Planning a Family Vacation – without the Parents

Planning a Family Vacation – without the Parents

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There’s something very special about taking your grandchildren, nieces & nephews, or goddaughters or godsons on a trip – without their parents. Sure, it’s a lot of responsibility, but this is a bonding opportunity like no other.

Imagine, watching as that special child in your life marvels at the cultural gems around Europe, or as she befriends local kids on a beach in Costa Rica.

With the proper amount of planning and aligning expectations from the start, a family trip – minus the parents – can be an enjoyable way to spend your next vacation.

Travel writer Sherry Ott has traveled internationally with each of her five nieces, to places like New Zealand and Peru as part of her special Niece Project.

As Sherry puts it, traveling with my nieces “allows me to build an adult relationship with my nieces and give them a chance to step away from their family for a few weeks. It’s important for them to meet people of different cultures and perspectives.”

For grandparents, the largest majority of which are baby boomers, active travel is a great way to create cherished moments and memories, which will stick out for years to come.

Instilling a sense of nostalgia is important to us, says Christine Crosby, Managing Editor of Grand Magazine. “Having time alone with our grandchildren is probably the number one thing boomer grandparents value. It’s fundamental to building a special relationship.”

This is not to say that traveling with kids is easy – especially when they are not your own! This sort of trip is unique and can present unique challenges.

Here are some of our tips and resources for planning your next special trip with a grandchild, niece, or nephew:

1. Give everyone the opportunity to provide input into the destination and activities


It’s important to include everyone and make sure they have a say in the experience. It can make such a difference in the entire outcome of the trip if the kids feel like they were instrumental in planning it. This is a great way to cultivate trust and allow them to pursue their interests.

But it also involves compromise – adults will have activities they’re interested in as well, and at some point, it’s inevitable that someone will feel like they’re being dragged along. But, when everyone has been involved from the outset, you’re sure to strike a balance that everyone can be happy with.

2. Don’t feel the need to spend every moment together


If you’re traveling with a larger tour group, it can be challenging to constantly try and plan to do every activity together. Especially with many different age groups, negotiating schedules, logistics, and catering to everyone’s needs and physical level becomes a strain on patience.

Donne Davis, founder of popular grandparenting blog GaGa Sisterhood, says encouraging ‘pairing off’ is crucial for everyone’s well being. “Offer the freedom to split off into smaller groups – it’s nice because it allows everyone to spend time separately.”

Many tours designed with families in mind offer ample opportunity for adults and kids alike to spend time with other similarly aged travelers (and in a safe environment). Additionally, this provides for more multifaceted conversation throughout the trip once you’re back together.

3. Be prepared for homesickness


For young kids and tweens, homesickness will strike and it can be intense. For this reason, consider a destination where you will have reliable cell reception or internet access for skype so they can call home.

Also keep a routine, like making sure you always have breakfast at the same cafe or go grocery shopping at the local market. This will help minimize the over-stimulation and extremes that are often experienced by young minds traveling without their parents in a strange new place.

4. Rent a house instead of staying in a hotel


Hotels can be fun but impersonal. (And plus, younger ones may not quite understand the concept of the mini fridge markup). Staying in a home such as an Airbnb rental gives you the opportunity to experience something closer to local life, which provides a great educational opportunity for young budding travelers.

As Donne Davis adds, “it also provides a space where you can make home cooked meals and enjoy dinner together without having to go out constantly.” She recommends from her own experience to make a point of having a meal with each other everyday. It helps with solidarity and encourages sharing stories and thoughts about the experience throughout the trip.

If you want the convenience and amenities of a hotel, many tour operators such as Intrepid Travel and G Adventures offer the chance to stay in locally owned hotels, that not only provide a slice of local life, but also helps to ensure your tourism dollars stay in country.

5. Keep a vacation journal


Traveling in a multigenerational group facilitates lots of discussion as everyone experiences a new part of the world, a different culture, and new foods through a unique lens.

A journal is a great way to make sure everyone writes their favorite memories or comments each day. This will be a valuable keepsake for years down the road. It’s so helpful for young travelers to learn to gather their thoughts and communicate their favorite memories or discuss moments where things didn’t go as planned.

6. Consider a guided tour or cruise


Let’s face it – traveling with kids can be exhausting! Keeping everyone entertained with limited supervision is challenging, but essential to maintain balance. That’s why a small ship cruise might be the perfect option.

You cover a lot of ground, and every port generally offers a multitude of excursions – which provide great dinnertime conversation! Just check with the individual cruise line to ensure there aren’t minimum age requirements.

Guided trips don’t provide the enclosed security of a cruise ship, but they do offer a support system of the guides and other tour goers. Some tour companies are specifically designed to cater to grandparents and grandchildren, such as Road Scholar, Smithsonian Journeys, and Austin Adventures.

As Alison Gardner of Travel With a Challenge notes “Thanks to an ever-expanding menu of tour and independent travel possibilities, such meaningful generational journeys are more easily accessible than ever before, limited only by imagination and a realistic view of what each participant will enjoy.”

7. Go at a slower pace


In today’s crazy tech-driven world, it’s no wonder that older generations feel a disconnect with their younger family members. Grandparents in particular are heavily into traveling with their grandchildren to destinations that provide a more calming experience. Somewhere they can bond without the distractions of, say, a theme park.

Christine Crosby notes that there is an increasing sense that younger generations are losing the ability to appreciate the moment. And grandparents today really want to slow the pace down a bit, imparting their wisdom about enjoying the experience at hand and taking time to breathe.

Her top suggestion is National Parks. “Visiting National Parks is great for multiple reasons. First and foremost it gets everyone outside in the fresh air and staying active. Second it allows for a great educational moment. It’s a place where the grandchildren can develop a love of nature and become advocates for preservation when we’re gone.”

Other Important Things to Consider:

  • Keep important documents and numbers all in one place
  • Have a signed document(s) indicating the adult is the temporary guardian and has full permission to make important decisions if need be.
  • Make sure you are fully aware of any medical issues such as allergies.

By Samantha Scott


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