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5 Secrets to Successful Trans-Generational Travel

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Trans-generational travel might as well be interplanetary travel if you’re the one doing the planning. Correspondent Martha Steger offers five suggestions to bring the generations together in harmony during the holidays and beyond.

First, look at the schedules of the three – or possibly four – generations traveling from different points of origin, not to mention from different perspectives and travel preferences.  Then you have to come up with the plan for meeting in the same place at approximately the same time, followed by plans for either a loose or tight coordination of on-site activities and mealtimes.

If everything goes well with grandparents’ first trans-generational trip, they – like my husband and myself – will undoubtedly want to follow up with a weekend trip by themselves with one or more of the grandkids.  I offer the following tips for both types of trips.

1. Take them out of the water while they’re still having fun

Rely on this swim-instructor’s maxim for almost everything related to trans-generational travel, i.e., don’t let any activity drag on past the point where all parties are enjoying themselves, especially if this is only a weekend, which both of our trips were — to Pennsylvania Dutch Country and Montauk, Long Island.  The rule is even more important when you’re traveling alone with your grandchild or grandchildren because if you can’t keep the good times rolling, a child will have time to get homesick (see tip #5).

2. Head ‘em up, move ‘em out (i.e., make transportation easy).

Choose places as equidistant from everyone’s point of origin as possible. Pennsylvania Dutch Country was about halfway between our son and his family in New York and us in central Virginia. With the Montauk trip, my husband and I traveled to NYC by Amtrak, picking up our 5-year-old granddaughter, Helena, from her father at Penn Station for her first solo trip with grandparents; the three of us boarded the Long Island Railroad for the 4.5-hour trip to the tip of Long Island.  Because she has traveled internationally with her parents, Helena asked, while on the long train ride, “Will we be in another country when we get there?  Will the people speak English?” Seeing a journey through a child’s eyes is the biggest reward of traveling solo with a grandchild:  Sometimes the child comes out with something she might not otherwise say.  It’s also refreshing to see the mode of transportation can be an important part of the story, more than just a way of reaching a destination.

3. Get the energy up early

An hour of energetic activity in the early part of the first full day will heighten children’s alertness for educational activities – or at least “infotainment” — later.  Our three generations rode bicycles in Pennsylvania Dutch Country before taking an Amish buggy ride followed by visits to an Amish kitchen and quilt shop at Kitchen Kettle Village.  In Montauk we hiked the beach with the ocean breeze in our faces followed by a historic-lighthouse tour with Helena.  One consolation in multi-generational biking is that few grandparents have to worry about keeping up with pre-school grandchildren on two-wheelers.

4. Make compromises, but don’t cave in

No matter what anybody says about  grandparents’ prerogative to spoil children, there’s life after vacation; and it won’t help anyone if entirely different standards are tolerated when a child’s away from home.  Pre-school children sometimes dig in their heels, especially when it comes to their non-favorite foods.  Helena always prefers to eat only carbs and chicken hot dogs — but knows that even on vacation she has to eat a modicum of veggies.  Buffets, which were available at our accommodations in both destinations, are good for reaching food compromises.

5. Tackle homesickness quickly

On a first trip alone with grandparents, even a child well traveled with her parents might tear up a few minutes after leaving them behind.  I was suspicious when Helena turned her face close to the train window shortly after we pulled out of Penn Station. When I saw her bravely fighting back tears, I hugged her tightly, reminded her we’d only be away two short nights and told her some of the things she’d have to tell her parents when she returned home.  She brightened right away. Bedtimes are often the hardest time without parents; a short phone call home can work wonders if you know parents on the other end will reinforce a child’s confidence.  Boost children’s spirits during a phone call by reminding them of everything they did that day they can mention to their parents.  We found this conversation brought smiles and chuckles to our 5-year-old’s face, especially when we reminded her of how silly we grandparents looked trying to play beach volleyball with her.

For more trans-generational travel ideas and advice, check out:

By Martha Steger for A Midlothian, Va.-based freelance writer and grandmother, Martha Steger is a Marco Polo Member of the Society of American Travel Writers. She has covered destinations ranging from South Africa to Bermuda to Maine.