ROW Adventures’ family travel tours in the US mid-west range from camping to river rafting and canoeing. Chad Case
We’ve never before lived in a culture in which family members spend so little time in each other’s presence or even in the same city, state or country, says our article author, Alison Gardner. The result is a lot of disconnection between members of different generations, often regretted but accepted with a shrug as inevitable in a fast-paced world full of independent-minded people making their way in life.
Who has the creativity, the money, and surely the motivation to lead the way in strengthening those family ties? The matriarchs and patriarchs of our time.
Many people are taking the initiative to plan meaningful, educational and memorable family adventures, often one-on-one, with either their adult children or their grandchildren. As a result, intergenerational travel is flourishing and set to grow even faster as perennially-busy Baby Boomers reflect on what areas of life they may have neglected in the past.
Gone are the days of gathering at the family cabin or renting a beach cottage where everyone just “hangs out” together for a couple of weeks. Now it’s all about creating shared memories in a much bigger, more stimulating world. Obviously, picking the right travel program is essential, considering a variety of interests, attention spans and abilities, but the dividends are beyond measure. As a formula for bonding or re-bonding between adult family members or between adults and younger family members, nothing is so successful as a shared adventure far from the demands and distractions of daily life.
In a charming article in our collection, an American writer shares individual active vacations in England and Ireland with each of his parents in their senior years. Bruce Northam
Thanks to an ever-expanding menu of tour and independent travel possibilities, such meaningful generational journeys are more easily accessible than ever before, limited only by imagination and a realistic view of what each participant will enjoy. On a two-week small-ship eco-cruise from the Peruvian headwaters of the Amazon to the mouth of the river at Belem, Brazil, I traveled with a 79-year old man and his 50-year-old son sharing an adventure dream of a lifetime.
A year earlier Dad, a widower, had proposed to each of his three married sons that he would treat them individually to a father-son trip anywhere in the world as long as he could safely go there too. One had chosen a safari in East Africa, one a trip to China, and one the Amazon River from headwaters to mouth. Away from responsibilities as husband and parent, the son was relaxed and clearly enjoying his father-son adventure immensely.
In Greece, I met an 84-year-old Greek American who had personally planned and financed a “roots” trip to accompany his four 20-something grandchildren and their partners to visit the family homeland and meet relatives left behind when he had immigrated to California half a century earlier. None of his grandchildren had been to Greece or met their Greek relatives, so this grandfather was leaving a powerful family legacy to each of them, lasting well beyond the two-week trip and probably his lifetime. As he said, “This is better than leaving them money any day.”
Perhaps more challenging than adult with adult travel but equally rewarding, many families are planning two or three generation journeys of exploration that include children and teens.
Actively serving the family adventure market for over 22 years is ROW Adventures, www.rowadventures.com, with a creative Family Magic™ collection of multi-generational holidays. These range from land and sea programs in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and sailing the ancient waters of Croatia’s island-dotted coastline to catered camping and paddling with 34-foot historic voyageur canoes on the river route of early explorers across Montana.
Paddling the Upper Missouri River on Lewis and Clark’s exploration route through Montana, involves five days of ROW Adventures voyageur canoeing, hiking, and learning with expert historians. ROW Adventures
“Our family trips are designed to be equally as fascinating for ten year olds as for 80 year olds,” says ROW Adventures co-owner, Peter Grubb, adding that demand for their family travel tours has grown steadily in the past few years, regardless of recession.
Small vessels with lots of action time ashore — such as canal barges in Europe, yacht eco-cruises in the Galapagos Islands, and historic motor sailers plying the eastern Mediterranean — often book out as wonderful floating hotels for families during school holidays. These may take the form of multi-generational charters for a single extended family or be a family-exclusive cruise with several families making up the guest list.
Introducing visitors to Ecuador’s amazing Galapagos Islands by sea, Ecoventura, www.ecoventura.com, has three 20-guest motor yachts that are among the most family-friendly with naturalist-led, seven-day cruises licensed to access more unique wildlife-only islands than larger vessels because of their small size and low-impact visitor numbers. They not only have numerous general family departures each year, but even family TEEN (12-17) and family GRADUATION (17-21) cruises that guarantee the company of peers and activities to suit. See our Galapagos wildlife article for more about the islands and Ecoventura.
Mother and daughter share a magic moment with a sleeping baby sea lion during a seven-day Ecoventura yacht cruise in the Galapagos Islands. Alison Gardner
European Waterways, www.europeanwaterways.com, for 40 years a leader in luxury hotel barging in Britain, Scotland, Ireland and Continental Europe, has seen steady growth in family charters, particularly on its 8 to 12 passenger barges. These provide a unique way to explore a region with little effort and lots of luxury, with several generations planning an exclusive family trip together, or two families with similar age children sharing the cost of having all the services of the barge to themselves.
Barging throughout Europe offers an ideal backdrop for a multi-generational family vacation. European Waterways
“We offer family charter cruises on every hotel barge which makes it conveniently theirs for the week,” says European Waterways Chairman, Derek Banks. “Mealtimes, menus, activities on board and off the barge can be adjusted to meet family needs and interests, with our staff of four entirely at their disposal. However, the three most popular multi-generational routes in the past few years have proven to be on the Canal du Midi in the south of France, the Burgundy region of France and our cruise across the Highlands of Scotland. With that fact in mind, we have researched family-friendly excursions that offer specific attractions and programs with children and teen appeal while sacrificing none of the adult interests.”
Entering the family cruise market in 2006, Peter Sommer Travel, www.petersommer.com, is another small-ship example of sold-out success with multi-generational educational cruises.
“I truly relish our family tours,” says Peter Sommer, a British archaeologist acclaimed for his association with the BBC series, In the Footsteps of Alexander. I’ve always taken my own family when personally leading one of these trips and I love seeing the children soak up the history, stories and myths as we explore the ancient sites. I can’t think of a better way to open up the world of the Greeks and the Romans than strolling through the monumental ruins that litter the shores of Turkey, Greece and Italy. In 2011, we have two family-designated small-ship educational cruises and next year we are adding a new family tour of Italy’s Amalfi Coast so that families may take their children to learn about the amazing story of Pompeii, frozen in time.”
On a Peter Sommer Travels archaeological family tour aboard a traditional Turkish gulet, teens embrace ancient history in their own way. Elin Sommer
My Norwegian mother-in-law came on one of our Peter Sommer Travels family cruises with us a couple of years ago. At first she walked down the steps to swim in the warm sea and refused to jump as the children were doing, saying “she was too old to do such things”, but by the end of the trip she was jumping off the top railing and crying out for joy. At the final dinner, she gave a moving speech thanking all the families and especially the children for their sheer love of life, their youthful spirit. She declared that the trip had literally taken decades off her! — Peter Sommer
Moving on from boats to trains, Canada’s award-winning Rocky Mountaineer, www.rockymountaineer.com, declares itself to be “very family-friendly!” on all three of its scenery-rich, wildlife-spotting routes. The two-day Canadian Rockies routes are best recommended for children 6+, teens and adults. Kids menus, entertainment packs for children with puzzles and games, and engaging onboard attendants cater expertly to children and their needs. There are also children and youth rates.
Rocky Mountaineer train journeys welcome children on all their world-acclaimed routes. Rocky Mountaineer
The Intergenerational Adventures program at Vancouver Island’s wilderness Strathcona Park Lodge is inspirational for all generations. Strathcona Park Lodge
And don’t think the action stuff like cliff rappelling, ziplining, canoeing, wilderness camping and learning survival techniques appeals only to the young! Strathcona Park Lodge, a wilderness resort and outdoor education center on Vancouver Island, has been partnering with Elderhostel (now Road Scholar) since the 1980s to offer sold-out, seven-day Intergenerational Adventures for active seniors and their 9-14 age grandchildren. It was the earliest model for similar active programs which are now offered across North America.
“We have had grandparents bring each of their grandchildren here individually, some over a decade,” says Executive Director, Christine Clarke, “with siblings taking home glowing reports of their generational experiences. By the end of their week here, grandparents are often viewed differently for all the challenging things they did, and for all they shared with their grandkids.”
Joyce Manary, grandmother of 10, is “almost 80”. She is undoubtedly a role model for bonding with grandchildren while still doing what breaks new ground for herself at the same time. “I like to spend quality time with each grandchild,” says this former Girl Guide leader, “and I like to see children challenging themselves in an outdoor setting.” With her second grandchild 16 years ago, she participated in her first Intergenerational Adventures program, and each succeeding grandchild has clamored to be part of this family tradition. In 2010 Joyce was back at Strathcona Park Lodge with her ninth grandchild.
“You have to wait for them to grow up a bit — 10 or 11 is the best age for active outdoor adventures — but doing both the land- and water-based activities with each of my grandchildren has changed relationships. I’ll have to hang in there for 4 more years to do the program with the tenth grandchild, but it’ll happen!”
Be sure to check out Travel with a Challenge’s “Family Travel” theme page which presents for your convenience all the multi-generational-friendly feature articles in our collection on one web page. There are touching stories and ideas for every age and ability, including adult children and their retired parents!
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge Web magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.