During February’s school break, Ziva Bakman Flamhaft realized a longtime dream: She took a fun trip to Israel with just her granddaughter.
Achieving that goal took some flexibility.
Flamhaft, an Israeli who lives in Manhattan, declined social invitations after the two landed in Israel and had dinner with Israeli cousins who conversed mostly in Hebrew, which her grandchild, Gabriella Fischer, 14, neither speaks nor understands. Noticing that the Roslyn teen was bored and uncomfortable during the family get-together (but is “too sweet and polite” to complain), Flamhaft, 75, decided — “from then on” — that their weeklong trip would be just the two of them.
“I wanted to make her the center of the universe on the trip,” said Flamhaft, whose husband, Stephen, 80, a criminal-defense lawyer, stayed home.
So, without any formal itinerary or social obligations, the intergenerational pair spent their waking hours exploring Tel Aviv. Together, they stopped by Flamhaft’s childhood home and former haunts, visited museums, strolled along the city’s waterfront promenade and noshed at outdoor food markets.
“Just being with Gabriella alone and taking her to experience my country — to smell the smells, walk the streets, eat the foods — was special,” said Flamhaft, a lecturer in Queens College’s political science department.
Her efforts weren’t in vain.
“Israel is a special place,” said her granddaughter, who had been to Israel three times before on trips that included her parents and grandparents. “But what made it so special this time was that it was just my grandmother and me. I will never forget it.”
Motivated by a desire to share experiences that form beautiful, lasting memories and strengthen their bonds with one another, grandparents are increasingly taking to the skies, seas and roads with their grandkids. Some of these journeys involve only grandparents with their grandchildren; others are cast as family trips to celebrate grandparents’ milestone anniversaries, birthdays or vow renewals. But in each case, these intergenerational trips often incorporate such kid-centric activities as rock-climbing and scavenger hunts.
Travel brings them together
Lisa Rudolf, a travel consultant with Courtyard Travel Ltd. in Great Neck, attributed the upswing in multigenerational travel to the growing number of “families separated by distance” — with business opportunities, climate preferences and academic studies driving kinfolk to live farther from one another than in past years.
Intergenerational travel “is a way for grandparents to get to know their grandchildren better and spend quality time together, as opposed to Skyping,” said Rudolf. “And within that trip, each generation gets a vacation with things they want to do.”
Depending on the age-appropriateness for grandchildren, Disney World, Universal Studios, national parks, all-inclusive Caribbean resorts, cruises and visits to ancestral homelands are particularly popular as intergenerational vacations, Rudolf said.
And while grandparents might initiate such travel plans, paying for them varies from family to family.
According to Ron Zilkha, with Cruise Holidays Inc. in Dix Hills, grandparents generally pick up the entire tab for vacations that involve just them and their grandkids. But when more relatives join the fold, grandparents may cover only the trip’s deposit and their own costs or pay for everyone’s flight, food and lodgings but not excursion fees — although some grandparents spring for everything.
‘Memories are priceless’
After years of “saving and working to make it a reality,” Luis Escobar, 72, said he and his wife, Angelica, 67, marked their retirement in 2014 by treating their entire family, including two adult children, in-laws and three grandchildren, to a cruise to Honduras and the Mayan Mexican Peninsula. The trip — and paying for it — was the realization of Angelica’s long-held dream.
Since then, the Village of Islandia grandparents have taken other multigenerational vacations but shared the costs with grown-up family members.
“The memories are priceless,” said Angelica, who had worked as a development aide for people with disabilities. “You have to take advantage of going with your grandchildren and family because time flies and you don’t know where it went.”
To help assure that a multigenerational trip is filled only with positive memories, grandparents need to be aware of and prepared for potential health and security challenges to circumvent them, if possible.
“It’s a much greater responsibility than when you travel with your own child,” said Flamhaft, whose trip with Gabriella involved asking each eatery and food vendor they considered whether its fare contained sesame; the teen is allergic to the seed, a ubiquitous ingredient in Israeli cuisine.
“One restaurant didn’t even want us because everything was made with sesame,” Flamhaft noted, adding that her granddaughter learned to say in Hebrew, “I’m allergic to sesame.”
Grandparents themselves aren’t immune to illnesses or accidents, which can potentially snowball into a complicated crisis if they are accompanied only by young grandkids.
The challenge is whether the children’s parents “can quickly come to their rescue,” Zilkha said, adding that such a situation underscores the need for both grandparents and grandchildren to have travel insurance.
Another issue — albeit far less serious — is the grandparents’ and their grandkids’ age difference, which could result in the two generations spending less time together than the elders had originally envisioned.
“Grandparents may not be able to keep up with their grandchildren if they want to do something more adventurous,” Zilkha noted.
Trips filled with surprises
But, on a 12-day Royal Caribbean cruise last year to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, Escobar said he outclimbed his 24-year-old granddaughter, also named Angelica, in ascending to the top of the ship’s rock-climbing wall and chiming its bell. With other family members looking on — and cheering Escobar — he performed another feat: an unaccompanied descent.
“My granddaughter is in good shape and goes to the gym, but she couldn’t make it,” said the retired Stony Brook University Hospital building engineer. His demonstrated athleticism aside, the trip was especially meaningful, Escobar said, because his granddaughter and her boyfriend, also a passenger on the ship, got engaged during the cruise.
Since 2011, Smithtown residents and retirees Debbie, 62, and Dennis Orioles, 64, have been taking their grandsons, Andrew Lynch, 16, and his brother, Austin, 11, on annual camping trips in their motor home. Early on, they didn’t stray beyond New York State in case they needed to return to Long Island fast. But in recent years, as part of a weeklong vacation, the foursome has gone as far as Maine three times.
“The boys love the outdoors and can’t wait to pick out a spot with trees that hold their hammocks,” said Debbie Orioles, “and they love setting up their campfires.”
During these sojourns, the Nesconset boys bike, fish and swim. They also plan the menu, making sure it includes spareribs, schnitzel and lobster. “We’re basically their summer camp,” said Debbie, who had worked as a vet technician. Her husband had been a locomotive engineer for the Long Island Rail Road.
Buoyed by their grandsons’ gusto for their intergenerational retreats, the couple upgraded two years ago to a luxury motor home that features everything from a fireplace to a couch that turns into a queen-size bed.
“It’s our alone time with them, and the day we’re not here, I want them to remember us in good ways,” Debbie said.
The camping trips are also “therapeutic,” distracting her and her husband, Debbie said, from their mournfulness over the death of their youngest daughter, Courtney — Andrew and Austin’s aunt — three years ago.
“The boys are my strength,” Debbie added. “Traveling with them is fun and lets us get involved and forget about things.”
Tips for traveling with grandkids
Thinking of taking a vacation just with your grandchildren?
Advance planning can make all the difference in not only creating a meaningful shared experience but also minimizing the impact of potential challenges, according to Lisa Rudolf, a travel agent with Courtyard Travel in Great Neck.
Here are Rudolf’s suggestions:
• Purchase travel insurance, which covers trip cancellation and interruption, as well as emergency medical care.
• Bring an extra pair of grandchildren’s glasses; copies of their medical prescriptions and health records, including vaccinations and allergies; and a notarized letter of temporary custody, signed by parents, that authorizes you to make emergency medical decisions about the grandchildren.
• Pack Ziploc-type plastic bags with assorted snacks and a small carry-on backpack with a change of clothes, as well as toys and stuffed animals of the children’s choosing.
• Incorporate at least one age-appropriate children’s activity into each day.
• Include excursions that dovetail with each youngster’s special interests – as in a baseball game, a cooking lesson and science museum.
• Set parameters for talking and texting on the cell phone.
• Provide for some downtime each day for resting, napping, watching TV and emailing.
• Leave holes in the schedule not only for activities that may take longer than anticipated but simply to smell the roses.
— Cara S. Trager