If you are lucky enough to have grandkids, then you know how rewarding – and a frustrating – spending time with them can be. At their best, grandkids are a source of constant amusement and inspiration. At their worst, grandkids can turn a family outing into a family feud.
Since family relationships are so important to getting the most from life after 60, we wanted to offer some tips for getting the most from your next trip.
Simply put, while there is no magic way to make all travel difficulties vanish, there are many things you can do to make traveling with grandchildren relaxing and fun.
Here are some tips and ideas to help you plan a rewarding grandparent/grandchild vacation.
You probably have some thoughts on places to go and things to see on your grandparent/grandchild vacation. Your grandchildren may, too. By involving your grandchildren in the trip planning process, you are giving them age-appropriate decision-making power and teaching them how to plan meaningful travel experiences. They will remember these lessons long after the trip has ended.
If you have already selected a tour or cruise, ask your grandchildren to help choose optional excursions and plan what to do during free time. If, instead, you are organizing your own itinerary, get a map and a guidebook, sit down with your grandchildren and discuss the options.
Decide in advance what you are and are not willing to do, pay for and negotiate on, including souvenir purchases. Clearly state these limits if you are traveling with older grandchildren. With younger grandchildren, it is easier to offer a choice between two options you have previously selected and are happy with. For example, you could say, “We could either spend the afternoon on the beach or visit an aquarium. Which would you like to do?”
Before you hit the road, assemble all required travel documents for everyone in your group. Ask your grandchildren’s parents to give you your grandchildren’s health insurance cards and a notarized medical release form, sometimes called a “consent to treat” form, for each grandchild.
If you are traveling out of the country, you will also need your grandchildren’s passports and a letter from their parents giving you permission to take your grandchildren across international borders. This letter should include contact information for both parents and a brief summary of your travel itinerary. Have this letter notarized, if possible. Depending on your destination, you may also need to carry a copy of each grandchild’s immunization records.
Tip: Remember to pack your own travel documents, too, including identification card or driver’s license, passport, insurance card, immunization record, list of prescription medications and emergency contact information.
While you may not understand your grandchild’s obsession with smartphones, MP3 players and hand-held game consoles, consider permitting their use, at least for a short while, every day. This will allow older grandchildren to stay in touch with friends and give younger children some time to engage in a familiar and enjoyable activity. Be sure to coordinate with your grandchild’s parents so that you understand their rules. And, no, you do not have to allow electronics during meal times, even if this is permitted at home.
If you are traveling out of the country, find out whether your grandchild’s smartphone has an international data and calling plan. Be sure you and your grandchild understand the limits of this plan; you will need to monitor data use, in particular, unless you are staying in accommodations that offer free WiFi. When in doubt, turn the smartphone off. The last thing you want to bring home from your trip is an enormous phone bill.
Travel can be very tiring, even for energetic grandchildren. Build downtime into your daily schedule. You can read or rest while young grandchildren nap and older grandchildren watch television, read or catch up on emails. You will all enjoy your trip more if you schedule this unstructured quiet time.
Tip: Playing video games may not qualify as a downtime activity, depending on how your grandchild reacts to events within the game. Discuss downtime activity ideas with your grandchildren’s parents before you finalize your plans.
If your grandchildren are becoming tired or cranky, think about increasing that day’s downtime and skipping a planned activity. Even if you are taking a cruise or organized tour, you can find ways to accommodate your grandchildren’s needs. Take their wishes into account, too.
For younger grandchildren, this might mean asking for pasta with plain tomato sauce, even if it’s not on the official menu, or allowing them to wear the same outfit two days in a row.
Older grandchildren might ask to change the day’s schedule or make an unplanned sightseeing stop. Give their requests careful consideration, keeping their safety and your trip goals in mind. You don’t have to say yes to everything, but your grandchildren will appreciate your willingness to consider their proposals.
While you can’t control the weather, you can pack appropriate clothing, such as ponchos and sun hats, so that you can enjoy yourselves every day. Pack a card game or travel board game that everyone can play if the weather is so bad that you cannot go outside.
When things go wrong – and they will – remind your grandchildren of an important travel truth. Travel disasters make great travel stories once the trip is over. Learning this travel lesson will help your grandchildren see the humor in everyday life.
You can help add to the sense of fun by engaging your grandchildren in enjoyable, low-cost activities. Play travel games while you are driving. Find a park and join in a game of hide-and-seek, or use the playground equipment as scenery in an impromptu photo session. Try a bizarre food item together. Explore a grocery store and buy new flavors of potato chips. In short, share your own experiences as a child, parent and grandparent by playing as well as by telling your story.
Tip: Only you can give the gift of yourself to your grandchildren. The most important part of the trip is the fact that your grandchildren are traveling with YOU.
Tell your grandchildren about games you played as a child, point out birds, airplanes or anything else you enjoy observing, bring along a favorite childhood book and read together and take lots of pictures of each other. When the trip is over, you’ll all have plenty of happy memories.
What other tips do you have for traveling with grandchildren? What worked during your own grandparent/grandchild vacation, and what didn’t? Share your travel tips in the comments below.