Some road trips are memorable for the trip itself
-- the winding roads, the adventure of discovering what is around
the next bend, or the scenery along the way. Others are carved
in our memories because of the destination at the end of the road.
And then there are those road trips that are memorable for the
people who travel with us. Veteran road tripper Anne Sponholtz
shares some of her experiences and advice for trips whose special
guests are grandchildren.
Travel surveys are reporting that a new trend is
sweeping the nation. The reports indicate that more and more grandparents
are picking up their grandchildren when they set out to travel
- and sometimes Mom and Dad, too. My husband and I hit the road
often throughout the year, and if we can find an excuse to bring
along the grandkids, that is exactly what we do. Our daughter
and son-in-law often join us, but sometimes it's just the grandkids.
Either way, the younger generation brings another dimension of
enjoyment, along with a few challenges.
When to go on the road trip
Summertime is a great time to travel with grandkids, of course,
but don't forget most children attend school only 180 days a year.
That leaves a whole lot of days on the calendar for road trips
if your grandkids are school age. Weekends are great for day trips
and overnighters, and you can stretch the trip to three days if
the school's teacher planning days fall on Friday or Monday, as
they often do. Or book a holiday trip. We have a relative whose
special memories with her grandparents are Thanksgivings at campgrounds
across America. For longer trips, spring break is ideal; the weather
is usually good and the kids are ready for a break.
How many grandkids and how long?
Of course our grandchildren are perfect, not to mention smart,
beautiful and charming. But over the years I've learned that those
perfect grandchildren sometimes need a little help to make the
trip as enjoyable as possible. If the parents are staying home,
I like the ratio of one grandchild for every grandparent. I do
know grandmothers who are more courageous than I am, and pile
nearly half a dozen grandkids into their vans and take off on
road trips, so that call is going to be what works best for you.
We also limit trips with our grandkids to two nights as a rule,
but our grandchildren are still young - 8 and under. As they get
older, the trips will likely get longer.
Mode of transportation
The mode of transportation is not as important as the itinerary,
but as an avid RVer/camper, I strongly urge you look into traveling
in an RV, especially if you're planning a longer trip or if Mom
and Dad are coming along, too. Being in the great outdoors is
an adventure for youngsters (oldsters, too!). There is something
special about looking out your bedroom window at night and seeing
a fox walk by, or in the morning watching a sandhill crane search
for breakfast right outside your RV. And, if the kids are older,
they might enjoy pitching a tent next to the RV. Honestly, would
you rather be in a hotel room with your grandkids watching Sponge
Bob on the tube, or sitting around a campfire making s'mores?
The RV lifestyle seems to win out every time in my book. If you
don't own an RV, you can easily rent one; see the list of resources
at the end of this article.
Campgrounds are hot vacation spots
Many campgrounds are chockfull of entertainment. They often offer
candy bar bingo, water slides, fishing, swimming pools, crafts,
putt-putt golf, pingpong, beach volleyball, paddle boats, beachfront
camping, even museums and other planned activities. Some campgrounds
are gated communities and provide security, so kids can ride their
bicycles or scooters or go for a walk. (Be sure to check out the
campground and rules before letting grandkids take off on their
own, and always remind kids of any rules set by the parents.)
We have walkie-talkies, and whenever anyone leaves the campsite
they take one along.
A road trip that lands you in more remote campgrounds
can be fun, too. We frequent one campground that posts warnings
about bears. The grandkids like to help take the garbage to the
dumpster in hopes we might spot a bear, as one camper did. We've
never come across the bear, and it's pretty likely we never will,
but taking the garbage to the dumpster at that campground has
become an exciting adventure.
Popular theme parks - or maybe not
Road trips to big, popular theme parks are not on my list of things
to do with my grandchildren. I leave those adventures up to the
parents. We tried a trip to SeaWorld in the middle of summer once,
and quickly decided there are a whole lot braver grandparents
around than we are. The grandkids were preschoolers at the time,
and I think we won't recover from that adventure until they reach
college age. But for some grandparents theme parks are just the
place to go with grandkids. Several organizations will book tours
for you and your grandchildren to locations across America and
around the world. That might be right up your alley.
Get grandkids involved
Be sure to let the grandchildren help out with the travel plans
and other aspects of the trip; the more they can do, the more
they will feel part of the adventure. Give them a couple of choices
of destination and let them help plan the route. Older children
can help with shopping and packing. When our grandchildren spent
the night with us before a recent trip, I discovered that they
are great at lugging suitcases and all the other stuff that gets
packed for a road trip. Who knows, maybe they'll grow up to help
with the driving!
Are you a cool grandparent?
It's a good idea to test your grandparent IQ before taking off
with the grandkids. Television is a perfect source for becoming
a "cool" grandparent. Tune into Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon,
the Disney Channel or MTV, depending on the age of your grandchildren,
and learn a little about their world. Advertisements are a great
way of discovering what is going on at various ages. That way
when the grandchildren talk about the Penguin Club, for example,
you will understand they are not talking about joining a club
in Antarctica. After a couple of days of immersion, you can go
online and take a quiz to discover how "cool" a grandparent
you are. All this time I thought I was a pretty cool grandma,
only to discover I fell in the 70th percentile. What a bummer.
Take along lots of entertainment. Board games and a pack of cards
always make it on our trips, though there have been times I've
been sorry I brought along Sorry, as the grandkids wanted to play
it so much. Crayons and coloring books are must-haves for young
children; older children may want an MP3 player or handheld electronic
games. Many vehicles and RVs have DVD players so young travelers
can enjoy a movie to help pass the time on a long trip, and many
parents say they have saved the vacation. But road games like
collecting license plates or spotting cars of a certain color
are also fun for everyone. Of course, with young grandchildren
there are often unexpected moments of entertainment, like when
my 5-year-old grandson locked the bathroom door of the RV and
couldn't figure out how to unlock it. We did manage eventually
to get him out.
Take along the essentials
Experts advise taking along a notarized letter from the parents
that outlines permission to travel and arrangements for medical
care. Tuck away in your wallet the insurance cards and prescription
cards; the names and numbers for the children's pediatrician,
dentist and orthodontist; information about drug allergies; and
any other important medical information for each child. If the
children are on medication, be sure you thoroughly understand
how and when to administer the medication; get those instructions
in writing. Don't forget the first-aid kit (a key to the RV bathroom
might be a good idea, too).
We have taken road trips with the grandkids whose destinations
have included visits to art galleries, museums, forts and water
parks. We have been fishing, taken boat rides down rivers, enjoyed
baseball games (one of our personal favorites), historic districts,
great restaurants and not-so-great restaurants. We have gone to
beaches, campgrounds, islands and zoos. We have played in playgrounds,
climbed trees, hiked in the woods, sat under giant oaks and around
campfires. Road trips with grandchildren are extraordinary adventures,
not for the places visited or the roads traveled, but for the
journeys with the kids. Give it a try. I promise you will not