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We often talk about multigenerational travel. Having several generations of family members together for vacation is certainly special. But sometimes grandparents and grandkids need their own time. These skip-gen grandparent-grandchild trips foster bonds between the grandparents and grandkids while making memories to last a lifetime.
The global pandemic continues to steal precious time from all of our loved ones. We’ve missed so many special occasions including Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparent’s Day.
For those of us living hundreds of miles away from our grandchildren, it’s even worse. Video chats on Zoom, Skype and FaceTime help bridge the long distance, but nothing beats time together side by side.
As we wait for Covid-19 restrictions to pass, planning a trip with your grandkids might help ease the pain of separation. A recent study by AARP shows that grandparent-grandchild trips are one of the hottest travel trends. Approximately 40 percent of grandparents travel with their grandkids.
If you’re ready for a family vacation alone with your grandkids, this guide will get you started.
What’s the Best Age for a Skip Gen Getaway?
Grandparenting is a gift in so many ways. As traveling grandparents, we yearn for the day when we can whisk our grandkids away on an unforgettable adventure. Sure, we enjoy their infant and toddler years, but a skip gen vacation during those years would create more work than memories. We’ll get that solo trip with the grands when the time is right. But when is that?
While there’s no magic age that works for all children, there are some key points to consider.
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- Where do you want to take your grandchild? If you plan to go to the beach and settle in for a few days, even a 3-year-old can adapt. A theme park such as Disney — whether Disney World in Florida or Disneyland in California — always offers plenty of entertainment for kids 3 and older. But if you’re looking for bigger family adventures or considering family-friendly international travel, waiting a few years until age 6 may work better. Of course, your choice of where to take the grandkids will also be based on age, but more on that later.
- How does your grandchild react to sleeping in a new place? The last thing either of you needs is a sleepless night with a homesick, unhappy child. In that case, a day trip that ends with him sleeping in his own bed might be the answer.
- Do you have the energy and patience to keep up with the grandkids? If you have physical limitations, waiting for the grandchild to reach the teen years may be the best option. Of course, if your energy knows no boundaries, go ahead and take that always-on-the-go 5-year-old away for a few days. Your son or daughter will thank you.
Is My Grandchild Ready to Travel with Me?
Nothing beats time with a grandchild. As a traveling grandma myself, I couldn’t wait until the grandkids were old enough to join me for a trip without their parents. But I had to figure out when my grandchildren would be ready for that trip.
Does your grandchild exhibit an adventurous spirit? Or is he shy and reluctant to participate in new experiences? You already know some of this, but your son or daughter knows more. Start by approaching the subject with them. Listen to their opinions and concerns. You may think your 6-year-old granddaughter is ready, they may not. Don’t take it personally if they suggest you wait until she’s a little older.
How to Find Out
Testing the water with a brief trip close to home may serve to reassure them (and you) as to your grandchild’s readiness. I did this with my youngest grandson, Benjamin. I thought he was ready for a solo trip, but my daughter had concerns. She was sure he wouldn’t listen to me!
To combat her fears, I scheduled a glamping trip just 60 miles from home. If we ran into problems, an hour’s drive wouldn’t be difficult. It turns out I was right. Benjamin had a blast and listened to everything I asked him to do. He repeatedly assured me it was the “best trip ever” as he asked where we were going next. We’re making plans to venture further from home when the coronavirus finally leaves us alone.
Should I Travel with One Grandchild at a Time?
There’s no right or wrong way to travel with a grandchild. Factors to consider include your time, finances and the age and interests of the grandkids. Young children require more supervision than older kids, so traveling one-on-one helps keep things manageable. Of course, if both grandpa and grandma will be on the trip, it’s easier to manage more than one child.
If you have the time and finances to travel with each grandchild individually, it allows you to connect with your grandchild on a deeper level. Devoting all your attention to one grandkid makes them feel extra special—a rare treat for a child with siblings at home.
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Traveling with more than one grandchild works well if the kids have similar interests. But if you have one that loves military history (like I do) and one that could care less about statues and cannons (like his sister) it can be a challenge to keep everyone happy.
Sometimes I like to take all three of my grandkids. When that happens, I look for an itinerary that centers around outdoor activities like fishing, boating or hiking.
Where Should I Go with My Grandkids?
If your grandkids are at least 6 years old, they likely have some ideas about where they want to go. Arriving at my son’s house a couple of years ago for Christmas, my grandkids (then ages 11 and 9) called me to their rooms for a meeting. They had listed all the places they wanted me to take them the next year. While it was impossible to go to all of them in one year, we made it to a couple of the places on the list.
Beyond getting the grandkids’ opinions, you’ll need to consult with the parents. While my adult children typically let me decide on the location, they know I can be pretty adventurous, so now and then they steer me in another direction.
All inclusive resorts; a cruise to Alaska (once that makes sense again); educational travel to Washington DC, and visits to stunning national parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon (horseback riding included) are some kid-friendly vacation ideas worth considering.
Consider the Kids’ Ages
Always take the ages of the grandchildren into consideration when choosing a family travel destination. For example, a national park trip may be ideal for older kids and teens, but younger children may struggle with longer hikes. Consider their interests too.
As I mentioned, my grandson Marshall loves military history. He was a big fan of the Freedom Trail in Boston while his sister, Katherine, wasn’t quite as impressed. On the other hand, all three of the grandkids were happy on a blue crab safari in Charleston.
Most importantly, remember this trip is about the grandkids. While it’s fine to introduce them to places you enjoy — Broadway shows in New York City, snorkeling in the Caribbean, a river cruise in Europe, or whitewater rafting in Colorado — be sure it’s something they will enjoy too.
Preparing for a Trip with the Grandkids
Once you’ve decided where to go, the fun begins.
- Involve the grandkids in the planning as much as possible. Let them help you work out an itinerary. Remember to leave room for downtime. Even if you’re in Europe seeing a new city, taking time to relax and play an old-fashioned board game can be just as much fun as sightseeing.
- Have planning meetings with your grandchild through video chats on FaceTime or Skype.
- Write up a packing list for the grandkids. Keep in mind it’s best to pack light. You want the grandkids to be able to carry their own luggage if possible.
- Consult with the parents about any dietary restrictions. Even though we love to spoil the grandkids with all the goodies mom and dad don’t give them, respecting the parents’ wishes is the way to go.
- Set the spending rules. Before the trip, decide on an amount of money you can give to your grandchild to spend on the trip. Typically, I let them know how much they’re getting on the first day of the trip. Then it’s up to them to budget it for the week for souvenirs, etc.
- Get the grandkids excited about the trip. Try to find a book or movie that focuses on the place you’re visiting. The more they learn about the destination, the more excited they’ll be as they anticipate the trip.
Scheduling and Flexibility
Working around school and sports schedules for school-age grandkids presents challenges. Before tempting grandkids with family vacation plans, make sure the dates work for everyone. Once again, your best source of information is the parents. Have a chat with Mom or Dad to review the family, school and sports schedules to avoid conflicts and disappointments.
Consider trips during spring or fall breaks from school. If summertime adventures in the United States are favored, be sure to consider summer camp dates and possible summer sports tournaments before planning your trip.
In my family, it has worked fairly well to add my travel with grandkids on to the end of a family trip with their parents. In one instance, my son and his family were road-tripping from Florida to Pennsylvania and on to Boston. I met up with everyone in Boston, picked up the grandkids and continued their road trip adventures through New England and into New York. Although the grandkids had been on the road for several weeks, having a new adult take over breathed new life into their adventures. I’m sure Mom and Dad enjoyed the break too!
Another lesson from the pandemic: flexibility is key. Plans sometimes change and adjustments may be necessary. Be prepared to reschedule or even change your destination if necessary. The important thing is spending time together. Flexibility is equally important during the trip. Teach your grandkids how to go with the flow. They’ll be better travelers for life!
Legal and Medical Considerations
Amid all the itinerary planning, bookings and excitement, don’t forget the practical (and, yes, boring) side of grandparent-grandchild trip planning: the legal and medical considerations.
Medical Consent Forms
Accidents happen and if the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that sickness appears at the least opportune times.
Have the parents provide a form authorizing you to obtain medical treatment for your grandchild during the dates of travel. The form should include the child’s full name, date of birth, insurance information and brief medical history.
If your grandchild takes medications, a list should be included along with contact information for his/her doctor.
You can create your own form or use this template from the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Travel Consent Forms
While not necessary for a domestic road trip with grandma and grandpa, a travel consent form comes in handy as a “just in case” layer of protection.
If you’re flying, be sure to bring this along to the airport.
Also, although the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) doesn’t’ require identification for children under 18, it never hurts to check your airline’s ID policies prior to arriving at the airport.
For international travel, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection recommends having proof of parental consent to travel for a grandchild traveling without both custodial parents.
Take this one step further by contacting the embassies of the countries you plan to visit to inquire about any additional required documentation.
Remember, valid passports are required for all ages, even babies. For cruises or organized tours, check with your cruise line or tour operators for specific guidelines.
There’s no set format for the travel consent; however, you need a form for each grandkid and it must include the following:
- A statement by the custodial parents granting permission for the child to travel with her grandparent(s)
- The child’s birthdate and passport number (if applicable) and the birthdate and passport numbers of the grandparent(s)
- The child’s travel plans including flight numbers, hotel reservations and travel dates
- Notarized signature of both custodial parents
Above All, Have Fun
Remember, no matter where you go, travel can be a time of discovery for you and your grandchild. It offers a change of routine, the opportunity to try new foods and an introduction to other cultures. It also provides life skills that will benefit your grandchild for years to come.
When you’re considering gift ideas for your grandkids, travel is always a good option. And the memories you’ll make will last far longer than all those ordinary Christmas gifts!