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Traveling with grandchildren

We know how you feel -- your grandchildren are perfect, adorable little angels who bring you and the rest of the world nothing but joy. And if they don't, you can always give them back to their parents, right? Not if you decide to travel with them!
/ Source: Independent Traveler

We know how you feel -- your grandchildren are perfect, adorable little angels who bring you and the rest of the world nothing but joy. And if they don't, you can always give them back to their parents, right? Not if you decide to travel with them!

Still, if quick visits and even overnights leave you longing for more time with your grandchildren, consider traveling with them. More and more seniors are finding that trips with their grandchildren are great bonding experiences filled with wonderful memories – if planned carefully.

Helena Koenig, founder of Grandtravel, a company that caters exclusively to grandparent/grandchildren trips (no parents allowed!), said intergenerational travel grows every year. “There is nothing grandparents want more than to share special experiences with their grandchildren,” she said. “They want to pass a cultural inheritance on to their grandchildren.”

Talk to their parents
Talking with your grandchild’s parents is the first step in planning a successful trip. The parents will know if their child is ready to be away from home without them, and they will be valuable resources when planning the destination and activities their children tend to enjoy. Children bore easily, so it is important to know what really piques their interests. Your grandchild’s parents will also be able to tell you about sleeping and eating schedules, and it is best you try to stick to these, even on vacation. Children thrive when they know what to expect and are most comfortable in a routine.

Do a test run
Even if you and the child’s parents agree that he or she is ready to travel, have a test run. After all, you won’t know about homesickness until you’re already away from home, and it is best to find out if your grandchild is miserable away from his or her parents on a day trip rather than a weekend-long vacation. If you’ve never spent time with your grandchild without his or her parents, this is a good opportunity to do just that. Take the child to the zoo or to the beach and see how it goes. If it doesn’t go as well as you hoped, maybe your grandchild is not ready to travel with you, or maybe you just need to warm up to a long weekend with several more day trips.

A test run will also help you assess your own limits. Remember, children have seemingly endless energy and are difficult to keep up with. If you find yourself wiped out after just a few hours, you may need to either scale back on your travel plans or wait until the child is a little older.

Prepare, prepare, prepare
After you have decided on a destination, explain to your grandchildren where you will be going and what they can expect from your trip. Will they be traveling by plane? What sort of a place will they be staying in? Children are at their best when they know what to expect and surprises are at a minimum.

Make sure your grandchildren have proper identification, including contact information, on them at all times during the trip and be sure to have a recent photo of them in case they get lost. You should also have a notarized authorization form from your grandchild’s parents in case they need medical attention. Make sure you are crystal clear on medications and dosages if they will be taking any during the trip.

Get the kids excited
Koenig suggests reading about the chosen destination with your grandchildren and then asking them what they hope to get out of the trip. That way, everyone’s expectations can be discussed and hopefully met.

When we asked for tips from our members on this topic, Travelmommy told us her parents have taken several trips with her young children and the experience has been very positive. “Usually my folks send a card before the trip with a map or a picture of where they plan to take the kids, but last time they sent a video,” she said. The video they sent was called Shae by Air, and Travelmommy told us the video was instrumental in preparing her children and getting them excited for a flight with their grandparents. “The premise of the DVD,” she said, “is that children, even small ones, have the capacity to understand what to expect and what is expected of them, and with that the ability to be respectful, good little travelers.” According to the company Web site, Shae by Sea and Shae by Land videos are on their way, great for road trippers or grandparents who love to cruise.

Koenig said the most popular trip booked through GrandTravel is a safari in Africa. It is enjoyable for both the grandparents and the children and is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She said other popular trips were tours of Europe, specifically London and Paris, and Alaska. Also available through the Web site is a “Dinosaur Discovery” trip in Colorado where kids actually work with scientists on excavation. What kid hasn’t gone through a dinosaur-loving phase?

These trips don’t come cheap, but you’ll have the expertise of a company who's been planning intergenerational tours for 20 years. Also, there will be other children and adults on the tour to interact with. Other organized travel opportunities are offered by Elderhostel, the Sierra Club and Rascals in Paradise.

If an organized tour is too cost-prohibitive, consider going at it alone. How about camping at a National Park? Not only do seniors enjoy deep discounts at the parks, but there are plenty of kid-friendly activities like hiking and wildlife viewing. Had something a little more relaxing in mind? Rent a vacation house at the beach -- kids never seem to tire of the ocean and the sand. Remember it’s not as much about where you go as it is about the memories created from the time spent together.

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