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Passport to Education

NEA-Retired grandparents and their grandchildren take to the road

By Susan Belford

Travel is a gift—one made more special when grandchildren and grandparents can share the experiences and excitement of a new destination. Everything—even places grandparents have visited before—becomes new and exciting when seen through the eyes of a child.

Sixteen-year-old Nicholas Warner and
grandmother Mary Falkenberg took a cruise
over the Artic Circle, stopping at the Isle of Man
where they located family tombstones.

“I had the experience of a lifetime going on a cruise with my grandma,” says 16-year-old Nicholas Warner who traveled over the Arctic Circle with his grandmother, Mary Falkenberg of Michigan Education Association-Retired. “I experienced going in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland—one of the wonders of the world.” Falkenberg says she will never forget the smile on Nicholas’ face when they visited the Isle of Man where their ancestors were born—even locating their graves.

Six years ago, Falkenberg decided that once they were old enough to travel, she would treat each of her five grandchildren to a destination vacation. Her first trip was with 10-year-old granddaughter Kylie. “I seek opportunities,” Falkenberg says, “to help my grandchildren be stimulated by the possibilities of what they can be in life! Seeing [Kylie] enjoying the Eiffel Tower, Westminster Abby, and Buckingham Palace whetted my appetite to take the others to see the world.”

Falkenberg wants to share experiences with her grandchildren who reside in other states. “I have even learned the latest in technology so I can text and email them to keep up with their lives. Spending vacation time with them is more of a gift to me than to them because I love seeing them grow and learn. Travel to new places generates conversations and deepens our relationship.”

“Oh the Places You’ll Go”

There are many options. Choose a day trip to a lake and teach your grandchild to row, sail, swim, or fish. Visit Washington, D.C., and take in Mt. Vernon, the wonders of the Smithsonian, or the newborn lion cubs at the National Zoo. Sign up for a grandparent-grandchild camp or locate a campsite and bring the marshmallows. Join an intergenerational tour group to explore “off the beaten path” destinations. Jointly change the lives of others through volunteerism in the U.S. or locales around the world.

Of course, health and wealth will determine your destination and how long you can stay, but the good news is that grandparents who aren’t terribly active and those who have limited financial resources also have many choices for adventure, too. Whether you travel far away or stay close to home, whether you select educational, adventure, volunteer, or experiential activities, the time you spend with your grandchild is what matters most. Children will long remember excursions with their grandparents, and cherish the memories for the rest of their lives.

Memories are Priceless

Karen Ledwin, of NEA Member Benefits, develops travel programs for members. She explains, “While the recession certainly hurt retirement savings, one area that it did not diminish is grandparents’ interest in investing in their grandchildren, especially in ways that are tied to education and enrichment.”

Jim Yamamoto, his 10-year-old grandson Ethan Kawai, and Ethan’s mom Mari share fond memories of their 2012 trip to Switzerland. “We did mostly outdoor activities,” says Jim. “Up to the Jungfraujoch for Ethan’s first experience with snow; a wonderful hike from Mürren to Gimmelwald, train rides for day trips to Montreux and Geneva; and riding down from the 6,400 foot Niederhorn Ridge on kick scooters. Of course, the highlight of our stay in Interlaken was Ethan and his mom Mari paragliding off a mountain.”

Jim, Ethan, and Mari truly understand the importance of the memories of this trip. This was the last trip that Jim and his wife Karen, both retired teachers from Kawa’i and members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association-Retired (HSTA-R), were able to take together, and with Ethan and Mari. Karen passed away from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) several months ago.

“This trip gave Karen something to hold on to as she went through a very bad time,” Jim says. “Karen and I had talked about taking the other grandkids to London and Paris a few years from now. As Grandma Karen has left us, it looks like Grandpa Jim will have to carry the ball by himself…but it can be done.”

“The trip with my grandma and grandpa was so fun!” Ethan adds. “I experienced many new things.

I spent a lot of time with them instead of playing my video games and it was surprisingly great! I’m glad I got to take that last trip with Grandma. I’m really going to miss her.”

Many companies specialize in intergenerational trips, and tours exist at a range of price levels. Tour operators will take care of the particulars—transportation, meals, luggage, hotels, and activities. Your role is to have fun. Group tours also provide friends for both you and your grandchild. However, lots of grandparents enjoy planning the trip with their grandchildren and choosing exactly what to do and where to go.

Road Trips and Beyond for the Next Generation

Marilyn and Ed Warner in New York’s Central
Park with grandchildren Jared and Avery Warner.

Marilyn Warner, president of the Florida NEA-Retired, and her husband Ed designate two weeks every summer to take each set of grandchildren on a special trip. Their travel log includes Washington, D.C., New York City, and Boston. Marilyn explains, “It’s great for us, and gives their parents a chance to spend time alone. The teacher in me makes them keep a journal each night, and they fill it in with postcards, brochures, and photos from the trip.”

The Warners are also experts in the “staycation.” Residents of Florida’s west coast, they have easy access to Busch Gardens, Legoland, Dinosaur World, and the Disney Parks. The Warners enjoy local parks, museums, theater, fishing, and the beach, and plan creative activities in their home. “One year,” says Marilyn, “I collected boxes, cardboard tubes, aluminum foil, etc. and had them build a robot. They spent a day doing this and were upset that I would not purchase an airplane seat for the robot to fly home with them.”

Retired special educator, Niyati Brown, who is president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association HSTA-R for the Big Island, says, “My granddaughter, Gloria, and I love to travel together.”

Fortunately Niyati and Gloria have devised strategies that make their journeys mutually agreeable. “Our funniest travel story was getting stuck in grueling traffic for two hours between Olympia and Tacoma, Wash., last summer. Finally, we just lowered the windows, blasted the radio, and loudly sang along until we rolled with laughter, attracting the attention of other drivers. Then we laughed some more! Sometimes, when traveling, you encounter things you can’t change so you just have to make the best of it. It’s a family joke now to sing songs loudly in moments of frustration,” says Niyati, who has also taken Gloria to scores of NEA conventions.

Roberta and Dick Gale's grandkids Justine
and Logan meet Governor Mead of Wyoming.

Roberta Gale and her husband Dick, both members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council-Retired, have driven their two grandkids to exciting destinations with a focus on U.S. state capitols. “We usually read books about each state that we are going to visit so the kids have some background information before we get to the capitol. We’ve been to Madison (our own state capitol) and to eight other state capitols. The kids love the national park ranger talks, and becoming certified as junior rangers in Yellowstone, Glacier, and other national parks. We hope to create memories that will last a lifetime and inspire our grandchildren to continue to travel throughout their lives—perhaps with their grandchildren.”

Denese Powell with grandsons Grant and

Last fall, Maryland retiree Denese Powell and her mother Valerie Fisher traveled to Birmingham, Ala., to take Powell’s grandsons—3-year-old Cameron, and 2-year-old Grant—trick-or-treating and to the Birmingham Aquarium. Fisher hadn’t been trick-or-treating in 70 years, and the boys were fascinated with the chance to ride on her wheelchair.

The family is planning a repeat grandmother/ great-grandmother adventure when Cameron, Grant, and their parents visit Powell’s home for the winter holidays. Trains are the boys’ current fascination. Sights will include the miniature trains at the National Christmas Tree, the Botanical Garden’s train show, and a visit to see the “big” trains at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station.

Change the World through “Voluntourism”

Intergenerational volunteer travel is “a cost-effective way to spend meaningful time with a loved one while creating life-lasting memories,” says Linda Stuart of Global Citizen’s Network (GCN). It’s also a great way for kids to learn about diverse cultures and strengthen their connection with grandparents while sharing in an activity designed to improve the lives of others.

Educator Rita Johnson of St. Paul, Minn., and her granddaughter traveled to the Olympic Peninsula to volunteer with the Quileute Native American tribe. “The youth of the tribe immersed us in their culture,” Johnson says. “They taught us their language and traditions and included us in their drumming ceremony—complete with costumes. In turn, we helped improve their community.”

Volunteer opportunities are available throughout the U.S. and the world. Choose a meaningful activity in your grandchild’s area that will relate to his or her interests. Travel to Peru to help build a school in a Quechan village, and combine it with a trip to Machu Picchu. Or, how about heading to Maui where the third Sunday of each month features a program in Haleakala National Park about the wilderness area.

Go to Camp

Remember summer camp—making lanyards, telling ghost stories by the fire, swimming in lakes, and giggling with your bunkmates? Recapture these experiences through a grandparent-grandchild camp (no parents allowed.) You and your grandchild will share quality one-on-one time while hiking, singing camp songs, making crafts, learning new skills, playing kick-ball, and learning about each other. Camps are held all over the country and focus on activities that are as diverse as the kids themselves.


Maybe a camping destination is your style. JoAnn Smith, past president of the Tennessee Retired Teachers Association, and her husband look forward to taking grandsons 10-year-old Ethan and 5-year-old Ryan to their favorite campground in Myrtle Beach, S.C., every summer. “They both learned to swim in campground pools and we taught them to cook out hamburgers and hot dogs. They love the beach, visiting the sights, and improving their miniature golf games each summer!”

“Get On Your Way”

It’s never too early to start planning travel excursions with grandchildren. Develop a travel plan and off you go on your grand adventure. You will be making the most meaningful memories of your grandchild’s life—memories that will enrich your life, too!

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