Closing the Gap
The long-term benefits of intergenerational travel
By Morgan Baker
Helen Pardoe, 62, of Greenwich, CT, remembers the first trip she and her three older children took with her mother, Mimi, then in her early 60s. The children were 4, 2 and 3 months old when they took a barge trip in the Alsace region of France.
“She loves to travel,” says Pardoe of her mother, now 89.
And apparently, Mimi loves to travel with her grandchildren. There are four of them now, 33, 31, 30 and 26. In any number of configurations, they have been to Cuba, Alaska, India, France, Italy, and Africa.
“The kids loved the trips,” says Pardoe. “They really got to know their grandmother. There was full attention. Grandchildren love to help their grandmother out.”
“Grandmothers spoil the grandchildren,” says Pardoe. “Mimi let them stay up later.”
The benefits of intergenerational travel last long after the trip is over, say travelers – jokes from the trip infiltrate daily life, and the bonding that was done where family members see each other at their best — and sometimes maybe at not their greatest — create lasting impressions.
“It’s the best way to know them. It’s bonding time. It’s different than a visit. You see them day in, day out – all the good and all the bad,” says Pardoe.
The benefits of intergenerational travel last long after the trip is over, say travelers – jokes from the trip infiltrate daily life, and the bonding that was done where family members see each other at their best — and sometimes maybe at not their greatest — create lasting impressions. You can’t escape each other when you’re traveling together.
Michael Brein, Ph.D., a travel psychologist in Bainbridge Island, WA, and the author of Travel Tales: Women Alone The #Me Too of Travel, says, “Traveling together is a shared experience and that’s what makes it so valuable…You’re creating memories. Something you can laugh about later, even the mishaps.”
Know what your expectations are before you head out, suggests Jenny Brown, 52 of Arlington, Massachusetts, who has also traveled with her parents and her two children, now 13 and 16.
Brein agrees. “Figure out what your goals and purpose of the trip are,” he says. Know what grandma wants to do and what the kids want to do – they may not be the same thing. They may have different energy levels. Traveling styles might be different – you need to pay attention to that, he says. Be aware of who likes to go to museums, take walks, what their fears and phobias are, who wants to spend money and who doesn’t. A great trip for multiple generations, he says, is discovering and researching your ancestry.
When Brown’s kids were young, having multiple adults to watch over them was a blessing, she says of traveling with her 3 and 5-year-old and her parents in 2012 to France.
Two years ago, Brown, her 73-year-old mother and 13-year-old daughter went to London for a week. The three of them were able to split up into various groupings – one day her mother went to the Tate Modern, while she and her daughter went to see Harry Potter’s London. Another day, her daughter went for a walk alone while the two older ones had dinner together.
Adults have a chance to share their lives with their grandchildren. “It almost goes without saying,” says Brein, “that relationships will be stronger from traveling together.”
“It improved and cemented relationships,” says Brown.
Traveling with different generations, says Brein, gives each of you the chance to try different experiences. Adults have a chance to share their lives with their grandchildren. “It almost goes without saying,” says Brein, “that relationships will be stronger from traveling together.”
Jane Isay, 81, author of Unconditional Love: A Guide to Navigate the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today, who has traveled with her own grandsons, says, “if you’re the elder don’t be in charge. Let them (the grown children) do it. The more the elder loosens the reins, the better. We have to turn the key over to the grown children. It’s very hard to give up control, but practice on vacation where it doesn’t matter. You’re all together.”
“Travel is wonderful,” Isay says. “You share the time and experience. When grandma gets tired, you have to accommodate to different tempos.”
The evidence is there that just being loved and understood by grandparents helps a young person’s emotional growth. They just love you. When a grandparent asks a grandkid if they’re okay, the whole immune system changes, says Isay.
The best time for a grandparent and grandchild is just the hanging out time, says Isay. The unconditional love just beams down on the kid. Sitting with an arm around a kid in the metro is better than going to the Louvre or the ballet, she says.
Spend time one-on-one. Grandparents should spend time alone with their grandchildren. “If parents are in the room, forget it,” she says. “You get to spend time alone on a trip. Take a walk, hang out in a room. Time spent alone without parents or a sibling. It’s a golden bond across generations.”
Family trips close the distance in a family. Spending time with cousins is important too – their lives may be very different, and therefore not as bonded, but when Isay’s husband died, the person who could hold her grief the best was her cousin.
Heidi Webb, 63, of Lincoln, Mass remembers traveling with her mother and her children fondly. She says that travel definitely had long-term effects on their relationships. “They bonded because of the trips. They saw her as someone who they could share information, stories, questions with. They saw her in environments that weren’t familiar which engendered conversations and carried over to when they were home.”
On one trip, her mother, then in her early 90s, traveled to Israel, where one of her six children lived and managed to get all 78 members of her immediate family together. One of Heidi’s children met a cousin with whom she became pen pals.
“She [mother] was the nexus for creating those relationships. As different as we all are, we should know each other. That was important to her,” says Webb.
Travel deepens the bonds, makes the tapestries of our lives richer. There are more threads. It’s an opportunity to know someone more deeply.
Another trip they took was after Webb’s father died, and her family and mother rented a house on Martha’s Vineyard for a week. Her mother was depressed and went for long walks with Webb and her children. “The children were sensitive to her. Saw her as vulnerable as well as worldly. Travel deepens the bonds, makes the tapestries of our lives richer. There are more threads. It’s an opportunity to know someone more deeply,” says Webb.
“It [traveling] gave me a good sense of seeing things from other people’s perspectives,” says Berkley Singer, Webb’s daughter.
Maria Schirmer Devitt, 35, of Madison, WI, traveled to Malaysia with her grandfather Bob in her late 20s and his late 80s, says, “Traveling with him, fundamentally changed my relationship with him. It brought us closer.”
Schirmer Devitt has sweet memories from that time like when they were trying to take a selfie together. They stayed with a family with whom Bob, who died recently, had done field work when he was an anthropology professor at Brown. Now, years later, the family who had worked in the rice fields were living in the city and were so happy to see Bob.
“They respected Granbob so much, and knew about all of us, every branch of the family tree,” says Schirmer Devitt.
There was a sense of safety being with him, she says, and of permission – that when she went out late one night, he wouldn’t get mad the way her parents might. Grandparents are more forgiving. “Their agenda: Are you having a good time?” she says.
Back in the States, she says, “I wanted to hang with him more. I wanted Ted (her now husband) to meet him. I had a greater acceptance of who he was. Our relationship was stronger and more open.”
“Aristotle said friendship was the highest form of human action,” Isay says. “There is nothing better than friendship with a grown grandchild.”
Helen Pardoe in CT, a grandmother now three grandchildren under two, says, “I can’t wait to show George, Lulu and Guy and any future grandchildren the world.”
About the Writer
Morgan Baker is the managing editor of The Bucket. After a year in Hawaii, she is back in Cambridge, where her new adventure is adding a puppy to her family. She teaches writing at Emerson College. Her work can be found in The Boston Globe, The Boston Globe Magazine and The Brevity Blog, among other publications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to our e-newsletter, Bucketcetera and get regular updates on new articles and features.
- Living Fully
- Dying Well
- Money & Law