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‘Skip-gen’ travel trend adds a new segment to the family vacation

Small-group educational trips with other families are great opportunities because they give the grandkids time with their peers and give the grandparents a bit of a break, too.
Small-group educational trips with other families are great opportunities because they give the grandkids time with their peers and give the grandparents a bit of a break, too.Road Scholar

Today’s grandmother isn’t what she used to be. Neither is grandpa. They’re healthier, more active, and living longer. It’s one of the factors driving the skip-generation travel trend.

According to a recent AARP survey, more than a third of grandparents have taken their grandchildren on a skip-generation trip, leaving mom and dad at home. And industry experts predict those numbers will continue to climb once we’re back to traveling.

“We’ve definitely seen a quick rise in demand for skip gen adventures. In fact, it’s become one of the top niches in our world of active travel,” says Dan Austin, Founder and CEO of Austin Adventures, a leading adventure tour company. “It’s taken off much like multi-generational travel did a few years ago.”

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It makes sense. Mom and Dad probably both have full time jobs, and can’t easily get away, but they still want their children to experience the world.

Skip-gen vacations can help grandparents connect with their grandchildren in a more intimate, personal way.
Skip-gen vacations can help grandparents connect with their grandchildren in a more intimate, personal way. Lisa Boomer/Road Scholar

“Parents realize that a great solution is to send the kids off with grandparents on vacations that they don’t have the time to take and often can’t afford,” Austin says. “This is probably one of the main drivers of skip gen vacations.”

Also, there are often miles between grandparents and their grandchildren. According to a MetLife survey, nearly 80 percent of grandparents have at least one grandchild that lives more than 50 miles away.

“Gone are the days when the typical extended family all lived in the same neighborhood,” says Julia O’Brien, Director of Brand Management for Tauck Bridges, specialists in all-inclusive family vacation tours. “Today, families are spread out across the country or the globe so skip-gen travel is a great option for grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren.”

Patty David, AARP Director of Consumer Insights, agrees, “With more than half of all grandparents living hundreds of miles away, many are turning to travel to connect with their grandkids while the parents stay home.”

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Another overriding factor is the grandparents’ wish to create meaningful memories for their grandchildren while experiencing the world around them.

“Grandparents yearn to connect with their grandchildren in a more intimate, personal way,” says O’Brien. “They also have a desire for their grandchildren to see how other people and cultures live, and learn about and appreciate history and wildlife.”

Many grandparents see travel as a way to enrich their grandkids’ lives, and to learn outside the classroom and away from digital devices.

“A savvy grandparent sees travel as a head start for their grandkids,” says Austin. “It’s a way to make learning fun and to open their eyes to the wonders and realities of the world.”

Adam Stewart, Deputy Chairman of Sandals Resorts, all-inclusive beach resorts popular with families, agrees, “The increase of skip-gen vacations highlight the fact that experiences are becoming more valuable than things.”

Ready to ditch the middleman (parents) and travel with the grandkids? Here are a few tips from the experts.

Get the kids involved

Planning the trip together can be part of the fun and will help spark excitement. Consider their interests. Try brainstorming dream vacations and destinations. Provide options and information about the specific trips and let them help choose the trip or the types of activities they want to do on vacation.

“Kids love the feeling of being included in the decision-making, and be much more likely to be active participants along the way,” says O’Brien.

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Consider the ages involved; traveling with a six-year-old is a lot different than a teenager.

“When planning a skip-gen vacation, the greatest consideration are the ages of the children,” says Jennifer Shanks, travel advisor and owner of Family Adventures Awaits. “As a travel advisor, I make completely different recommendations based on the ages and needs of the children.”

Also, consider how adventurous everyone wants to be. A week filled with hiking, biking, and horseback riding may sound fun in planning, but could end up being too much of a good thing.

“When in doubt, we suggest first-timers start slowly,” says Austin. “Yellowstone NationaI Park has been our number one selling program for decades and it’s the perfect skip-gen first-time trip.

“A small ship cruise through the Galapagas Island is another great beginners’ adventure,” he added. “While it offers a taste of international travel, the activities are slightly lower-key but the wildlife viewing is over the top.”

Finally, be sure to plan far in advance so you can coordinate school breaks and other activity schedules.

Take one at a time

Often grandparents take different trips with each of their grandchildren, which can be more relaxing for the grandparents, and provide one-on-one time with their grandchildren. Many also use the gift of travel to celebrate a milestone in their grandchild’s life.

“Many families have established a tradition of taking a grandchild when he or she reaches a certain age,” says JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President of Programs for Road Scholar, which now offers more than 180 different grandparent programs in the United States and abroad. “The other grandchild looks forward to when they can go on a learning adventure with their grandparents like their older siblings.”

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Consider a guided group tour or cruise

A guided tour can take some of the pressure off with planning and logistics, and provide company for grandparents and the grandkids. And cruises designed for families are also convenient, with planned tours and activities.

“Cruises and small-group educational trips with other families are great opportunities because they give the grandkids time with their peers and give the grandparents a bit of a break, too,” says Jessica Griscavage, Senior Travel Advisor with McCabe World Travel.

Professional tour guides can also provide information, tips, and help with the kids.

“Guides are ready, willing and able to help younger travelers meet and accomplish challenges such as hiking, rock climbing, rafting, horseback riding, and biking,” says Austin. “They often become healthy role models for the kids.”

A something-for-everyone, all-inclusive resort is another good option. Look for one that offers lots of planned activities for all ages and on-site childcare for little ones.

We see skip-gen vacations as a win-win for everyone. Grandparents get to create meaningful, bonding memories with their grandchildren. And while they’re away, the parents get to play. (Or at least catch up on sleep.)


Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com