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Thinking of Taking Your Grandkids on Vacation?

Do this to make it a roaring success for everyone.

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photo illustration of suitcase with stickers all over it, travel, vacation
Paul Spella
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If, like me, you’ve ever wondered if it’s worth it to travel with kids and grandkids too young to remember the adventures, rest assured that it is. But you’re not alone in wondering.

When Toni Moreland and her husband recently whisked their only grandchild away for a three-day trip, a thought crossed her mind: Will the young child retain the experience with grandma and grandpa in her memories?

It was the couple's first vacation alone with their granddaughter, and they were relishing the time together.

"We get a different her when it’s just the three of us," Moreland said. "We aren’t retired but we have the means to do something like this, and we’re still young enough to really enjoy it."

But as they played with the six-year-old girl, Briar, in the pool at a beach resort in Florida, Moreland thought, "It’s fun for us living these vacations through her— but will she remember it?”

 Moreland made a point to document the trip with photos she plans to make into an album to share with Briar later, to help her remember the fun they had.

As it turns out, however, whether Briar remembers the details of the sunrise beach walks she took with her grandparents to look for shells or the dolphins they spotted, traveling with kids early in their lives does form important bonds.

"Traveling with grandparents creates opportunities to create and preserve rich stories that bolster a family’s sense of love, belonging and connectedness for years to come," said child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Pete Loper Jr., medical director and psychiatry residency program director at the Tri-County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Orangeburg, S.C.

Beginning in infancy, Loper says, nurturing experiences with caregivers, including grandparents, are vital to support healthy social-emotional development.

"Children as young as two have the capacity to recall earlier life experiences," he said. "And although these memories may be lost with time, they certainly can endure long enough during the early stages of childhood development to have a foundational and life-long impact on their social and emotional health."

Grandparents, too, reap benefits that go beyond the delight of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. Loper cites "significant health benefits" for the grandparents who spend time with their grandchildren, such as boosts in dopamine and oxytocin that add to overall well-being.

Regina Browning, from Overland, KS., is another grandparent who recently got the chance to travel alone with her grandchild for the first time. They took part in a six-day grandparents and grandchildren program with Road Scholar to learn about the natural environment surrounding Virginia’s Chincoteague Bay.

Browning made sure her granddaughter, Florence, who was five at the time, stuck to a familiar routine during their travels.

"Keeping her on her own schedule was really helpful so we didn’t go off the rails," Browning said, adding it also comforted Florence’s parents.

Addressing concerns with your grandchild’s parents before a trip is vital to ease worries, said Dr. Regine Galanti, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Long Island Behavioral Psychology.

"Find out the child's schedule, naptimes and eating schedules, and show parents a willingness to follow their rules,” she advised.

Make sure you understand the parents’ non-negotiables, too, she says—whether that’s mandatory bedtime despite being on vacation or limiting sweet snacks.

“Showing a willingness to follow rules will ease the parents’ worries, rather than saying something like, 'I'm sure she'll be fine — she's going to have so much fun on this trip'," Galanti said.

Virtual calls can certainly be a healthy way to keep in touch; however, for some children seeing their parents may prompt or worsen their separation anxiety. Often the best strategy to mitigate the potential for that anxiety is to keep the grandkids busy until bedtime.

Of course, there's no need to plan a trip to make lasting memories, or to enjoy the present with your grandkids. Bonding can just as easily happen at an outing to a favorite park or during a weekend sleepover at grandma’s house, during which you bake cookies and watch a Disney movie together.

But if you’re still worried whether they’ll remember anything of your adventures, 94-year-old Dr. Nancy K. Schlossberg, a retired professor emerita of counseling at the University of Maryland, said to rest assured the bonding is there.

She said she still remembers a trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica with her grandfather when she was just eight years old. "I will never forget the emotional feeling of being part of a wonderful family," she said. “But even if the trip had been when I was four or five, I might not remember the details but the emotional feelings are there — my grandparents cared about me.”

If I’m lucky enough for my two young children to give me grandkids of my own someday, I’ll bring them on trips near and far. Together we will learn and experience something wonderful — whether we remember it or not.

Tips for a successful grandparents/grandkids trip:

Start small. Consider a night or two away for your first trip together and stick closer to home. Longer, further-flung trips can come later.

Consider joining a group trip where the details of lodging, meals and activities are handled so you can just sit back and enjoy your journey together.

Try to stick to your grandchild’s home routines for bedtime and eating — all the better for smoother travels and a smoother transition back home.

Make a plan with your grandchild’s parents to get in touch at certain times of the day, so everyone knows what to expect.

Have you ever traveled with your grandkids? Where did you go? Let us know in the comments below.

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