Grandparents using 'Skip-Gen' vacations to connect with grandkids: What to know about the travel trend

Parents aren't invited on these grandparent-grandchild trips

In the past, a nice bonding experience between a grandparent and grandchild might have been baking cookies or learning how to knit. Today, grandparents are branching out with different kinds of experiences to build relationships with their grandchildren.

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Skip-Gen vacations -- the name for trips with only grandparents and grandchildren -- have been happening since at least the mid-1980s and have grown in popularity in the last several years.

"The interaction between a grandparent and a grandchild is a very special bond, different from that of your parents," JoAnn Bell, the senior vice president of Program Development at Road Scholar told FOX Business. "Just time to be alone with them and have some shared experiences is truly memorable."

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Road Scholar -- a not-for-profit educational travel organization geared toward older adults -- launched its first grandparent-grandchild program in 1985, according to the website. Today, it has about 180 programs specifically designed for Skip-Gen trips, with about 75 percent in the U.S. and Canada and 25 percent abroad, Bell said.

Road Scholar has offered Skip-Gen programs since 1985. A grandparent and grandchild take a selfie at Crater Lake in Oregon. (Courtesy of Road Scholar)

"As we've developed the programs for grandparents and grandchild, something magical happens," Bell said. "We cut out that middle layer of the parents and the dynamic between the grandparent and the grandchild was amazing."

These Skip-Gen vacations have become even more popular in recent years -- particularly as grandparents live farther and farther away from their grandchildren.

In 2018, AARP published the results of a survey of grandparents in the U.S., which found that distance was one of the biggest challenges for grandparents.

About 52 percent of respondents said they have at least one grandchild who is more than 200 miles away and about 29 percent live more than 50 miles away from their closest grandchild.

"They had a real need to deepen their connection with their grandchildren and the way that they were starting to do that was to travel with them and to do these Skip-Gen trips," Patty David, the director of Consumer Insights at AARP, told FOX Business.

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However, physical distance isn’t the only barrier to close-knit grandparent-grandchild relationships. Many grandparents are still in the workforce and many grandchildren have busy after-school and weekend schedules.

"It could be the children are heavily scheduled during the school year and there's less opportunity to spend one on time with your grandchildren," Bell said. "They're always doing something on Saturdays and after school."

According to the AARP survey, 32 percent of grandparents had already taken a grandchild on a Skip-Gen trip and 15 percent said they had plans to take one in 2019. Another 62 percent said they thought Skip-Gen trips were a good idea.

A grandparent and grandchild are pictured on a Road Scholar trip to Italy. (Courtesy of Road Scholar)

AARP also reported that 60 percent of grandchildren felt closer to their grandparents after taking a trip with them.

"More than anything, the memory of being on a grandparent grandchildren [trip] starts a lifetime of potential new travelers, first of all," Bell said. "But also, the memories and the experience and the bonding, I don't think you can duplicate it on anything else that you do for your grandchild."

"No matter what iPad you give them or what computer you give them, it will … pale in comparison to remembering that you [traveled] with your grandparents and that you met so many people and you had such a great experience," Bell added.

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For Kurt Kutay, president of travel agency Wildland Adventures, these Skip-Gen trips are also an opportunity for grandparents to leave their grandchildren with a legacy of travel and world experiences beyond what they can get at home.

"I can't tell you how many times I've heard people tell me that their life was transformed by the experiences that they've had," Kutay told FOX Business. "That's what grandparents want to leave behind is a perspective of something so much bigger than the lives that they’ve thus far experienced."

Wildland Adventures President Kurt Kutay said that grandparents want to leave a legacy of travel to their grandchildren. A family on a Skip-Gen trip in Tanzania is pictured. (Wildland Adventures)

There are also benefits to the generation not included on these trips, David said.

"It's about the grandparents and the grandchild, but I think that they forget the parents … and the advantages that it has for that parent," she said. "They have time by themselves where their kids are gone to be able to reconnect and maybe do things that they've wanted to do that they haven’t been able to do."

While there can be some challenges to Skip-Gen vacations -- including potential behavior issues or awkwardness between grandparents and grandchildren who don’t know each other that well -- Bell said children tend to be better behaved when their parents aren't there.

It also helps that Road Scholar’s programs are designed with specific age ranges in mind for the grandchildren (their most popular programs are for ages 11-13) -- and that grandparents can’t bring all their grandchildren together on one trip.

"We don't allow one grandparent to bring multiple children because we feel it’s too much for them to control," Bell said. "We do … occasionally make exceptions, but we really feel the bonding between gets overwhelming when you have to manage childcare too."

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As far as relational awkwardness, David said grandparents who want to build strong relationships with their grandchildren aren't only doing so on vacation. They're video chatting and keeping in touch in other ways.

"It's not necessarily a stranger that's going to be taking them on their trip," David said. "They are doing many other things to cultivate that relationship from the distance that they are."

Ultimately, David added, grandparents are doing whatever they can to be close with their grandchildren -- so the Skip-Gen trend is likely to continue.

"Being a grandparent is kind of key and the number one important [thing] in their life once they hit that age and they have their first grandchild," David said.

"The fact that they're away from them and they want to develop that relationship and they have resources that they can do that and be able to travel with them -- those are things that aren't going away," she added. "If anything, they'll probably prevail and increase for those distances and that ability to want to connect. So I foresee that it's a trend that will stay and grow."