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Close Relations

Unlike years past, today´s families are scattered. Grandparents are connecting with grandchildren in a distinct way — by traveling with them.
by Marge Fahey | Source:
Robert Levine´s family is scattered, and he doesn´t see his five grandchildren often, so he makes their annual get-togethers something special. That takes some doing, because three of his grandchildren live in Israel and the other two live in New England.

"I am actually trying to keep the family together," he says. "I see myself growing older and not seeing my family. That´s the way it´s gotten in this country."

Last summer, for the first time, he got all five grandchildren together someplace other than his Baltimore home. The 60-year-old grandfather took his grandchildren (ages 11 to 14) to Barcelo, an all-inclusive resort south of Cancun, Mexico.

Unlike years past, when it was not uncommon for three generations to share a household, today´s families are scattered. Like Mr. Levine, grandparents are connecting with grandchildren in a distinct way — by traveling with them. This trend is expected to grow as more baby boomers become grandparents, and the travel industry is designing programs to cater to this special group of travelers.

Cathy Keefe, media relations manager for the Travel Industry Association of America, says family travel is "definitely a trend." In 1999, this travel represented 19 percent of market share.

Ms. Keefe also says that 38 percent, or 4 out of 10, travelers are intergenerational — with all three generations represented.

"During the next five to 10 years, as we see more and more boomers enter the mature market, we will see an increasing trend with intergenerational travel," she says. Travel with grandchildren already makes up 16 percent of all family travel, she notes.

Marty Sitnick, executive vice president of Fare Deals Travel in Owings Mills, says, "In the last several years, we have noticed a trend. It seems to be a trend among the aging baby boomers — people in their mid-50s or younger who have children and young grandchildren."

Mr. Sitnick says cruises and all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, the Caribbean, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica are quite popular.

Mr. Levine used Fare Deals Travel to come up with ideas for the trip with his grandchildren. He chose the particular resort because its costs were all-inclusive and it offered scuba diving as one of the activities. Mr. Levine, his wife, Jan, and their oldest daughter became certified divers seven years ago "with the idea that would be a recreational activity we would enjoy together." The grandchildren also enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving, he says.

Joe and Peggy Pearson of Reston took their three grandchildren (ages 10, 12 and 14) to Disney World last April during spring break. The trip was a Christmas present.

"They spent three months anticipating this," Mr. Pearson says. "It was just a fantastic experience. Disney World was a great place to take the grandkids. Just the experience, the bonding, getting to do things. Every day was a fun day."

The Pearsons are in their late 60s and retired. They moved to the area five years ago to be close to their grandchildren.


Dr. Arthur Kornhaber is founder and president of the Foundation for Grandparenting, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the importance of grandparenting. A child psychiatrist, Dr. Kornhaber is the author of four books on grandparenting.

The foundation has been conducting a Grandparent/Grandchild Summer Camp at Sagamore, the former Vanderbilt camp in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, for the past 16 years. Dr. Kornhaber says he and his wife, Carol, started the program because they were concerned about the fragmentation of families.

"I did a lot of research of grandparenting and realized it was so totally important and that we were so disconnected, we had to find new ways to be together while separated in distance," he says.

Dr. Kornhaber has three grandchildren — two boys ages 15 and 13 and an 18-month-old girl. He and his wife recently moved from New Mexico to California to be near their youngest grandchild.

He urges grandparents who can´t afford to travel to do something like camping together or have the grandchildren stay at their home in the summer. Even short visits are beneficial, he says.


Helena Koenig of Chevy Chase became a grandmother in 1986. She was a travel agent at the time, and her newborn granddaughter was the inspiration to open Grandtravel to expand into this niche market.

"Today´s grandparents want to transmit a cultural inheritance to their grandchildren, and that is what they are doing when they take them on these trips," she says. "They are taking their grandchildren from cyberspace to real space."

Mrs. Koenig says the most popular trip is the Kenya Wildlife Safari, followed by itineraries in London and Paris.

Her firm offers something for everyone, with domestic tours that include major cities — New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston — and Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and Western parks.

Thirteen international venues, including Europe, Israel and Jordan, Australia and China, are designed to excite both age groups.

Mrs. Koenig has eight grandchildren ranging in age from an infant to a 15-year-old. And, yes, she does travel with her grandchildren. When her oldest granddaughter was 12, Mrs. Koenig took her to London and Paris.

"When we went through the museums and she saw the Magna Carta, she said, ´Grandma, this is just like the Declaration of Independence,´ " Mrs. Koenig says.

"I have always said it´s the responsibility of the adult to introduce joy to a child," Mrs. Koenig adds. "Who is better qualified to do that than grandparents?"


Elderhostel began its intergenerational program in the mid-1980s as a result of feedback from hostelers. In 1999, it expanded its intergenerational program by adding an international flavor with trips to Ireland, Greece and Norway. An indication of the popularity of the Elderhostel intergenerational programs is that approximately 3,600 hostelers enrolled in them in 1999 and the same number in 2000.

The spring 2001 catalog offers 60 listings, ranging from an environmental program on the big island of Hawaii to a program in Minnesota in which hostelers build a canoe.

The summer catalog includes 115 courses. Among the offerings are a trip to the International Wolf Center in Duluth, Minn., to learn about the habits and habitats of the gray wolf and to the Penobscot Bay area in Maine.

"We try to have a broad range of programs and pricing," says Despina Gakopoulos, a spokesman for Elderhostel.

Mary and Robert Niedzieski of Toledo, Ohio, are in their mid-60s and have participated in the Elderhostel intergenerational programs. They have four grandchildren; their oldest, 12-year-old Katie, lives in Naperville, Ill., and has traveled with them for the past three summers.

"These programs are marvelous because we get to share time with her that´s very special. We hope to do it with all the grandkids when they get old enough," Mrs. Niedzieski says.

The first trip they took was to Niagara Falls, where the three did art projects together and took in the sights. The second summer, they attended a program at Trinity College in the District. In addition to sightseeing, grandchildren in the group kept a journal. At the end of the week, each grandchild wrote an article about the experience, and the Elderhostel staff put together a newspaper with photos as a special memento of the trip.

Last summer, the Niedzieskis and their granddaughter went to Old Salem Village in North Carolina, where they learned about the crafts of that circa-1790s historic town.

Generation G

Loews Hotels introduced its Generation G packages for grandparents and grandchildren last summer.

"We see the demographics shifting," says Emily Kanders, a spokeswoman for Loews. "There are a lot of baby boomers that are now grandparents. They are very active. This generation has more [disposable] income than before."

Loews operates the program in 17 of its hotels around the country. Chara Hutzell, sales manager for the Loews Annapolis Hotel, says it has three packages that accommodate two grandparents and up to three grandchildren.

Simply Grand is a per-night package for $199 that includes a memory photo album, a family history package, a disposable camera, a free movie coupon with a box of popcorn, postcards, a child´s cookbook and a phone-home calling card.

The Grand Adventure includes a city tour with costumed guides, a two-hour cruise of the Chesapeake Bay on a tour boat and the amenities included above. This package costs $299 a night.
To go more upscale, In Grand Style includes a two-night stay in a premier suite; dinner for five in the hotel restaurant; a limousine to the marina, where a 50-foot yacht awaits for a three-hour private charter; and a gourmet picnic basket. This package is $1,500 for the two-night stay.

Grandparents Travel Club

Richard and Charlotte Peterson own Coronado Travel Group, an agency in Long Island. They have 13 grandchildren and have traveled extensively with them.

The Petersons saw a need and late last year established the Grandparents Travel Club. Deborah Shannon-Orgel, a travel agent who has specialized in family travel for the past eight years, was put in charge of the program.

"We came up with a booklet describing points for traveling with grandchildren," she says.

There is no cost to join the club, and it offers special rates on cruises and air fare and help with choosing an appropriate destination.

"We did the Grand Canyon this year with my 11-year-old son," she says. "Just to see the joy in his face to spend time like that with his grandparents — I think it´s a great thing."

Making memories

Grandparents don´t have to take a grandchild on an expensive trip to create special memories, says Dr. Kornhaber, who adds that grandchildren just like to "hang out."

"They want to hear stories about the grandparents, the past and their ancestors," he says. "They really want to know the person. We are very powerful role models for our grandchildren. We have a lot of meaning for them at a very deep level."

Margaret Hollidge, grandmother of 8-year-old Corey Hollidge of Annapolis, says she took Corey on a camping trip when he was 5 years old. The two went to Yogi Bear Park in Luray, Va., for four days and walked in the woods and went fishing in the pond.

"This year, we are going to Niagara Falls for 10 days — just the two of us," says Mrs. Hollidge, a spokewoman for AARP.

"In two years, we are going to Scotland for a month — he is thrilled. He wants to know about the history of Scotland and his ancestors. He wants to see the grave of bonnie Prince Charlie. I told him I would take him to the family cemetery, and he got so sad. ´Gram when you die, could I have your house?´ Why would you want to have my house? I asked. ´So I could remember your soul.´ "

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