was a freelance documentary writer and producer for ten years. A Jersey girl, Barbara and her husband moved from Jersey City to New Castle, Delaware, last year. She has been writing for Road Scholar, TravelAwaits.com and several other online magazines; her blog is thebabybloomer.blog.