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'Skip-gen' travel companies help grandparents and kids bond

'Skip-gen' travel companies help grandparents and kids bond

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You want to show your grandchildren the world — or maybe a neighboring state or two. Maybe you don’t want to figure out where to stay, compare car rental prices, wonder where to eat and wrangle tickets to attractions at your preferred destination.

Not to worry — the travel industry now actively promotes what it calls “Skip-Gen” trips, packages that take care of all the arrangements and also organize interactive programs for you and the grandkids in America’s national parks, Africa, the Greek islands, Alaska, Italy — and even St. Louis.

“The best investment you can make in your grandchildren and your relationship with them is a trip together,” says Karen Ledwin, vice president of program management at Smithsonian Journeys. A travel package, she adds, “takes all the worry out, and that allows grandparents more time to spend with the grandchildren.”

Here are four travel companies that offer Skip-Gen packages. Check the websites for schedules and prices. Most trips welcome children 8 and older, but industry insiders say 11 or 12 is ideal.

Austin Adventures

austinadventures.com/travelers/family-friendly/

“We recommend our trip to Yellowstone National Park as the gateway to adventure travel for grandparents and grandchildren,” says Dan Austin, president of Austin Adventures, an award-winning, family-owned company based in Billings, Mont.

The itinerary includes geysers, horseback riding, regional dining specialties and a dip in a hot spring. “This trip has something for everyone — wildlife, geography, history and geology,” Austin says. “Our guides are great with interactive activities, and because of that, we always see kids at their best.”

Customers often return year after year to experience new destinations, Austin notes. “After seeing a national park, for the next trip, maybe you take the grandkids to Alaska,” he says. “The third time, you try something international. We talk to every guest, to help pair them up with a destination or a similar demographic of travelers.”

Road Scholar

roadscholar.org/collections/grandparent/

Previously known as Elderhostel, Road Scholar has general trips for grandparents and grandchildren and notes they are the only educational travel organization that also offers Skip-Gen “STEM learning adventures” that focus on science, technology, engineering and math. (roadscholar.org/collections/grandparent/stem/)

“Our marquee STEM program is based in Missouri,” says a spokeswoman. “We’ve been offering it since 2007.” The trip includes visits to the St. Louis Science Center, the Challenger Space Center, McDonnell Planetarium and Boeing Headquarters.

Sue and Ken Kraft of Myrtle Beach, S.C., made that trip with their grandson John, 9, earlier this year. “Instead of just sightseeing, we were doing something that sounded interesting to him,” says Sue Kraft. “We loved the Science Center, and one day John built and launched his own rocket.” They also toured the City Museum and stopped at Ted Drewes.

Fran Collins, of Portland, Ore., traveled to St. Louis with her 10-year-old granddaughter for the same STEM package. “My granddaughter said the trip was way more interesting than science classes at her school,” says Collins, a retired teacher. “We’ve done three trips with the grandkids, and this was the most dazzling.”

Smithsonian Journeys

smithsonianjourneys.org

“The younger generation is more environmentally focused than older ones have been, and seeing the power of Mother Nature — hot springs, glaciers, black sand beaches — can be transformative for kids,” says Ledwin. “We’re an educational institution, very family-focused, and we like to help create memories.”

Many grandparents choose Smithsonian’s trips to London, Paris or Iceland. Also, Ledwin says, kids who are fans of Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” novels are always excited about a trip to Greece.

“We’re just finishing a new itinerary for Greece,” Ledwin says. “We’ve added some appealing elements for both generations, such as cooking classes, natural history talks, a scavenger hunt and swimming in a caldera.”

Tauck

tauck.com/tours-and-cruises/family-travel

“We’ve been in the multi-generational travel business for 15 years, and Skip-Gen is one of our fastest-growing segments,” says Jeremy Palmer, senior vice president for Tauck Land Journeys. “Grandparents want to connect with their grandkids, but the last thing they want is to be worn down with logistics.”

Tauck offers Skip-Gen itineraries in “Bridges,” the company’s family travel division. “We used to see most grandparents taking grandkids to a national park, and now they’re choosing London or an African safari,” he says. “A new trend for families is river cruises.”

Speaking as a father of three, Palmer reports that feedback about Skip-Gen trips is especially satisfying. “One of coolest things we hear about are those moments when a grandparent gets to expose a grandkid to something for the first time, like seeing a lion hunt on the Serengeti. But we also hear from the grandkids. After a trip, they tell us they’ve seen a side of their grandparents they didn’t know existed.”

Amy Bertrand 314-340-8284

@abertrand on Twitter

abertrand@post-dispatch.com

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