Kay and John Nelson have a family tradition that's far from
ordinary. When each of their nine grandchildren turns 10, the
couple, both 70 and from Huntley, Ill., take the grandkid on a
special weeklong trip. "It's changed our relationships for the
better," Kay says. "We don't indulge them enormously, except for
this special week."
The Nelsons took one grandson to the Grand Canyon, and they have
taken one granddaughter to Prince Edward Island, Canada, for a tour
based on L.M. Montgomery's book Anne of Green Gables. Another
granddaughter visited the Virginia historic sites in Williamsburg,
Jamestown and Yorktown, and a third granddaughter experienced
backstage tours, including visits to the costume and prop rooms, as
part of a Broadway trip. "They learned so much--not only about the
places we went, but we also learned a lot about each other," says
Kay, a retired schoolteacher.
The Nelsons are among a growing number of grandparents who are
discovering the joys of seeing the world through their grandkids'
eyes. Multigenerational travel is an increasing segment of the
travel industry, especially trips designed for grandparents and
grandchildren--leaving the middle generation at home. "Grandparents
have the time, the money and the physical health, and they want to
spend special time with their grandchildren to mark a birthday or a
milestone such as a bar or bat mitzvah," says Jim Kackley, general
manager of Thomson Family Adventures (
), in Watertown, Mass., which specializes in family vacations to
such destinations as Costa Rica, Thailand and China. Kackley says
the number of clients who are 65 and older has doubled since
Most "grand travel" trips are offered during the summer, with a
few during winter and spring breaks. If you go with a travel agency
tour, you can find a specialized group, such as Custom Safaris,
which arranges customized multigenerational trips to Africa. Or you
can use an outfit such as Road Scholar, which offers a broad range
of prepackaged tours.
Linda Friedman, 66, chief executive officer of Custom Safaris (
), in Bethesda, Md., arranges about 25 bespoke multigenerational
trips a year. Typically each family has its own guide. One popular
two-week itinerary includes flying to Nairobi and viewing the
elephants and other game in Amboseli National Park, facing Mount
Every summer since 2006, Friedman and her husband have taken
their two grandsons, now 12 and 14, on safaris. The boys share a
tent. "I'm giving them memories for a lifetime," she says.
This summer, they visited the Samburu reserve. On the banks of
the Uaso Nyiro River, where herds of elephants, buffalo and zebra
roam, they saw a pack of wild dogs and viewed leopards three
nights. They watched baby elephants running into their stalls at
the elephant orphanage, a rescue charity in Nairobi. They also
visited the prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated on Robben
Island in Cape Town, South Africa. "Every day is an adventure. You
don't know what you are going to see. Tomorrow is always better
than today," Friedman says.
Tailored for Both Generations
Road Scholar (
), a division of Elderhostel, arranges grand travel for about 7,000
people a year to international and domestic destinations. (The
Nelsons took their granddaughters on Road Scholar tours.) Grand
travel business has increased by about 15% in the past ten years,
says JoAnn Bell, vice-president of programming.
The average age of Road Scholar grandparents is 70. One popular
itinerary is seven days in Paris, starting at $2,499 per person,
which includes a scavenger hunt at the Louvre and a chef teaching
how to bake croissants and brioche. Also on the top of the list is
nine days in Costa Rica, with rafting, hiking, zip-lining and
rainforest activities, for $2,394 per person. (Prices do not
Another large operator of intergenerational trips is Tauck's
Bridges family-travel program (
), which the tour company started in 2003. Sharon Bell (no relation
to Road Scholar's JoAnn Bell), brand manager for Bridges, says the
program offers 18 family trips a year to classic destinations such
as Italy, London, Paris and U.S. national parks. These trips are
open to families of all kinds, but Bell says about one-third of
travelers are grandchildren and grandparents only.
Tauck's tour operators tailor activities to both generations,
says Bell. "A good tour provider thinks about what an 8-year-old
can do versus a 78-year-old," she says. For example, she says, a
family could decide on a rock-climbing trip where the older
generation sits and watches from the bottom, or they could choose a
hike on flat terrain with rest stops.
For its grand travel, Road Scholar describes the activity level
for each trip. On its Grand Canyon river-rafting trip, for example,
it notes that participants will need to walk "up to one mile on
uneven and sloped terrain, sometimes in hot conditions."
Road Scholar also categorizes each trip by suitable age level,
such as 14 to 17, or 9 to 11, to increase compatibility among tour
participants. "It is so nice for the kids to meet their own
age-appropriate peers from across the country," says Pat Zelkowitz,
77, a retired doctor from Fort Myers, Fla., who has taken her
granddaughters, ages 12 and 17, on several trips including to
Paris, New York City, and Oxford, England.
Before you plan a grand travel adventure, you should consult the
parents first. They may have safety concerns. Nelson says her
daughter-in-law vetoed one trip that involved a helicopter outing.
Zelkowitz says her daughter prefers group trips such as Road
Scholar in case a medical problem arises for Grandma. To ease a
parent's anxiety, you could suggest that the child call home every
night to check in.
Grandparents also should involve the grandchildren in the
planning. That will build anticipation and help them learn about
various destinations. "I give three choices and let them pick,"
Zelkowitz says. Consider whether you want to fly, the distance you
want to travel and whether you want to stick to an English-speaking
country. Share reading materials, maps, photos and movies about the
Although your grandkids may object, agree ahead of time to
restrictions on the use of electronic devices. Tablets and smart
phones are great for taking photos and for staying occupied on long
plane rides. Otherwise, grandparents might prefer if they are used
only for private downtime in the hotel room. Be sure to take a
notarized letter signed by both parents that states you have
permission to travel with the child and to make medical decisions
for the child.
The trip doesn't have to end when you get home. "You have a
shared experience that you can refer to for the rest of your life,"
Road Scholar's Bell says. To preserve memories, Nelson makes a
photo album of the trip for each grandchild. Grand travel has
proved so successful that Road Scholar is expanding its market in
2015 to include trips designed for college-age grandchildren.