Traveling With Teenage Grandchildren

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The Dobrins on a gondola ride
The Dobrins on a gondola ride

By Lyn and Arthur Dobrin

We got the idea of a travel vacation with a grandchild from a friend who, for a 13th birthday present, offered to take her grandchildren anywhere they wanted to go. That prompted us to make the same offer to our three grandkids: We’ll take you anywhere in the world you want.

We did have a few conditions with this proposition and if their proposal conflicted with one of them, we had the right to veto the choice. The first is that it couldn’t be someplace we absolutely didn’t want to go, for whatever reason. This could be a matter of safety or merely a strong, personal dislike on our part. Another condition was that they couldn’t have already been there. The idea of the trip was to broaden their experiences, not reinforce them. The third reason was much like the second, namely, it couldn’t be somewhere they were likely to go in the near future.

This left a lot of world to choose from. Our granddaughter, who had an artistic bent from kindergarten, chose Paris. Our older grandson wanted Rome and Venice. Our youngest took the longest to decide. In fact, he was nearing 15 when he finally came up with Dubai, a trip being taken this summer, which reflects his interest in construction and human-made things. Three different choices, all interesting.

There are many great things about being a grandparent. At the top of the list must be that you can indulge your grandkids without worrying whether you are spoiling them. In fact, one of the jobs of a grandparent is to love your grandchild without conditions. You worried enough about whether you did the right thing bringing up your own children.

A grandchild is another matter. You can give them what they want with a clear conscience—unless it is in direct contradiction with the values of their parents. As we’ve heard many grandparents say, it’s bringing up a child again, this time free and clear; and at the end of the day you and the grandchild go separate ways.

Unless, that is, you decide that you want to take your grandchildren on vacation, just you and them, no parents allowed.

Speaking of parents, it is essential to involve their parents even before you broach the subject with the grandchild. They have to be willing to put them in your charge and out of their supervision for some time. This isn’t like going to camp where there are counselors and supervisors and other kids. This is just you and your grandchild. Make sure you have notarized authorization from the parents allowing you to act in loco parentis.

This is a big responsibility. You have to be certain for yourself that you are ready to take on the job of being with them all day and all night. You can’t go your separate ways at the end of the day. If you thought being a parent is stressful, just wait until you are the only adult to watch after them. Being solely responsible is a really big thing when you are far from home.

Be prepared for a meltdown and that isn’t just on their part. It can happen to you, too. Everyone needs some down time but such a vacation may offer little of that. It is helpful when there are two grandparents so one can take some time off. Your grandchild may also want time off, perhaps sleeping in late or not visiting that museum that you think is absolutely essential. Remember, it’s their trip.

One unexpected reason for unhappiness came as a surprise to us. By the end of a week they were homesick. Even though they were with their doting grandparents, they missed their own bed, their familiar foods, their friends, their favorite shows and their parents. This is a big deal for them and they still are young.

Once you’ve decided on a destination you have to be willing to let them make most of the decisions about what they want to do once they arrive. We have found that our grandchildren wanted to do the things that make a destination famous so we did them all even if we had done them before or they were a bit pricey. So with the Paris trip, we made sure to take a night trip on the Seine, viewing the Eiffel Tower sparking with lights. And what child should go to Venice and not take a gondola ride, no matter the price.

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