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Survival Tips for Grandparents Traveling with Grandkids

by Mitch Kaplan

Giddy up cowboy Intergenerational travel is becoming quite popular. Many destinations and organizations - like Elderhostel, for example - offer special programs designed just for grandparents and their grandchildren. Still, traveling with the kids isn't as simple as having them over for dinner or even a sleep-over. It's important to consider the needs of each family member, from the youngest to the oldest. Some things to keep in mind:

Try a Test Run
Before traveling alone with your grandchildren, spend a little time getting to know them. Take them for a day trip or two; have them stay over for a weekend; try a one- or two-night local trip first. Be sure they're comfortable with the idea of traveling with you without their parents.

Limit the Brood
It's best to take one grandchild at a time, two at the most. Taking cousins together can be better than siblings; they're less likely to fight.

Know Your Traveling Companion(s)
Review with the children's parents any of the kids' special needs like medications, allergies, diet, rest, and even favorite (and "won't eat at all") foods.

Share the Planning
Let your grandchildren help plan the vacation, and keep the first one short. Be flexible and avoid over-planning by building in free- and/or down-time.

Everybody's Gotta Eat - And Sleep
Discuss mealtimes and bedtime beforehand. Fortunately, many grandparents are on an early dinner schedule, which works nicely with younger children. Also, if you want to plan a special evening out, make reservation ahead of time. Stash some crayons and paper in your bag to keeps kids occupied in restaurants.

Be Age-Appropriate
Gear plans to the kids' ages; if they're not happy, you're not happy.

Phone Home
Call the parents when you first arrive at your destination, and call periodically after that. Have the kids speak to mom and dad. Everyone will feel better - and it's good for the kids to share their adventures with their folks.

Take a Break
By choosing a vacation that offers some supervised kids' activities, you can gain a much-needed rest.

Let Them Bring Their Own Tunes
If you're traveling by car, especially with teens, we highly recommend portable CD-players and headphones. Teenagers' musical tastes differ vastly from most grandparents', and it's simply more enjoyable when everyone can listen to their own music.

Let There Be Light
Bring a nightlight.

Be Prepared
Carry the kids' health insurance information and a notarized statement from parents for permission to obtain medical care in an emergency. Tell your grandchildren about any medical problems you may have so that they can be prepared if there's an emergency. Pack basic first aid items - including a washcloth, tissues and some extra toiler paper.

Go To "Plan B"
"The best laid plans of mice and men..." When life throws you a curve - illness, bad weather, unscheduled attractions closings, whatever - you can still thrive if you have an alternate plan and stay positive. Assimilate the challenge and make it part of the adventure.

Don't Duck the Discounts
Many attractions and hotels offer discounts for seniors. Check ahead of time for bargains.

Go to the Pros
As noted earlier, organized grandparent/grandchild travel is becoming more common. Often, a cruise makes the perfect venue - plenty of daily activities for everyone, but other activities are shared, as are mealtimes. Look into Elderhostel (1-877-426-8056,, which offers intergenerational programs. Or, if planning a child-friendly trip seems overwhelming, try Grandtravel (800-247-7651; a tour operator/travel agent aimed at kids and grandparents.

...... Mitch Kaplan is the author of "The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids," a contributor to "The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids," and the author of "The Cheapskate's Guide to Myrtle Beach" and "The Golf Book of Lists".

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