Ties That Bind: Trips of a Lifetime with Your GrandchildrenMay 25, 2022 11:33AM ● By DIANE YORK
One of the most difficult things for families today is the geographic separation of parents from their children and grandchildren. Increased mobility over the generations has led many people to relocate wherever their jobs take them. Keeping family relationships strong despite distance is an ongoing challenge. My three granddaughters are in Colorado. I see them only twice a year.
When my grandchildren were little, our family reunited on Sanibel every summer. We have wonderful memories of hours playing in the ocean and pools, roaming the seashore looking for whatever the ocean might present, walks through the sanctuaries looking for gators, and Katie Gardenia’s Mermaid Restaurant for treats. We always had a treasure hunt complete with a made-up treasure map, hidden clues, and a small wooden chest with pirate loot inside.
But suddenly, my granddaughters were teenagers no longer entertained by seashells, treasure hunts, or mermaid tales. I began looking for ways to give them each an experience they would not forget and provide some one-on-one time with each granddaughter. So, I offered to take each on a trip to a destination of their choice. I was thinking New York or Disney World, but they had bigger ideas.
The oldest at 16, Katherine, chose Ireland: a great choice for her as she is a lover of horses, farms, castles, dragons, myths, and legends; a great choice for me as my great-grandmother had emigrated from Valencia Island on the Kerry coast and I had always wanted Kat to see where the family came from. I worried somewhat about taking her away from movie theaters, TV, iPhones, and iPads. Would she be bored?
I wanted to give her experiences that matched her interests. We stayed near Bunratty Castle our first night so Kat could spend the whole next day exploring the castle. A banquet at the castle that night featured ghost stories, singing, and harp music.
We spent the rest of the trip traveling the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive on the southwest coast. We stayed on a sheep farm in Dingle, where Kat raced in the fields with a sheep dog and held a newborn lamb; we walked cliffs overlooking a 200-foot drop to the crashing ocean waves below and found fossils in the cliffs above the beach. I will never forget seeing the pure pleasure on Kat’s face as she climbed all the way to the top of the ramparts of an ancient stone fortress overlooking the sea, with the wind blowing her hair and a cheeky smile of triumphant pride, while I screamed at her to be careful.
We stopped to view Viking treasures in a roadside museum, explored thousand-year-old beehive huts in the hills, saw Brendan the Navigator’s church with its ancient stone sundial, walked in deep forests of fern and moss, petted horses on a horse farm, and explored ruined castles and stone forts. In pubs at night, we sang along with local musicians.
The people were welcoming and friendly. It was fun to show Kat the island my family came from and share stories that came from my great-grandmother. Kat saw the places and people that form her roots. We both discovered ways in which we are so alike. She was never bored and loved it.
Molly, the middle child of 14 years, has an ear for music, including classical, an artistic eye, and she likes fine things. She wanted to go “somewhere in Europe.” I wanted an easy trip, no car rental, no driving, no logistics. The best answer was a river cruise—one that would allow for the least stressful trip and maximize our time together.
We boarded Avalon’s Taste of the Danube cruise, which would give us two days in Budapest, an exotic destination for sure; a day’s stop in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, another unique city; a day’s stop and tour in Dürnstein and Melk, Austria; and then on to a two-day stay in Vienna, an Old World city of classical music, aristocracy, and art. Along the way, we would have days of sailing past ruined castles, riverfront villages, old-growth forests, other boats, and passage through the giant locks at Vienna.
Molly was the youngest passenger on the ship, and as such, got lots of attention and flirting from the crew, which she enjoyed immensely. She loved cruising along on the river and when we stopped at each city, had fun exploring, shopping, and tasting local foods. One of my favorite memories is playing chess with Molly on the deck of the ship at night, with thousands of stars in the dark sky, and talking about boys and love.
The last night of our trip we planned to attend a concert in Vienna, with a mix of ballet, opera, waltzes, and skits by the cast. Molly, however, said she was too tired and begged off. One of our fellow travelers from the cruise ship encouraged her to go. “You must come. This is a special evening. Please don’t miss it,” he said. With his urging (not mine) she changed her mind. Hearing music created by Mozart, Strauss, Liszt, and others in an ancient hall in the town where it was written turned out to be the highlight of the trip for her.
Olivia, my youngest grand-girl, is 12 going on 18. She is an iPad, tech-loving, nose-in-the-phone creature of many moods—joyful, ecstatic, pouty, loving, all in one. When she was about 5 years old, I took her to a Goodwill store where she found an old purse, green suede with leather fringe and gold accents, a spectacular combination of glitzy and awful. She said in awe, “Oh Nana, how could anyone give this away?” That began her love affair with fashion. When I asked her where she would like to go, she instantly replied, “Paris!” This trip will be next spring.
What I’m planning with Olivia is seven days in the Notre Dame area of Paris. We will explore gardens and street markets on foot and take a river cruise on the Seine. We will visit the Palais Galliera and the Museum of Decorative Arts (in the Louvre), two major fashion museums. We will have an overnight stay at Mont St. Michel, a fantastic ancient monastery on an island off the coast of Normandy, and a day trip to Versailles to show her what glitz is really all about.
I hope this trip will open her eyes to the larger world of beauty and design and that the unique spell of Paris will be a part of her forever. I hope we will become closer and that she will learn more about who she is. I’d like this trip to be something she will never forget for all the right reasons.
These trips are a commitment—financial and otherwise—but so worth it in building the ties that bind and the memories that last.
Diane York is a freelance writer and avid gardener who splits her time between Richmond, Virginia, and Sanibel, Florida. Her articles on health, lifestyle, and travel topics appear in numerous periodicals in central Virginia. She is the author of the book It Ain’t You Babe! A Woman’s Guide to Surviving Infidelity and Divorce.
Tips for Traveling with Teen Grandchildren
Work with their interests. In planning a trip with your grandchild, ask yourself, What is the outcome I want? It’s easy to get excited and plan a dream trip that you want but that can fall flat if it does not interest the children. You want them to be thrilled with the locale, engaged in what’s there, and have activities they enjoy.
Help them say yes to a new experience. Show your grandchildren that saying yes to new experiences is a good thing. This can build their confidence as well. Often a third party—even a hotel concierge, a fellow traveler, or anyone their age—can do a better job of encouraging them to try something new.
Ancestry bonding. Seeking your roots adds another dimension to travel experiences. Trips to countries and cities your ancestors came from can be an easy way to share your heritage and teach your grandchildren something about themselves.
Make it easy. On my trips, I have usually rented cars and been the driver, but as I have discovered, you can have a better time looking out a window than trying to deal with driving on the left side of the road, figuring out logistics, or trying to dodge traffic in a new city. So now in foreign countries, I favor tours, escorted groups, and cruises (as in river cruises with many stops).