Traveling With a Gang of Grandkids

Going away with a group of all ages?

By Sue Poremba

Some grandparents do it to be fair to all the siblings. Some grandparents do it so cousins get to know each other. Some grandparents simply love having all — or at least a group — of their grandchildren with them at once. However, unless your grandkids are twins or same-age cousins, you should consider the challenges — and pleasures — the age differences create.

When you are first considering a trip with your grandkids — before you even mention it to them — decide how many children you can handle at one time. That may depend on the type of trip you plan to take. Also, decide with which age group of grandchildren you'd be most comfortable.

One grandmother I know loves to take a group of her grandkids to the beach each summer. But, she will only take those ages 7-13. She feels that she can neither physically keep up with younger grandchildren, nor keep late enough hours to properly supervise the older teens.

Once you make your decision, stand firm. If someone tries to change your mind, remember that your decision was made in the best interest of everyone's welfare and fun. A compromise might jeopardize that.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind that will help keep the peace throughout your travels with the grandkids.

1. Don't default all the plans to one child's needs or interests.

Your grandchildren have varied interests and attention spans. Frankly, it's easier to match your trip plans with the grandchild whose interests most closely match yours, or with the one who needs the most supervision. When you do that, you leave the other grandkids feeling short-changed and miserable.

It might be easier to have every dinner at a kid-friendly restaurant for a messy 6-year-old, but you'll miss out on local cuisine or the chance to give your grandchildren a new experience. Allow each grandchild to pick at least one activity during the trip. It could be an outing, a restaurant, or an evening's entertainment. Yes, there will be times when the younger children will be bored, but you don't want the older kids to be bored the whole trip, either.

2. Give your grandkids some freedom.

Younger children will need a lot more supervision than older children, but your teenage grandchildren might be allowed a little more freedom. Before the trip, consult with the parents on what each child is — and is not — allowed to do.

A lot of grandparents find it hard to give their grandkids freedom because they aren't around them daily and don't realize that the kids are growing up. Older grandchildren like to sleep later than younger grandchildren, for example. On days without scheduled plans, try giving those teenagers the opportunity to sleep in while you enjoy breakfast with the younger kids.

3. Don't expect babysitting services.

One of the nicest things about taking grandchildren of different ages on vacation is that the older grandchildren can help you keep an eye on the younger ones. If an active grandchild wears you out, it's easier to ask your older grandchild to be in charge while you rest, or to ask the older children to help supervise the younger kids at meal time or during various activities. While the older grandchildren should be expected to help out, don't forget that they, too, are on vacation and want to enjoy themselves.

When Dave Kelly's sons travel with their grandparents, they are given responsibilities. "Tell them it's important to help the grandparents," he advises. For older children, that might mean occasionally watching the younger children, but also give the younger grandchildren responsibilities to even things out.

4. Divide and conquer.

Travel expert Nan Zimmerman recommends splitting grandparent duties.

"Locate your trip in an area where you can do multiple activities," she says. "One grandparent can take one grandchild or more for one activity, while the other grandparent takes the rest of the grandchildren to do something else." This works well at amusement and theme parks, where older children might want to explore the thrill rides but aren't old enough to go off by themselves, while the younger children stick to the kiddie rides. "You can then meet for lunch," Zimmerman adds, "and switch groups of kids. That way you get better bonding time."

5. Plan down time into each day.

Traveling can be exhausting. Though they might not want to admit it, even older grandkids need an opportunity to unwind each day. Try to plan some downtime into every vacation day. Encourage your grandchildren to pack some items specifically for a quiet break from the breakneck fun. This might be the time when they are allowed to play with their video games, text message or call friends, read a book, or watch a movie. Choose a time that is the best compromise for everyone. Tip: Right before dinner is usually a good time.

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