Galloping Grandparents

Something has been creeping over the travel industry in the last three years. Like a fog rolling over the moors of England, it goes unnoticed until you are in its midst. Rising prices? Nope. Falling prices? Nope. The next time you are on a trip, check out the crowd and you’ll see what I mean. While the traditional family still travels together, now they’re bringing Grandmom and Grandpop — or are Grandmom and Grandpop bringing the family?

Intergenerational travel has become a huge market for the travel industry as the baby boomers age. Older travelers are no longer content to take bus tours with the blue-haired crowd or hire dancing companions on upscale cruises. They want to explore new destinations, to have active vacations, to experience some adventure — and they want to bring the extended family.

Grandtravel, a Washington, D.C., travel supplier, saw the future 20 years ago, and they’ve been organizing trips for grandparents and grandchildren ever since. Founder Helena Koenig says that today’s seniors are more interested in leaving a legacy than an inheritance.

“Grandparents want to make their money talk,” Koenig says. “They want their grandchildren to inherit memories. What good does money do once you are gone? But travel — travel is unforgettable.”

The numbers bear her out. According to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), a full 30 percent of traveling grannies have taken at least one trip with a grandchild. Even more startling (at least to me) was a study by industry consultants Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell that showed almost 60 percent of kids ages 6-17 would really like to vacation with their grandparents.

While Grandtravel is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience with tours to destinations like Kenya, Greece and Russia, the experience does not come cheap. Most tours (which typically include meals and the most deluxe of accommodations) run from $5,000 per person. However, if you are looking for an amazing experience — look no farther.

Should your budget be slightly (or considerably) smaller, there are plenty of other options. Elderhostel, which has long provided outstanding educational travel experiences for seniors 55 and older, now offers many intergenerational tours to domestic and international locations through its Elderhostel Intergenerational Programs. The programs are designed to allow adults (grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, etc.) to participate in a learning experience with their younger relatives and extended families. As Elderhostel puts it, “Sharing new ideas, challenges, and experiences is rewarding in every season of life.”

The Grandtravel and Elderhostel programs are specially designed for intergenerational sets of clients, but don’t write off more traditional cruises and escorted tours. They can work for intergenerational families, as well. Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, now offers family suites with two or more bedrooms, a spacious balcony and plenty of room to accommodate everyone’s privacy. And Tauck World Discovery, a well-respected escorted-tour operator, has a spectacular line of 11 intergenerational tours called Tauck Bridges, offering such destinations as Europe, the Galapagos, Alaska, Hawaii and the jungles of Costa Rica.

There is a world out there to explore, and today’s seniors are ready to explore it — alone, and with their families. Talk to any financial analyst and you’ll find that we are in the midst of the largest generational transfer of wealth in history. There is more expendable income today than ever before, and travel is one of the top lures for that money.

Money plus time will always equal an unforgettable travel experience. So, Grandpa, go ahead, put down that deposit on the retirement community, but don’t make the first payment — not yet!

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