Grandparents might economize elsewhere, but we don't want to cut back on traveling with our grandchildren. We've learned from experience when it makes sense to choose the budget-friendly option, and when to pay a little more.
The age of the grandchild and the destination influences our decisions about the way we'll travel, where we'll stay, whether or not we'll have a guided tour and, of course, dining. But grandparents agree that their grandchild's safety is number one on any trip.
"When I'm traveling with grandchildren, I always opt for safety first, then suiting the trip to the age of the child," says Penny Hastings of Santa Rosa, Calif. "I'll pay more for lodging if it's safer and I’ll take a cab with them if I feel it's safer."
Here are some spend-and-splurge tips from veteran travelers.
Splurge on nonstop flights (but avoid the red-eyes).
Lisa Edwards, a grandmother in Deer Park, Tex., likes to fly with her 3-year-old grandson, Andrew. But with all his gear and clothing, she picks nonstop flights.
If she can’t find an inexpensive flight, driving is second choice. "We try to plan plenty of stops, so Andrew isn’t stuck in his car seat for hours at a time," Edwards says .
"I would not take a red-eye flight with a child," says Sally Wendkos Olds, grandmother of five and author of Super Granny (Sterling). "This is where I would opt to spend more. Travel is hard enough without disrupting sleep schedules and [their] arriving cranky."
Save by taking the train or driving.
If possible, Carol Tucker, grandmother of four in Naperville, Ill., prefers the train. She says the train ride creates half the adventure of the trip.
"I almost always prefer to drive," says Claude Sirmons, grandfather of three from Houston, Tex. "We travel in order to share the sights with our grandchildren and to experience history, and we can do that best while driving."
Splurge on a central location.
Staying in a central location makes the most sense to the grandparents polled here.
Tucker likes to be able to walk to attractions from her hotel base, especially if she and her grandkids are visiting a city.
Hastings agrees. "When we went to a natural preserve for elephant seals and the beach, we stayed two nights in Santa Cruz, Calif. I chose a higher-priced motel because I wanted to be right across from the Beach Boardwalk, an amusement park that I knew my grandchildren would love."
Olds, who lives in Port Washington, N.Y., also says she likes to stay close to the action and not have to take time traveling back and forth.
But not all grandparents agree. Sirmons doesn’t mind being in a more remote area if the price is right.
Save on meals in a homelike setting.
An apartment, condominium, villa, or suite allows you to cook and eat your meals in, avoiding expensive restaurants. And it gives you more privacy and comfort than a hotel. Author Olds says she prefers "a more homelike setting. Both times we went to Berlin, we rented an apartment."
Save by avoiding organized tours.
Everyone agrees that most grandchildren weren’t suited to sightseeing tours and preferred to find their own way. Olds says sightseeing tires children and that makes it difficult for them to keep up with someone else’s schedule. "By not taking organized tours, we may not have seen all the sights we could have," she says, "but we enjoyed the ones we did see without the pressure of having to be someplace at a specified time."
"I like to plan my own tours because some of the ways I want to be with my grandchildren are more spontaneous," says Hastings. "I also like to include them in the planning."
Taking a child on an organized tour may even draw dirty looks from the other tourists. Tucker says that when she took her 7-year-old grandson on a fishing excursion offered on a cruise, people were standoffish at first. But when he caught the first fish of the day, their opinions changed; others on the boat talked to him and showed him their bait.
Splurge on specialized tours or a memorable experience.
Sometimes a tour is the only way to have a special experience. Tours that cater to children offer opportunities for hands-on involvement and kid-friendly adventures you may not get in a standard adult tour. Penny Hastings advises taking the tour if it's the best way to see something special, or if it’s geared for kids.
Olds offers wise advice: "Before you plan to splurge on any activity, it’s a good idea to ask the child first if they’re interested."
Taking her 7-year-old granddaughter Nina to the American Girl Place in New York City was one of those days that will remain etched in the girl’s memory. They had lunch with dolls occupying seats next to their owners and saw a musical. Olds says the best part was seeing Nina's daylong smile.
Making a lasting memory doesn't always have to be expensive. Sirmons cites a time when he and his wife were in Nova Scotia with three of their grandchildren. They walked to the pier where they saw lobsters for sale. The kids wanted to try them, so Sirmons borrowed a pot and cooked one for dinner. That was an adventure and a learning experience rolled into one.
Splurge with your time, save your money.
Perhaps the best counsel comes from Sirmons. The supreme splurge is counted in days and minutes, not dollars and cents. Be lavish with your time, not your money. "When it comes to traveling with your grandchildren, more is better!" says Sirmons. "I think it's better to take ten trips where you are spending time with them, than one trip that you splurge on."
Pick a good tour book and map to explore a destination at your own pace and indulge each individual's interests.
When choosing more remote lodging, look for access to a subway line or public transportation so you don’t have to rely on taxis.
Don't surprise them. Clue your grandchildren in on what's happening so they have the pleasure of anticipation.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.