By Marta Barber
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Slowly I made my way to the ancient pyramid, pushing through elbow-high brush and mud in spots up to my ankles.
I've often made such treks on my many visits to Mexico's more remote archaeological sites. But this was different. On this visit to Calakmul, a Mayan site in a remote area of the Mexican state of Campeche, I had my granddaughter Miranda, then 4 years old, right behind me.
Calmly, she pushed the branches aside while avoiding the puddles - without a single complaint. What a trooper!
I have traveled long and far with husband and friends. Now a widow, but still with plenty of wanderlust left, I have found in Miranda an ideal traveling companion. When the schedules of friends don't match mine, Miranda and I hit the road.
I'm not alone. These days, being a grandparent doesn't necessarily mean knitting by the front yard, and many still-healthy "golden age" citizens have discovered the joy of traveling with their grandchildren.
The numbers don't lie. Grandparents (many older baby boomers among them) now represent one-third of all leisure travelers, and more than one-third of them have traveled with grandchildren in the last year, according to the YP&B Yankelovich Leisure Travel Monitor. "Grand travel," trips taken by grandparents and grandchildren, is the fastest growing form of travel, the Leisure Travel Monitor adds.
"It's a fabulous market," says Helena Koenig of Grand Travel, a company that deals exclusively with trips for grandparents and grandkids. By 2010, she adds, there will be an estimated 80 million grandparents in the United States. "Not all will be traveling," Koenig says, "but a large percentage will."
And everyone's jumping on the bandwagon.
Cruise ships and resorts make special arrangements for intergenerational travel. Disney World has developed "Magical Gatherings," trips designed to help facilitate multi-aged family members by planning accommodations, dining, rides, shows and entertainment to fit all ages. Elderhostel, which once exclusively handled senior travelers, offers more than 100 different trips designed for grandparents and grandchildren, among them a five-night ride on a steam engine to the Grand Canyon that includes cowboy musicians and "train robbers" on horseback for $660 a person.
Companies such as Grandtravel and Abercrombie & Kent cater to well-heeled grandparents by offering special family itineraries throughout the United States and abroad. "African safaris used to be of great appeal to grandparents traveling with grandkids," says Grandtravel's Koenig, "but now Alaska and the Western parks are big." Grand Travel, for example, has a 10-day "Grandest Canyons" trip for $4,590. A&K has a five-day Salmon River rafting trip with rapids mellow enough for children of all ages starting at $1,891 per person.
For outdoors-loving grandparents and grandkids, the Sierra Club is offering trips geared specifically for grand travel, like five days of hiking and swimming in Tahoe National Forest, Calif., for $550.
And the list keeps growing.
So what about going it alone, just the two of you? Does that make a difference in your plans?
For where I go, no. But in the pace of the trip - you betcha.
By now, I should know. I started traveling with Miranda when she was 3. Now 7 and on her second passport, she has accompanied me three times to Mexico and Central America to visit archaeological sites; twice to Spain to see family; to New York City to catch the Christmas decorations; to Washington, D.C., to learn about the presidents; and to Williamsburg in Virginia to see the fall colors. There were also numerous trips to Disney World, Busch Gardens and Universal Studios in Central Florida. During spring break, we made our first visit to London.
So how do I manage? Start off by being flexible and keeping the schedule loose.
Though Miranda isn't able to sit with me at a bar while I enjoy a cocktail, I have found that the age difference comes in handy in some respects. Neither of us has the motivation to stay hours at museums. Neither of us can tolerate long road trips. Both of us enjoy room service or eating at the hotel restaurant after a long day of sightseeing. Neither of us likes being rushed. Best of all, she doesn't like waking up early - and neither do I.
On other matters, we compromise. That means we do some of what I'd like, and some of what she'd like - and not too much of any one thing. I mix cultural sightseeing with physical activity, downtime in the hotel room with theatergoing, jungle trekking with a dip in the pool.
In the variety lies success. In Colonial Williamsburg, she was easily bored with the guides' historical explanations. Yet she loved watching folks in 18th-century costumes and making piles with the fallen leaves.
In New York City, we spent hours in Central Park playing in the snow - a first for her - and gave up a visit to the Statue of Liberty. In Spain, I missed an important art exhibition in Madrid to stay in Chinchon, a lovely nearby town, where I could feel relaxed about letting her run freely.
So, how much freedom is tolerable? I judge the surroundings and make decisions accordingly. In small inns in Latin America and Spain, I introduce her to the staff so that she can go alone to the bar and ask for a Coke. They'll know where to charge it while keeping an eye on her. (It is such a joy to see her manage with her limited Spanish.) In hotels and resorts, she learns where to go for ice and sodas.
In urban settings, the rules are different. She must remain by my side. But open parks offer a chance to run free - though I'm watchful and careful, but not obsessive. After all, this is my vacation, too.
Flexibility and patience come in handy when it comes to food. Miranda likes few things and eats very little. So, I have to be accommodating, especially outside the United States.
In London, we dined every night at an ordinary pizza joint near Leicester Square where she loved the spaghetti. At better places, I have found that if I ask, restaurants are willing to prepare something special for her. At our hotel in Copan, Honduras, they offered to make white rice and top it with fried eggs, her favorite dish. We went there twice.
I want Miranda to remember the outings, not necessarily the landmarks. What is important is to awaken in her a sense of discovery, to make her understand that not everyone around the world looks, speaks or dresses the same way. Bugs, scratches and getting sweaty and dirty are part of jungle trekking. Getting dressed up is part of city living.
Now I have another granddaughter, Mia, waiting in the wings. She's close to 2. By next year, it's time to take her to see archaeology in Mexico. I'll probably ask her mother to come along, too.
TIPS FOR TRAVELING WITH GRANDCHILDREN
Unless you are traveling on a prearranged tour, here are tips that I've learned in my trips with Miranda, now 7.
-Keep it short: Four to five days is the limit a child will enjoy a vacation before wanting to see mommy.
-Keep it flexible: It's better to let children in some respect dictate the schedule. Everything works better when you let them wake up, eat and go to sleep at their own time. Don't go by the clock; be aware of their needs.
-Keep it simple: Don't jam the day with one activity. Choose carefully what you think will excite them and skip those that are of interest to you but too much for them. In New York and London, I always ended the day either at the theater or a movie.
-Keep it safe: Unless you feel confident about the place you're going, don't venture out with the child into unknown places. Remember, they are in a strange place with a person who's not a parent. They need to feel secure and you must exude confidence. In large cities, I avoid the metro during rush hour.
-Keep food around: Children seem to get hungry at the most inopportune times. Cereal boxes, chocolate bars and cookies have saved me from trying moments at bedtime and before breakfast. I take power drinks to jungle trips and, when available, stop at a market for snacks before retiring at night.
SOURCES FOR "GRAND" TRIPS
-Elderhostel, (877) 426-8056 or www.elderhostel.com (click on intergenerational). Many of Elderhostel's 148 intergenerational adventures cost less than $600 per adult, and often feature a lower price for children. Most programs are in the 5-to-6-night category and include daily instruction and hands-on activities, field trips and excursions, meals and lodging. Program example: "Spaceships, Stars and Alien Life Form: A Roswell Incident"; six nights in New Mexico learning about UFOs; limited to ages 11-15; maximum of one child per adult; $550 per person.
-Grandtravel, (800) 247-7651; www.grandtrvl.com. This is the only company focusing exclusively on grand travel. Trips are split between those admitting all ages and those geared to preteens and teens. Most trips are in the 10-to-15-day range, and include trips to national parks or exotic locations such as South Africa and Peru. Program example: "Peru: Inca Mysteries"; 10 days, nine nights visiting Peru, from Lima to Machu Picchu to the Amazon; ages 12-17; $5,990 per person.
-Abercrombie & Kent, (800) 323-7308; www.abercrombiekent.com. A&K is another high-end outfit with attention to activities that children would like. Trips range between a five-day rafting trip to 13-to-15 days in Africa and Europe. Program example: Alaska; 11 days around the 49th state with activities that include mushing, taking a float-plane to a fishing lodge, flying in to a hotel in Anchorage and whale-watching. Children must be at least 6 years old. Costs: $6,195 per adult, $4,330 per child with one adult or $2,890 per child with two adults.
-Sierra Club, (415) 977-5522; www.sierraclub.org/outings. Program example: "Grandparents and Grandkids Raft Adventure in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah"; An oar-powered raft trip to the Dinosaur National Monument. Three days for children 7 and older. Costs: $835 per adult, $735 per child.
© 2004, The Miami Herald.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.