“Machu Picchu has been a No. 1 bucket-list item for me ever since I studied the Incas in elementary school,” says Diane White of Nelson, BC. “My granddaughter was aware of this and wanted to do the trip with me. I had done Road Scholar trips before and my experience was so wonderful that I felt I could trust them with my precious cargo! I was aware that Road Scholar was offering intergenerational trips, and I found one for the Incas and the Amazon.”
Intergenerational travelling or grandtravelling, as it’s sometimes called, is becoming increasingly popular. According to Despina Gakopoulos, public relations representative for Road Scholar, “Travelling and spending more time with grandchildren are most often at the top of the list of things people want to do when they have more free time. Road Scholar’s intergenerational programs are an opportunity to do both, and there is peace of mind in travelling with a group that has decades of experience planning these types of learning adventures.”
During the summer, Diane and her 19-year-old granddaughter, Sierra MacNaughton, headed off to Peru on their adventure to visit Machu Picchu, the only intact Incan city in the world, located high in the Andes Mountains, and the Peruvian Amazon, the second largest portion of the Amazonian rainforest, after Brazil.
Typically, days were full for Diane and Sierra, with an adventure in the morning, and another one after lunch. In the evening after dinner, there was usually a speaker, lecture or performance. A typical day was up for breakfast at 7:30, then a shuttle by boat or bus would take them to the starting point, where they would walk to their destinations for the morning.
“Activities were varied,” says Diane, “with activities like bird watching, visiting an Incan site or museum and, in the jungle, we went on many hikes and even climbed a 200-step, 120-foot scaffolding canopy tower. From the top of the platform, there were spectacular views of the jungle and the Tambopata River. The program also offered activities for the kids only, like a night jungle walk that focused on spiders and creepy things. They loved it!”
For Diane, a highlight of the trip was white-water rafting on the Urubamba River. “There were five of us in the boat,” she says, “two grandmothers, two granddaughters, and the guide. We had to paddle like crazy to fight the waves and current. I had white-water rafted before, but this was more exciting. At one point, our raft actually folded in half, but we all stayed inside!”
Another memorable activity for Diane was sand duning. “It was a first for both Sierra and me,” she says. “We wore goggles and were in open dune buggies. The grandkids and grandparents were in separate buggies, so the kids could enjoy more of an adventure. After a slow start, the grandparents in my buggy got used to the fact that we were not going to die and encouraged our driver to go faster!”
Sierra’s favourite part of the trip was exploring Machu Picchu. “I enjoyed climbing up to the Guard House and seeing an overview of it in its entirety,” she says. The Guard House marks the original entrance to Machu Picchu and is perched at the top of several rock-walled terraces, where you have a panoramic view of the entire urban and agricultural areas and the over 3,000 stone steps linking the different levels.
Travel companies are responding to the increased interest in grandtravelling. “We increase capacity in our intergenerational programs by 10 per cent each year,” says Gakopoulos, “as well as adding new programs. Typically, a large number of our participants are between ages 68-74, although, of course, we also serve people who are older or younger. With the oldest Boomers having turned 70 last year, they are moving into this age range in big numbers and we expect growth in proportion to the Boomers. Generally, 60 per cent of participants in Road Scholar programs are women.”
In Diane’s group of 20, there were two couples and the rest were grandmothers with their grandkids who ranged from 15-19. “I think the bonds between the kids and their grandparents grew strong on this tour,” she says, “as we all had that family connection in common. The kids got along well and, although my granddaughter and I were the only Canadians on this trip, it did not make a difference.”
“I think anyone would enjoy a Road Scholar trip,” Diane continues, “as they are safety conscious, focused on learning, and range in activity level from not active to very active. The accommodations, while not 5-star, are always nice, clean and comfortable. The food is plentiful and the guides are wonderful. Our guide had a degree in history with a particular interest in Machu Picchu, so he was very excited to relay all sorts of history. In fact, his theory on the Incas was embraced by Cornell University and, right after our trip, he was invited there as a guest speaker.”
But maybe most importantly, an intergenerational trip allows for a different relationship dynamic between grandparent and grandchild, without the parents along for the experience. “It changed our relationship,” says Diane thoughtfully, “as I began to see Sierra as more mature during our trip. This was based on how she conducted herself on the trip and how she was with the other people in the group – both younger and older.”
What an exceptional, adventuresome way to have fun with grandkids and strengthen those bonds.
Diane and Sierra’s 5 tips on how to make the most of your intergenerational travel experience:
* Make sure both grandparent and grandchild get to pick an activity
* Keep an open mind about activities, you may have fun
* Don’t worry about the small stuff, laugh it off
* Plan ahead while allowing for spontaneity
* Experience the local culture and history as much as possible