Whether grandparents and grandkids live across the country or merely down the street from one another, traveling together gives them time to become better friends.
Edith, a retired nurse from New Jersey, personifies the growing legion of grandparents traveling with their grandchildren. In 1988, she took two grandchildren on a barge trip to Holland with Grandtravel, an innovative Maryland company offering tours that span the generations. This summer, she took four of them on another Grandtravel tour to the American West.
"My advice to grandparents is to do this while you can still crawl around," she says. "There is no sense in leaving kids the money -- they won't remember you for that. It is what you share now that's important."
The Grandtravel concept of trips for the new generation of grandparents like Edith was the brainchild of Helena Koenig, who has more than 35 years experience in the travel industry.
Several other tour operators and groups followed suit. Organizations such as the Smithsonian National Associates and American Institute for Foreign Study are finding that a lot of grandparents and grandchildren join family programs on which only parents and their kids were expected.
"There are 49 million grandparents in this country with an average of 4.2 grandchildren each," says Ms. Koenig, herself a grandmother. "They are fit and sound, interested in participating in the enrichment of their grandchildren's lives."
Travel also provides a way for grandparents to get together with grandchildren whose parents are separated or divorced. It's a chance for grandparents to give grandchildren with working parents some extra nurturing and adult time. It's a way to celebrate a birthday, a graduation or some other event.
Most grandparents decide to travel with grandchildren one at a time, usually when they reach a certain age. But Ms. Koenig recalls a couple who took all eight of their grandchildren on the same trip.
The two generations usually travel well together. One reason is that their relationship is not based on expectations, Ms. Koenig believes. "To grandparents, grandchildren are perfect just the way they are. I never see a grandparent on a trip trying to change a kid."
"There's a much different relationship when the parents aren't around," Edith agrees. "I remember my granddaughter saying, 'Don't lose Grandmother!' on one excursion. There's a sort of a reverse psychology at work, a sense of responsibility about the grandparents."
By vacationing with grandparents, kids can learn that there's nothing to fear about getting old -- that it can be a fulfilling time of life.
"Grandma isn't in a rocking chair any more," Edith says, "and that's the picture you'd like to project. Then when you become older, perhaps infirm, it will be easier on the grandchildren because they'll also remember you that other way."
Many grandparents pack the youngsters into the back seat of their cars or recreational vehicles. The two generations are finding more events and attractions to share each year, such as children's museums or aquariums with hands-on exhibits.
DTC But increasing numbers prefer the approach offered by a tour operator, dude ranch, resort or volunteer organization. Set itineraries and organized activities allow grandparents to focus on the kids rather than on trip planning. The best of such programs include enjoyment for both generations and are not just child-oriented. They also allow for some time apart.
"Our trips were split so that at times the kids had some programs and the adults another, so that they could return and tell each other about their experiences," Edith says.
Most programs are scheduled during schools' summer holidays. Koenig and others find that grandparents often begin actively planning a trip with grandchildren as much as nine months ahead.