A Grand Adventure

Grandparents and grandkids hit the road together in a growing vacation trend.

July 30, 2000|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff

Before packing her car and leaving town, 65-year-old Peggy Ciniero of Columbia asked her two traveling companions to write a grocery shopping list.

That's how she knew to buy "salsbury steak, bred, melk, appljoos and blone" (the luncheon meat others might spell bologna) if she wanted to keep everyone happy.

Fortunately, she also had the list's authors, her granddaughters Molly and Caitlin, ages 5 and 6, in the back seat to translate. Together, they tried something they'd never done before -- vacation together -- and came away thrilled with the results.

"It was fun," says Ciniero. "I'd definitely do it again."

"I liked playing in the water -- and the sand," says Molly when asked to list her favorite moments during last month's Ocean City getaway. "Let's go to the boardwalk again."

"My favorite was the roller coaster," adds Caitlin. "It was scary going upside down. I'm never going on it again. Only when I'm 16."

Ciniero and her granddaughters are helping redefine what it means to go on a family vacation this summer. A growing number of grandparents are teaming up with their grandchildren as traveling companions.

Travel agencies report a marked increase in grandparent / grandchild bookings in the past several years. Some group tour operators have begun offering packages geared especially to grandparents traveling with children -- as well as several generations traveling together.

A survey conducted for the Travel Industry Association of America reports that 19 percent of all family trips taken last year involved at least three generations, an increase from the 16 percent in 1997.

"Being a grandparent is no longer just about sitting there and watching the calendar pages turning," says Helen T. Koenig, president of Grandtravel in Chevy Chase, an agency that specializes in booking group tours for grandparents and grandchildren. "Children make the best companions you can imagine. It adds a lot of meaning to the experience."

Ciniero, a retired Social Security Administration worker, knew she was going to be spending some time with her granddaughters this summer. Both Ciniero's son and his wife work. Since they live nearby in Columbia, she normally helps look after the girls for a few weeks during summer break when they're not at camp.

She decided to take them on a vacation this year because she thought they were finally old enough to make the trip without their parents. "It was a way to spend quality time with them," she says.

They stayed in a friend's condominium for a week, spending most every day at the beach. They even made a day trip to Assateague Island to see the wild ponies. When Friday rolled around, the girls' parents drove down to join them.

"I'd do it again," says Ciniero, who more commonly sees her grandchildren as an occasional sitter and at family gatherings and holidays. "It was wonderful just to be with them and see them enjoy it."

Travel industry experts say the trend is only just beginning. As baby boomers turn into grandparents, they are gradually redefining that role, and their vacation philosophies are just part of the package.

Grandparents today are healthier and wealthier than ever before. And increasingly, they are being asked to help raise the next generation. Perhaps it was only logical that they'd be looking to hit the road with that generation, too.

"Boomers want to travel with grandkids and share the experience with them," says Kathryn Zullo, a grandmother of two and co-author of "The Nanas and the Papas: A Boomer's Guide to Grandparenting" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1998). "We're more into the sharing experience."

Zullo, 51, and her husband, Allan, both of whom live near Asheville, N.C., often go waterfall hunting with their grandsons, ages 2 and 4, during the summer months. So far, the four of them have shared a dozen or so waterfalls, and the scenic hiking trips have become a tradition.

"I used to have this old-fashioned notion of a grandmother who has cinnamon rolls in the oven," she says. "But I don't bake. I don't knit. I'm not like my grandmother. We're into the hiking, canoeing experience thing."

At Sagamore, the former Vanderbilt camp in upstate New York's Adirondack Mountains, there is a waiting list for the popular Grandparent's and Grandchildren's Camp sessions in July and August. During their weeklong stay, the two generations take hikes, make crafts, swim and learn to canoe, says Beverly Bridger, director of the private, nonprofit organization that operates the historic property.

"It started in 1987 and it has just grown year by year," says Bridger. "You always see tears on Thursday nights [the last night campers are together]. We get some grandparents who come back with their grandchildren year after year."

That's also about the same time Koenig started marketing grandparent travel packages out of her office near Washington. A grandmother of six, she recognized a need -- a way to bridge the generations.

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