Rafting the Green River with O.A.R.S.

Rafting the Green River with O.A.R.S.

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

Is grandma packed?

There’s a good chance she and grandpa are going along on your summer vacation whether it’s to a week at the beach, to Yellowstone or Orlando, and there’s also a good chance they’re leading the way — and paying for, or for much of, the trip.

With Kyle McCarthy, creator of Family Travel Forum, I just co-chaired a conference on the fast-growing trend of multigenerational travel. Lucky grandkids! According to the new “Portrait of the American Traveler Survey” from MMGY Global, a leading travel-marketing agency, 35 percent of grandparents, who identify themselves as travelers, report that they’ve taken a trip in the last year with their grandkids. Grandparents, of course, want to spend time with the grandkids; parents want free babysitters and that extra set of hands, and kids, believe it or not, love hearing all those old family stories. Just be clear who is paying for what from the get-go, and don’t assume grandma wants to spend all her time babysitting!

Today’s grandparents want to have fun too. They are younger, more active and anxious to share the world with their grandkids, many of whom live thousands of miles away from them. Many are traveling just with grandchildren. Road Scholar, which you might remember as Elderhostel, now has 350 trips for grandparents and grandchildren every year, which are designed for them to learn together. (Are you ready to become a paleontologist in Utah or improve your batting stance in Baltimore?)

Many multigenerational travelers are opting for adventure trips, whether through U.S. national parks, the Galapagos Islands or Africa, some are even booking trips as far away as Antarctica with companies like Abercrombie & Kent, but you don’t have to spend a bundle. Plan smart and you can even get a deal when booking for a group. Wyndham Vacation Rentals, for example, in recognition of National Vacation Rental Month is offering travelers up to 35 percent off rentals in their U.S. destinations, all summer long, as long as you book by July 31. (Use promo code VRMonth.) If you are booking several hotel rooms, condos or cruise cabins, call to ask what extra amenities or discounts you can get — free breakfast perhaps? A room upgrade?

Here are six excellent summer vacation picks from the Taking the Kids VERY BEST SUMMER VACATION IDEAS you may not have considered, which are guaranteed to please your multigenerational group:

Road Scholar participants on Wyoming Wild West Adventure

Road Scholar participants on Wyoming Wild West Adventure

1. BOOK A PRIVATE ADVENTURE. It may not cost as much as you think when you are booking a multigenerational group, whether you want to tour the Grand Canyon or the Galapagos. That’s why outfitters like Thomson Family Adventures and Austin Adventures report multigenerational travel is up 30 percent and more, with growing numbers of families opting for private trips just for their gang. How about a river raft adventure with a company like O.A.R.S. on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the Green River, or if you have teens, through the Grand Canyon. Without cell service, you’re guaranteed a chance to unplug and relax, since the guides do all of the work, even preparing sumptuous meals and entertaining the kids.

2. HOUSEBOATING is easy, economical, and a great option when you want to travel with family and friends. Share a boat and your houseboat vacation is even more economical. Some houseboats start at under $500 a week.

3. VOLUNTEER, especially if your kids are older. The website Together for Good lists more than 90 places that families can give back — even just for a day — on a land-based vacation or cruise in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. Organizations like Cross-Cultural Solutions, Earthwatch and Global Citizens Network among other nonprofit organizations can help you find a family volunteer opportunity. Greenloons, the company that helps families make sustainable vacation choices, lists volunteer options on its website.

4. OPT FOR LESS-FREQUENTED NATIONAL PARKS: There are 397 national parks to choose from and the biggest and best known — as wonderful as they are — aren’t the only places where you can have a stellar experience with your family, whether you want to explore a cave (see the bats fly out at night in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.) compare your size to giant trees (Sequoia and Kings Canyon in California), peer into ancient cliff dwellings like we did (Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado), or see amazing sea life in tide pools (Olympic National Park in Washington State). If you are 62 or older, apply for the $10 Lifetime Pass; kids 15 and younger get in to national parks free. At all of these parks you will find park rangers eager to help you make the most of your family’s time with special activities, including the Junior Ranger program.

5. CRUISE FROM A PORT NEAR HOME and avoid the hassles and expense of flights. Hundreds of thousands of cruise passengers — more than 30 percent of those booking on Disney Cruise Line alone — are traveling in multigenerational groups these days. Take your pick of more than two dozen ports. Cruise to Bermuda on Celebrity with teens from NYC or with younger kids on Carnival from Galveston, for example. Cruises are good bets for families, whether the kids are preschoolers (organized activities) or teens (all they can eat and a safe place to roam). See what cruise line might be best for your family in our 2014 Cruise Guide. Look for kids-cruise-free deals like those offered from all-inclusive Crystal Cruises, as long as you are willing to share a cabin!

6. GO TO CAMP. My husband’s family has loved gathering in Colorado at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park where we can explore Rocky Mountain National Park. Mount Snow in southern Vermont is launching The Family Camp at Mount Snow with 3- to 7-day experiences, including fishing, golf, mountain-biking and more, as long as you can leave your electronic devices behind during the day.

What’s your pick?