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While multi-generational travel has been gaining momentum for some time now, the even hotter trend may be for “skip-gen” trips where grandparents and grandchildren take off together and leave the parents at home.
Skip-gen travel was a major focus of the 2019 Family Travel Survey jointly conducted by the Family Travel Association and New York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, which reported that 37 percent of the grandparent respondents intend to take their grandchildren on a trip during the next three years. Most said they desired to bond with their grandchildren by spending extended time with them.
“What’s driving skip-gen travel is that many grandparents these days are healthier and more active than they were in the past,” said Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association, an organization for travel advisors and suppliers focused on family travel. “A lot of grandparents told us they wanted to pass down shared experiences with their grandchildren, not just give them money.”
Another factor behind the trend is that grandparents, who are often retired, have more flexibility to travel than the middle generation does, he added.
“Often parents of kids who are eight to 12 years old, which are prime years for family travel, are at the peak of the careers and need to focus on their jobs,” Jenss said. “The retired grandparent doesn’t need to worry about this.”
Other family travel experts also note that since many families now live far apart and that children often have busy schedules, the time that grandparents get to spend with their grandchildren is often limited.
“For many of my clients who are grandparents, a trip is a rare opportunity to get to know their grandchildren,” said Nicole Schick, owner of
Kids Approved Travel in San Diego. “Even if you live in the same town as your grandkids, you may not get to see them much because kids are so often overbooked with activities. So spending a week or a few days with them is valuable one-on-one time.”
Also noting growing demand for skip-gen business, Amanda Klimak, owner of Largay Travel in Waterbury, Connecticut, said it’s not too difficult to encourage more of it.
“Travel advisors who work with clients who they know are grandparents can make the suggestion of a grandparent/grandchild trip,” she said. “Planting the seed is often all it takes.”
Talk to the Kids
In some ways, planning a skip-gen trip is a bit easier for travel advisors than one where the needs of three or more generations are involved, according to Family Travel Association’s Jenss.
“Multi-generational trips can be tricky because you have so many different interests to balance — the parents may just want to relax,” he said. “It’s also less complicated in that it costs less and there is less conflict with various time schedules, including when parents can take off time from work.”
What travel advisors do need to be aware of with skip-gen travel is that getting the grandchildren involved with the planning is crucial.
“To get engagement and buy-in, you’ve got to talk to the kids, not just the grandparents,” Jenss said. “You need to find out directly where the kids want to go and what they want to do. They may not share their grandparents’ interests and sometimes the grandparents don’t ask them what those are.”
Eileen Ogintz, a syndicated columnist and author of the blog Taking the Kids, agreed, adding that even if the grandparents think they know what the kids like to do, the information might not be current.
“Kids change so fast. If they were excited about dinosaurs when you saw them last, they could be over that now,” she said. “The other thing is that kids often have great ideas about what to do on a trip. They’re web-savvy and really know what’s going on.”
Jenss also noted that kids are increasingly influencing family travel decisions.
“Kids are the ones most tied into pop culture, which is having a huge impact on where people are going,” he said. “Look what the movie Frozen has done for Scandinavia.”
Although the parent generation won’t be going along, Klimak said they should be involved in the trip planning process as well.
“Including the parents is often helpful in relieving the stress and encouraging future trips,” she said. “Having an advocate and confidence with the parents will help to make the journey that much better.”
Family Friendly Choices
What are the best choices for skip-gen trips? Ogintz recommends cruises, all-inclusive resorts, and organized experiences offered by Adventures by Disney and Austin Adventures. She particularly likes Road Scholar, which has a large number of offerings specifically for grandparents traveling with grandchildren.
“The advantage is that you’re not responsible for entertaining your grandchild 24/7,” she said. “You get experts who will help plan the itinerary and there will be other kids for the grandchildren to hang out with, which is important.”
Ogintz noted that a growing number of tour companies, including those that are adventure-oriented, are offering family travel options that can please grandparents and kids alike.
“For example, I was recently on a trip with the rafting company OARS and a lot of the participants were over 70,” she said. “They told me they got a lot of skip-gen business because rafting is something you can do even when your knees aren’t so great and you can no longer go backpacking.”
For those who can afford it, an African safari is the ultimate skip-gen experience, Schick said.
“Safaris are one of the best options for families, whether skip-gen or multi-generational,” she said. “With the morning and late afternoon game drives you get an exciting shared experience, while there’s time in between where the kids can go to the kid’s club and adults can do their own thing. It’s also great for people with mobility issues because there’s not a lot of walking and yet it’s an adventure.”
When it comes to cruises, Schick thinks small-ship expedition-style cruises work better than those on large ships.
“On small-ship cruises, where there aren’t as many distractions as on a big ship, families spend more time outdoors doing things together,” she said. “Safety issues are also a big concern to grandparents and they don’t have to worry about their grandchildren getting lost on a big ship.”
Whatever the choice, Schick thinks the opportunity for shared experiences, which is what many families are seeking, is the most important consideration.
“Family travel used to be about dumping the kids at the kids’ club while the adults relaxed at the pool,” she said. “Now it’s about making memories together.”