Vacation Ideas for Grandparents Traveling with Grandchildren

Quality family time is one of the best reasons to take an annual vacation. But who says all that fun, relaxation and memory making is just for your immediate family? With grandparents on board, an extended-family vacation offers precious time for new memories and traditions (and a little R&R for mom and dad).

Here’s how it works: All travelers fly into one destination from wherever they live. The grandparents will rent a car for themselves and the children and set out on a grandparent-grandchild adventure while the parents can rent a car and enjoy some restful time together.

Jump down to activity ideas for:

Tips for Grandparents

Get Involved in the Planning

Sit down with your son or daughter and their children and discuss vacation ideas and preferences. If you all live in different places, schedule a call or video conference to lay out expectations before your trip. Listen to everyone; children often come up with excellent sightseeing suggestions. Build in plenty of time for rest breaks, especially if you are traveling with grandchildren who are younger.

Before your vacation, schedule video calls or in-person meetups with your family to talk through everyone’s expectations of the trip.


Choose a Home Base

Select a place to stay where you can unpack and relax for all or most of your trip. Whether you choose an all-inclusive resort, a hotel or a vacation cottage, you will enjoy your grandparent-grandchild vacation more if you don’t have to pack and move every couple of days. Use your rental car to get around to attractions and activities.

Pack Light

Even if your grandchildren have their own wheeled bags, you will still have to look after the luggage. Plan outfits that are interchangeable and leave just-in-case items at home. Remind grandchildren to bring books, playing cards, coloring and journaling supplies, and small toys and games, especially if you are going to an internet-scarce destination, like a remote national park. Here’s a packing checklist to help you with the essentials.

If you’re going to the beach on your grandparent-grandchild trip, bring inflatable toys — they won’t take up too much space in your bags.


Bring Travel Documents

Be sure you have copies of your grandchildren’s medical and dental insurance cards and immunization records in the event they need medical care. Also, bring their birth certificates or state-issued IDs. Anytime a child is traveling with a grandparent, ask for a notarized letter signed by both parents that gives you permission to travel with your grandchildren and to seek medical care for them. If the children’s parents are taking a separate trip, carry a copy of their itinerary, and make sure they have a copy of yours.

Set Ground Rules

Before you head out on your grandparent-grandchild trip, discuss the travel rules with your family. This is a good time to consider the use of smartphones and electronic games; take parents’ recommendations into account, but set your own limits on the use of electronics. Your grandchildren will be more relaxed if they know the rules ahead of time, and so will you. (A fun way to keep you and your grandchildren accountable is to take a pledge to limit electronics use during your trip.)

When everyone’s electronic gadgets are put away, you’ll have more moments of meaningful connection with your family on vacation.


Find Ways to Keep in Touch

Children will miss their parents, and parents will miss their children, too. Before your trip begins, plan ways to keep everyone connected. Set times to find Wi-Fi access — if it’s not available in your hotel, try downtown public Wi-Fi areas, restaurants and libraries — and use smartphone apps, such as Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and Line, to let children contact their parents.

Expect the Unexpected

Nobody enjoys dealing with travel problems, but challenging travel experiences usually make the best and funniest stories. Be flexible, look at the bright side of things and encourage your grandchildren to do the same.

That time you accidentally dropped the kayak paddle in the lake might become a cherished memory of your grandparent-grandchild vacation.


Activity Ideas for Various Mobility Levels and Ages

Active Grandparents and Younger Children

Younger children have plenty of energy, but they also have short attention spans. Choose activities that can be completed in one or two hours, such as a visit to a children’s museum or an aquarium, or a ranger-led activity at a national park. Take a break to eat lunch and rest, then spend a couple of hours on the beach (with this activity sheet) or at a park if weather permits. Plan to eat dinner early and relax with your grandchildren in your room. Encourage the children to take photographs and draw pictures of their daily adventures.

Virginia Beach is a great place to be with younger children: Spend the cooler morning hours at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, and after lunch and rest time, head to Mount Trashmore Park, a former landfill that was converted into a renowned recreation area including a 26,000-square-foot playground. If the family is going to Indianapolis, the Children’s Museum offers indoor and outdoor activities; instead of looking for a downtown park, have lunch at the museum and let your grandkids drag race with pedal cars, play golf or shoot hoops.

Aquariums are fascinating for younger children and also provide opportunities for necessary rest breaks.


Active Grandparents and Older Children

Older grandchildren have longer attention spans and more patience, so they will enjoy visits to theme parks, water parks and museums. If you have always wanted to visit a dude ranch, explore an iconic city or hike in a national park, having your grandchildren along will make the experience extra special. Use your rental car for day trips. At night, drive beyond city lights to go stargazing or head into town for a local theater performance.

You’ll find plenty to do in Kennebunkport, Maine. Go whale watching or sail on the Schooner Eleanor, then take a Maine Foodie Tour or watch for birds at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in nearby Wells. For a little culture, drive south about 12 miles to Ogunquit to watch a musical at the Ogunquit Playhouse Children’s Theatre. If big cities and outdoor sports are more appealing, make Charlotte, North Carolina, your destination, where you can immerse yourselves in all things NASCAR, take in a Charlotte Knights baseball game and explore Queen City by bicycle or Segway.

A rustic retreat could be just the adventure you’re after on your next vacation with family. A handful of dude ranches reside in the shadow of the Teton Range.


Grandparents with Limited Mobility and Younger Children

Grandparent-grandchild trips offer plenty of opportunities for grandparents with limited mobility to make special memories with grandchildren. Reserve a rental car that best fits your needs. Also, look for accessible activities, such as whale-watching trips, zoo visits (consider renting a mobility scooter) and scenic train rides. Though some scenic railroad cars are not wheelchair-accessible, many have wheelchair lifts and other accessibility features.

The Grand Canyon Railway in Arizona, the Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia and the Alaska Railroad in Denali, Anchorage and other areas across the state all offer wheelchair-accessible railcars. (Tip: Scenic train rides are very popular. Make reservations as far in advance as you can.)

If a scenic ride aboard the Alaska Railroad is on your vacation wish list, book it far in advance and ask about accessibility options.


Grandparents with Limited Mobility and Older Children

Like their younger siblings, older grandchildren will enjoy whale-watching and boat ecotours. Preteen and teenage children also love spending hours at the beach. Choose an accessible beach, such as Panama City Beach, Florida, which offers accessibility mats and chairs, or San Diego, where you can find sand access mats at nine local beaches, manual wheelchairs at four of those beaches and accessibility chairs at Mission Beach.

For spectacular scenery, pick up a rental car that best fits your needs and head to Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls State Park in New York and its Canadian counterpart, Niagara Falls, Ontario, are widely accessible vacation spots. Wheelchair users can board the Maid of the Mist tour boats and the Niagara Scenic Trolley and reach many paths and overlooks; on the Canadian side, the funicular railway and other public transit have been updated to accommodate wheelchair and scooter users.

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About the Author

Nancy Parode is a writer and teacher who has been traveling the world with her Navy spouse. Her work has appeared in Northern Virginia and Military Spouse, among other magazines and newspapers, and on travel and lifestyle websites, including TripSavvy and Sixty and Me. Parode is currently based in the Washington, D.C., area, but you’ll find her wherever historical sights, great food and bookstores coexist.