Colorado resident George Garmany serves as the Governor General of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, so he runs a meeting in Plymouth every June. In 2018, he and his wife, Beverly, decided to take their now-13-year-old grandson Sam along when they headed to New England, and to travel with their younger grandson, 11-year-old Ben, this past season.
“It was a chance to bring them to a very different part of the country, where neither of them had been before, and to see something about the maritime experience and how the culture developed there, which of course is part of their family history,” Garmany said.
Sam was all about visiting the Museum of Science in Boston, and Ben chose to go whale watching. Both boys got to spend time at Plimoth Plantation and see the Mayflower II in dry dock, Garmany recounted. He said that the couple’s experience with their grandkids would have been different had the boys’ parents come along.
“Like most grandparents, we feel like we don’t really get enough time with the grandchildren,” Garmany said. “We certainly have time with them, but to go on a special trip like this, these will be trips that all of us will remember for the rest of our lives.”
In a 2018 survey by AARP, 61 percent of grandparents said they’re interested in traveling alone with their grandchild or grandchildren, and 32 percent said they’ve previously taken their grandkid or grandkids on a parent-less trip. These vacations are known as skip-gen trips, but have recently become trendy enough to acquire the nickname “gramping” — as in, one letter off from the luxe camping trend known as “glamping.”
Road Scholar, a Boston-based, not-for-profit educational travel organization, has been offering group experiences for grandparents and grandchildren since 1985, according to president and CEO Jim Moses.
“Back in the ’80s, the same phenomenon that exists today was existing then where grandparents and grandchildren were living in different cities in American culture,” he said. “And so it was an opportunity for grandparents and grandchildren to spend time alone together and bond with each other without the whole family dynamic of everybody else being around.”
Moses said that these trips were immediately successful three and a half decades ago, but as members of the baby boom generation have become grandparents, “the numbers are increasing significantly.”
Road Scholar’s grandparent experiences include riding horses through Yellowstone National Park, learning some French in the City of Light, and exploring the rainforests and rivers of Costa Rica.
Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism executive director Keiko Matsudo Orrall, whose office began tracking skip-gen travel data this past January (no data is available yet), said that a key aspect of skip-gen trips is finding activities that appeal to multiple generations.
“I think it’s a combination of things that are interesting to the grandparents as well as the grandkids . . . not just interesting to the 7-year-old, it’s also interesting to the 70-year-old,” Orrall said.
She mentioned the Massachusetts Whale Trail and Cape Cod, with its beaches, mini-golfing, and museums, as potential skip-gen options in the state.
Heather Mead, director of visitor engagement at Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, said that she began noticing that Heritage was particularly welcoming more skip-gen visitors to outdoor discovery space Hidden Hollow over the past two years.
“We always have seen a lot of family visitation. That’s always been a huge segment of our visitation,” she said. “But we were really starting to notice the phenomenon of lots of grandparent/grandchild pairings.”
Mead said she thinks Cape Cod works as a skip-gen destination because it’s a place that grandparents and grandkids want to travel to together, but it’s also a place where grandkids can visit their Cape-residing grandparents and find lots of activities. And she thinks Heritage in particular attracts these pairings because it accommodates people of all different ages and energy levels with its automobile and art galleries, gardens, and Hidden Hollow.
What it comes down to, according to both Mead and Moses, is creating time to bond and make memories.
“We get letters all the time from kids who have said, ‘I never knew my grandma was so cool,’ ” Moses said. “And it just gives them an insight into each other that you really couldn’t have if you were in a place that you knew already, or if you were surrounded by the parents and other family members. So it just makes the learning so much deeper. And it makes the discovery of each other so much deeper.”
As for the staying power of the name “gramping”?
“We’ve always referred to them in different ways, as intergenerational, as grandparent [programs],” Moses said. “But the experience itself is timeless.”
Alison Goldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.