Traditionally, grandparents who live far away have nurtured family ties through phone calls and holiday visits. But those brief encounters can be short on time and intimacy. Grandparents who want to build a deeper connection with grandkids are planning multigenerational vacations. Many baby boomers have the disposable income to make travel with family a priority, and they’re uniting the clan for cruise vacations and trips to Disney World, says Todd Bagatelas, owner of Gulliver’s Travels in Germantown. Gramp and Mimi are planning “milestone vacations” around birthdays, anniversaries, and family reunions. We found two families whose grandparents make a point to introduce the world to their grandkids, and have a grand time in the process.
Share an Exotic Destination
Betty Smith rejects the worn stereotype of grandparents retiring to their rockers. She prefers being an active partner in adventure. In fact, her comfort with international travel is trickling down to her youngest family members.
Smith has introduced each of her five grandkids to new and exotic locales. She has explored Egypt’s pyramids with two teens and taken her grandson zip-lining in Costa Rica. There has been horseback riding at a dude ranch in Montana and hiking amidst the breathtaking beauty of Zion and Bryce Canyons.
Smith lives by the simple credo, “Travel is part of one’s education.” She started globetrotting with her grandkids 13 years ago. On her first trip, she took 9-year-old granddaughter Kristen to Denali National Park, Alaska, with the Alaska Elder Hostel Intergenerational Program. It was just the two of them. “We did lots of hiking and crafts there. Kristen is a real adventurer, and it was a great experience,” says Smith.
That was just the start of a number of memorable trips. Six years ago, Betty fulfilled a childhood dream by touring Egypt with her teenage granddaughter, grandson and their mom. They explored temples, pyramids, Queen Hatshepsut’s tomb, and Abu Simbel. “My grandson celebrated his 14th birthday on a Nile River cruise,” she says with a smile.
The daughter of a geography teacher, she finds that learning about a place before leaving home enhances the travel experience, so she mailed the kids educational tapes about Egypt’s history and culture to prep for the trip.
Around age 9, kids are ready to learn through travel, she says. On some trips, Smith picks up the costs, other times it’s shared. Smith's thoughtfully planned trips allow her to share her curiosity about people, places, and cultures with her grandkids.
Then when they return home, “Travel gives us something we have shared.”
Celebrate A Special Birthday In Style
Edwina Wilson savors sharing her favorite city with her five granddaughters. She started the Big Apple Tradition by taking each girl to New York City to celebrate her 13th birthday. The teen packs her bag, wondering what awaits in the mysterious city of lights. Wilson knows the trip will open her granddaughter’s eyes to an exciting new world.
“In New York, there is so much to do, see, and learn,” she says. “The city has experiences galore, with museums, theatre, music, and dance. It’s a melting pot, with so many cultures to experience and their food, neighborhoods, and traditions. I’ll never forget the look of awe on Kara’s face as she sat on top of a double-decker bus taking in the grandeur of the city. Sharing that experience with a new teenager is just incredible.”
The teen’s mother and aunt join them on the trip, making it a multigenerational affair. “I wanted to do something special to mark the teen years that would be memorable for girls, mother, and grandmother.”
Wilson has traveled to New York City for four decades. She serves as a tour guide, models savvy bargaining in SoHo and Chinatown, and plans strategies to get to the front of the crowd waiting to meet Today Show anchors. Each trip starts with a city tour that provides the teen with a view of sights from the top of a double-decker bus. The visits include seeing the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Plaza, riding the Staten Island Ferry and touring NBC Studio. They stroll Wall Street and then enjoy pizza and a giant slice of New York cheesecake.
Edwina tailors the trip to her granddaughter’s interests. A theatre nut chooses two Broadway shows, a dancer might tour Radio City Music Hall. Last summer, Kara Painter gave her regards to Broadway, applauding cast performances in Billy Elliott and Memphis the Musical. “The trip was special because it was just us girls,” says Kara. “My favorite things were Broadway shows and seeing Times Square at night.”
Before the trip, Kara read a travel guide to learn about the city’s boroughs and landmarks. After the trip, Edwina creates a digital keepsake scrapbook for her granddaughter. In the next few years, she will introduce three other girls to the Big Apple. Fascinated by older cousins’ tales, each girl looks forward to her trip with Mimi.
Cruise Together As A Family
Edwina and her husband Jerry also include the entire family — kids and grandkids — in an annual vacation. Often they rent a beach house in Florida. But last summer, they tried something different. Their 20th anniversary was approaching and the couple wanted to celebrate in a big way. Since it’s a second marriage for both, bringing their children together for shared fun has always been important to the couple.
They decided that cruising would provide ease and variety, giving the family opportunities to visit a rain forest, snorkel, and go cave tubing. The itinerary on the seven-day Western Caribbean cruise included intriguing destinations, but the locales were less important than sharing the experience together.
“It’s not about where you go,” says husband Jerry. “It’s about what happens when you’re there. It’s about having the most important people in your life around you when you’re doing exciting and
“The challenge for multi-generations is connecting,” he adds. “Travel together gives everyone an experience together and creates a common language.”
Family members drove to New Orleans, where they stayed overnight before sailing from port. They explored the French Quarter, shopped at the market, and watched brightly painted street mimes work the crowds.
In Roatan, Honduras, the family zip-lined above the tree canopy in the rain forest. The grandparents strapped on harnesses and enjoyed the adventure right along with their grandkids. In Belize, the group tried cave tubing, learning that Mayan Indians visited the caves to make offerings to the gods.
The kids’ favorite activity? Swimming with dolphins in Cozumel. While the ship was at sea, the family competed in a Family Feud game and took in a circus show. The children relished having a bit of independence and freedom on the ship. The teenaged girls met other teens at pool parties; younger kids hung out together, and tried new steps at dance parties.
At an anniversary dinner, grown-up kids toasted their parents’ happy marriage. They reflected on how all of their lives had changed over the past two decades, as careers flourished and children were born. They reminisced about a family trip to Italy. And they thanked the couple for creating such happy memories.
“It’s important to make family memories that can be shared through the years,” says Jerry.