Linda and Bob Rosenberg of Piermont, New York, have five grandchildren, now ages 4, 9, 11, 12 and 15. When each of the older ones turned five, the Rosenbergs took them to Disney World.
Summer vacations, and spring and winter recesses offered subsequent opportunities for getaways with their grandchildren: They have taken them on cruises and trips abroad, and on week-long stays at rental vacation homes in warm climates.
Each trip has created special memories for both generations.
“We’ve loved them all,” says Linda. “Our grandkids get a chance to be unconditionally adored and we get to spend time with them before they’re too old to want to be with us.”
The surge in skip-gen travel
An AARP survey of 2019 travel trends found that 15% of boomers plan to embark on “skip generation” trips this year, the shorthand term used to describe travel with grandchildren—without the middle generation (parents).
Booking data from Tauck, a travel company spanning more than 90 years over three generations also reveals a surge in both multigenerational and skip-gen travel bookings over the past five years.
A number of factors are spurring this trend. “Grandparents are staying healthier, more physically fit and active longer,” says Shawna Huffman Owen, president and CEO of Chicago-based Huffman Travel, a member of the Virtuoso network specializing in luxury and experiential travel.
“Travel has become more accessible than ever before. Social media has opened kids’ eyes up to the world at a much younger age,” she adds. “Many times, it’s the grandchildren who are initiating the dialogue about traveling with their parents and/or grandparents.”
Additionally, families tend to be more spread out geographically than generations ago and vacations are a way to bring everyone back together, says Julia O’Brien, a brand manager with Tauck. “Vacations are replacing dinners with extended family,” she says. “They offer grandparents a more intimate, hands-on connection with their grandkids.”
What you need to know about skip-gen travel:
1. There’s no “perfect” age
Readiness depends on a number of factors besides chronological age alone. Parents and grandparents need to take into account the social maturity of the child, the relationship between the grandparents and the children, and the trust between the grandparents and parents.
Susan Newman, a social psychologist who specializes in parenting and family issues, points out that grandkids who are used to spending time with grandparents— with or without parents (perhaps taking vacations with them or having them stay at their home)—will have an easier time traveling without parents.
Readiness also depends on the type of travel. Younger children may want to stay closer to home rather than go somewhere exotic with different foods, culture and language. National parks are often popular with younger travelers, says O’Brien.
The optimal length and type of a first-time trip depends on the child’s age and maturity. For example, a weekend jaunt to a nearby theme park may be just right for a younger child while older children may be interested in longer trips, perhaps a plane ride to a baseball game in another state.
2. Build the trip around the child’s interests
Most experts agree that kids who are involved in planning a trip from the get-go are more likely to be engaged when they get there. A trip to London may be perfect for the teen interested in theater, or a trip to Spain or a South American country for the child learning Spanish at school.
“The key to a successful trip is to find a “hook”—whether it’s a passion for cooking, antiquities or a place they’ve read about—and go from there,” she adds.
Before booking the trip, provide opportunities for the child to read, look at photos and videos, and talk about the trip so they know what to expect. Within reason and budget constraints, allow them to have some say in planning the things they want to see and do.
“In lieu of presents, my parents added money to a travel fund for my kids for their birthdays and Christmas,” says Huffman Owen. This created opportunities for them to talk about where they wanted to travel next and why.”
3. Get everyone on the same page
Parents need to be involved in scheduling, planning and signing off on a trip. Depending on finances and cost, they may also pay for all or part of a trip.
“For a successful trip, parents have to trust the grandparents,” says Newman.
Children can immediately sense when their parents are overanxious. If parents have specific concerns, they should be discussed openly and resolved before the trip takes place.
Remember, too, that with all the technological advances that have taken place in over the past decade, many nuclear families remain connected even when they’re apart. This should help reassure parents and children.
Because many grandparents have an innate tendency to overindulge, they need to be mindful of not undermining parental authority by being overly permissive, she says. Setting a daily or weekly allowance for souvenirs, snacks and other trips extras with the parent and grandchildren in advance can be helpful.
4. Remember your own age and limitations
Although today’s grandparents are less likely to feel as “old” as their parents once did, their energy, activity levels, and sleep schedules aren’t likely to dovetail with those of their grandchildren. For example, a teen may wake up in the late morning and a grandparent may require some downtime and rest before dinner. This may entail compromise and setting some realistic limits.
Grandparents on fixed budgets need to make sure that the cost of the trip doesn’t exact too great a financial toll. Determining the costs of a trip together with older teens can be a useful lesson for them, too.
5. Some skip-gen trips are more hassle-free than others
Since trip planning for more than one generation tends to be complicated and time-consuming, a number of tour companies and travel advisors (e.g., Road Scholar, Austin Adventures, Adventures by Disney and Tauck) specialize in planning these trips.
For example, Tauck Bridges offers a choice of 20 cruises and land tours across five continents, each specifically designed to engage family members of all ages. These itineraries include safaris as well as visits to iconic cities in Europe like Paris, London, Rome and Venice. Based on the company’s many years of experience, they know the pitfalls families typically encounter and how to avoid them.
Make sure the company you choose employs experienced program directors and destination experts. While group tours often include airport transfers, hotel accommodations, meals, ground transportation, entry to museums and other attractions and, sometimes, special access (e.g., skip-the-line or visiting over-touristed sites off-hours), find out precisely what’s included and what’s not. Also ask about the size of the group.
“Being a part of a group with other grandparents and kids can be a major advantage,” says O’Brien. “It creates a built-in support network and eliminates pressure. Grandparents don’t have to feel as if they are the sole source of entertainment.”
Some all-inclusive resorts like Grand Velas Rivera Maya and hotels like Lansdowne Resort and Spa in Virginia offer special grandparents packages. Because the definition of all-inclusive varies, ask what is actually included.
Both ocean and river cruises are popular choices for grandparent-grandchild trips. They offer the advantage of unpacking and packing only once; a range of cabin configurations; built-in options for entertainment and excursions designed for different ages and activity levels; and mostly-inclusive pricing.
A June 2018 report from industry association Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) named skip-gen cruising as one of its top trends for the coming year.
6. Attend to the details
Although IDs are generally not required for minors traveling domestically, it’s always prudent to be prepared for unexpected emergencies. Carry a notarized letter giving you permission to arrange medical care and make sure you bring along health insurance cards for your grandchildren.
For international trips, you will also need to present a valid passport for each grandchild traveling with you. In addition, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) strongly recommends that grandparents carry notarized letters, signed by both parents, granting permission for the child (children) to leave the country. The CBP website outlines the essential elements of such a document. See additional details here.
The bottom line
It’s not surprising that the popularity of skip-gen trips is soaring. These trips offer opportunities for cultural and educational enrichment for family members of all ages and allow time-off for busy parents.
Grandparents like the Rosenbergs see them as priceless and the window for taking them as time-limited. “Our eldest grandson, 15, already told us that we probably only have another year with him. He’s always traveled with his parents but now he’s starting to travel with other teens,” says Linda.
“A trip with grandparents, if well thought out, is a great bonding experience that both grandchildren and grandparents will reflect on and discuss—these trips add one more layer of connection,” says Newman.