Skip-Gen Travel Trends: The 8 Best Grandparent-Grandchild Getaways
Betty and John Knupp of Davidsonville, Maryland shared a love of travel long before their children or grandchildren were born. So when their first granddaughter, Maya, then 10, expressed an interest in wildlife, they invited her to join them on a trip to Yellowstone National Park. The trip was offered through Road Scholar, a nonprofit organization that sponsors more than 150 specialized grandparent travel programs.
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According to a 2019 AARP Travel Trend Survey, 32% of grandparents have taken their grandkids on “skip-generation” (skip-gen) trips — defined as grandparent-grandchild trips that leave the parents at home. More than 77% of boomer grandparents do most of the trip planning, and the majority (76%) pay, too.
Tour operators like Maple Leaf Adventures, a boutique expedition cruise company based in Victoria, British Columbia, has noticed a spike in skip-gen bookings.
“Grandparents have the time and money to take longer, educational trips and want to share the experience with their grandchildren,” said Maureen Gordon, co-owner of the company.
The choice of trip, of course, should take into account the ages and interests of the children involved, as well as the grandparents’ energy, mobility and budget. Most experts agree that when grandchildren are actively involved in choosing the type of trip and helping plan it, they will be more engaged during the trip.
“At a time when over half of grandparents have a grandchild who lives 200 miles or more away, skip-generation travel is an opportunity to close the distance and create new memories,” said Patty David, AARP's director of consumer insights.
The possibilities for grandparent-grandchildren getaways are infinite, but here are some of our favorites.
Visit a National Park
Best For: Children ages 8 to 18.
National parks across the US and Canada offer endless opportunities to experience and learn about nature.
The 18 National Park Adventures sponsored by Road Scholar (like the one at Yellowstone taken by Maya and her grandparents) are among the most popular of their grandparent programs. Think: surfing waves, learning about Pearl Harbor and exploring lava caves in Hawaii Volcanoes National Parks, or learning about raptors and birds of prey at Teton Raptor Center.
Families can plan trips to national parks on their own, but those organized by tour operators tend to be designed and led by naturalists and other experts. They also offer the advantage of enabling young people to make new friends with peers traveling in their group.
Learn to Sail
Best For: Children 10 and up.
The Maine Windjammer Association operates eight tall ships that explore the coast of Maine and the hundreds of surrounding islands. All of the vessels, including themed cruises, welcome skip-gen travelers. But two of the windjammers, Angelique and Schooner Heritage, operate special grandparent-grandchildren sailings (often in collaboration with Road Scholar).
Both novice and experienced sailors can learn the basics of sailing, including how to hoist the sails, steer, tie knots, coil lines and drop anchor. After days on the water, the vessels dock at picturesque harbors where participants can beachcomb, kayak, visit historic villages or learn how to paddleboard. These activities can be family adventures, or allow grandparents time to relax aboard the ship.
Visit a Theme Park
Best For: Travelers of all ages.
Theme parks are popular with everyone from tots to teens, as well as older relatives. If very young grandchildren haven’t spent much time away from their parents, a day trip to a local theme park might be a good choice. However, for those who can travel farther, the Orlando area is a mecca for skip-gen travel with at least nine major theme parks (including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, LEGOLAND and Discovery Cove) and a host of smaller ones, too.
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Orlando has more than 120,000 hotel rooms and 20,000 vacation home rentals, so there is an accommodation to fit every need. Many grandparents choose a resort located on the theme park's grounds. Some even offer kid-themed fantasy suites: For example, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Orlando Resort offers two-room Despicable Me suites that allow grandparents to have a private bedroom while the kids can play in their own themed bedroom. Other families opt for apartment or villa stays because kitchen facilities can be more convenient and economical than always eating out.
Tour a European City
Best For: Children ages 8 to 18.
Visiting an iconic European capital — especially one that appears on television and in movies — with a grandparent can be an unforgettable experience for young travelers. One distinct advantage of using a tour operator is that all the planning, logistics and hassles of airport transfers; getting from one destination to the next; arranging activities; and finding restaurants and accommodations are handled by someone else.
For example, the eight-day Tauck itinerary, Italia Bella: Rome to Venice, showcases three of Italy’s most popular cities: Rome, Florence and Venice. Participants visit the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and St. Peter’s Basilica, where they enjoy special access (read: skip the lines or visit after-hours). Tauck also arranges private experiences geared to the interests of younger visitors. By arriving a day or two early, skip-gen travelers buy more time to adjust to changes in sleep schedules.
Best For: Children ages 7 and up.
Cycling trips organized by companies like Duvine, Backroads and VBT Bicycling & Walking Vacations are wooing active, skip-gen families by offering a range of interesting trips geared to different levels of cycling. (For safety reasons, most companies do not allow children younger than 7 to ride their own bicycle.) The trips typically couple stunning scenery with stays at small towns and villages.
For example, the 10-day VBT Ireland: Galway & Connemara Coast bicycle tour appeals to families who want to retrace their Irish heritage and roots. Perfect for teenagers or adult grandchildren, the cycling is rated easy-to-moderate. Less energetic cyclists can decrease their daily mileage or hop on the accompanying support van. Some of the tour highlights include visiting Galway Bay and viewing the oldest Benedictine abbey in Ireland.
Take a Safari
Best For: Children mature enough to understand the risks of the wild.
Safaris are a bucket list item for most grandparents and a dream trip for grandchildren; they offer unparalleled opportunities to see wildlife while learning about different cultures and conservation from local guides.
One itinerary — among many in Africa and India offered by tour operator Micato Safaris — is the 15-day Micato Grand Safari in Kenya and Tanzania. Guests get to visit a conservancy to learn about rhino conservation; meet local Maasai; and visit Ngorongoro Crater (one of the world’s largest watering holes). There's also horseback riding, camel treks, hot air balloon rides and game drives. In addition to luxury tented camps, the itinerary includes a stay at the Four Seasons Serengeti Safari Lodge that has a world-class kids’ club.
Many grandparents are eager to promote the values of voluntourism and cross-cultural understanding. Through AmericaShare, Micato puts one child through school for every safari sold. Its one-day “Lend a Helping Hand on Safari” add-on enables both generations to interact with local children living in Nairobi.
Relax at an All-Inclusive
Best For: Travelers of all ages.
All-inclusive resorts make vacationing easy, and grandparents don’t have to constantly put their hands in their pockets to pay for extra snacks and sodas.
Many all-inclusives are family-focused with supervised kids’ camps and teen clubs so grandparents have some time off, too. For example, Grand Velas Riviera Maya is set on 206 acres of jungle and sandy beach. The resort’s spacious Family Suites (more than 2,000-square-feet) accommodate up to two adults and three kids. With private plunge pools, three swimming pools, water sports, eight different restaurants, two fitness centers and an expansive 90,000 square foot spa, there’s no chance for boredom to set in.
In addition to the supervised Kids’ Club, a “baby concierge’ is available to arrange cribs, toys, baby floats, gentle bath products and organic foods. Teens’ Clubs for travelers ages 13 to 18 feature video games, disco, karaoke, and teen-friendly drinks and snacks. Together, grandparents and grandchildren can bond over shared activities like cooking classes, lessons in food photography, eco-cycling tours and off-site adventures.
Sail Away on a Cruise
Best For: Children ages 3 and up.
Although most cruise ships allow infants six months and older to board, the sweet spot for a child to be old enough is probably older. On most vacations, but cruises especially, there are few opportunities to turn back.
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Cruises are great in general because you only have to unpack and pack once, and even if the kids go off to activities, mealtimes allow everyone to reconvene to discuss the day and share experiences.
Princess Cruises is just one example of a great line for skip-gen travel. There are family suites that allow grandparents and grandchildren to have separate bedrooms with two bathrooms connected by a spacious living room. There are also onboard children and teen centers with age-appropriate programs and activities geared to children ages of 3 to 17. Princess’ relatively new OceanMedallion (worn by everyone on the ship) allows grandparents and grandkids to keep track of each other’s whereabouts at the touch of a button.
Interest in river cruises has increased exponentially in recent years, and they may be a better option for grandparents with teenage or millennial grandchildren. After all, they are a convenient way to experience different cultures, cuisine, and sometimes even different languages. Even adult-centric Viking River Cruises reports an increase in guests traveling with adult children, especially on Christmas Market cruises during the holiday season.
Irene S. Levine covers over-50 travel for The Points Guy, is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, and publishes MoreTimeToTravel.com and GettingOnTravel.com — two blogs for over-50 luxury travelers.