How to stay safe and have fun


My six grandchildren are ages 7 to 25. Some of my happiest memories are of the times when my husband and I took one or two of them with us on vacation. Our family vacation ideas ranged from hikes and beach time near home to farther-afield trips to some of the best family vacation spots in the U.S., like Seattle, New York City and Washington, D.C.

We were lucky to be able to take the older four individually (or, in the case of the twins, together) on two one-week trips each – first when they were about 9 years old and again at 14 or so. These skip-gen trips, also called grandparent-grandchild vacations, are ideal when the grandchildren are old enough to be knowledgeable and curious about what they are experiencing (with a minimum of homesickness) and young enough not to have summer jobs or feel as if they’re wasting their vacation with their elders instead of hanging out with friends. 

The skip-gen travel years are short and precious, and we grandparents are getting older, too. With more than a year lost to lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions, it’s no wonder that many fully vaccinated grandparents are not taking a “wait and see” attitude to travel. Rather, we want to take to the road (or the skies) with our grandchildren sooner rather than later.

On the road:  11 family road trip ideas every kid will love

At the same time, we don’t want to be foolish: Our grandchildren under 12 have no vaccine yet available to them, and the older children may not be fully vaccinated until midsummer. While most children are not at risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19they are not risk-free, either

The CDC guidelines for masking, social distancing and travel have loosened considerably in past weeks, but we grandparents need to remain watchful and cautious. Our travels will necessarily be less spur-of-the-moment and more carefully researched and planned this year. 

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The CDC weighs in

In the past year and a half, the CDC has issued many warnings and guidelines, and states and local communities have also weighed in with rules and recommendations that occasionally cause confusion.

In mid-May, the CDC revised its guidelines, saying fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks anymore, inside or outdoors. But they may still be required in health care settings, and some businesses may still require everyone to wear them. 

But what if you’re vaccinated and out and about with kids who aren’t eligible yet?

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The temptation to relax and be “normal” is stronger, I think, when traveling and visiting a new place. With the grandchildren along, though, we need to bring our supply of hand sanitizer, wipes and tissues, and to insist (without fussing) on frequent hand-washing and the other good health practices we have learned.

5 simple rules for safe travel with unvaccinated kids

For vaccinated grandparents traveling with unvaccinated children, all this verbiage can be boiled down to a few consistent guidelines. At any rate, these are the ones I follow:

When in doubt, put on your mask, which you should always have with you. Outdoor activities in uncrowded places do not require a mask. In other situations, even where masking is not required (or even where it is discouraged), we adults should mask in solidarity with our unvaccinated grandchildren. 

Keep your distance. Social distancing guidelines (6 feet between people not of the same household) are clear and consistent, although some venues no longer enforce them. Most children have been carefully and repeatedly instructed in masking and social distancing, so even in new situations, a gentle reminder should be sufficient. 

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It is the adult’s responsibility to choose destinations and activities that make distancing possible. An outdoor concert with socially distanced “pods” for the audience: yes. A crowded street fair or musical event (indoor or outdoor) with the audience standing shoulder-to-shoulder: no.

Research safe practices. When planning your summer vacation ideas and your activities, research the safety protocols of each community and business you’re thinking of visiting. Some have relaxed or even eliminated their COVID-19 safety procedures. That means we grandparents must use the internet or phone to determine what sanitizing procedures a hotel or vacation rental has in place and what distancing and masking policies a restaurant or other business is enforcing.

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Continue our own best practices. Once I was fully vaccinated and out of the house again, I occasionally forgot that, yes, the virus is still out there. The temptation to relax and be “normal” is stronger when traveling and visiting a new place. With the grandchildren along, though, we need to bring our supply of hand sanitizer, wipes and tissues, and to insist (without fussing) on frequent hand washing and the other good health practices we have learned.

Trips you might want to skip

While I believe that a savvy, well-prepared grandparent can pull off a safe, healthy, successful skip-gen vacation anywhere, I would postpone these kinds of trips:

Vacations that require a lot of public transport or any extensive travel in crowded, uncertain conditions. Air travel may be necessary for grandparents and grandchildren even to get together. Masks, plenty of sanitizer and the use of airlines and airports with clear, consistent safety protocols can minimize the risk to the unvaccinated. But as much fun as trains, taxis, cruise ships, ferries, subways and ride shares can be for children, I would try to avoid them this year for the sake of social distancing.

Vacations in places where masking is discouraged. In many states and communities, businesses and other venues are now able to choose whether to require masks. This practice allows you to decide which ones to patronize. But in some places (such as Florida and Texas), it is now illegal to require masks. I would try to avoid places likely to be frequented by unmasked, unvaccinated people. 

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Vacations in places where the crowds are part of the fun. Think super-popular or trendy destinations, festivals, once-a-year gatherings that draw large crowds. At the same time, I see no reason to avoid outdoor concerts and other performances with safety protocols such as limited admission and socially distanced “pods” for audiences.

International travel. Again, this may be necessary for grandparents and grandchildren to even get together. But I would not want to be responsible for taking an unvaccinated grandchild abroad in times that are still uncertain as infection rates rise and fall in various countries.

Road trips, national parks are safe bets 


Seven tips for a safe road trip this summer

Here are seven tips to help you stay safe this summer and reduce your risk of getting sick off and on the road.

Alexis Arnold, USA TODAY

Road trips are still popular this year – and there’ s no public transportation required! If possible, I would choose an interesting nearby destination over a distant, more exotic one. Most kids I know don’t enjoy sitting for hours in the car, and they don’t care much for the passing scenery.

The national parks have been featured this year as wonderfully safe, memorable outdoor destinations – and of course, we want the grandchildren to experience them. But national parks are crowded every year and likely to be more so this year. If you have a particular park in mind, make sure to research whether it requires advance reservations, whether any are available and when they go up for grabs. It might also be worth considering less prominent state parks and recreation areas.

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Other solid bets:

Resorts with outdoor activities. They often have equipment and amenities (like amazing swimming pools) for children that grandparents would be hard-pressed to provide on their own. I would look for a kid-friendly hotel or all-inclusive resort in the U.S. that also advertises some “cross-generational” activities that children and grandchildren can enjoy together.

If possible, I would choose a resort near some other attractions so  you could make short trips together to experience them. A guest ranch would also fulfill that purpose, because it would provide rides, hikes and pack trips to take grandparents and grandchildren out beyond the boundaries of the resort.

Outdoor tourist attractions need not be rural, nor are they limited to theme parks with rides. Try outdoor zoos, historical sites, refurbished “ghost towns” and “living history” parks like Colonial Williamsburg.

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City visits. While “big city” and “social distancing” seem mismatched, I would at least consider a vacation with children in a city I knew well. Familiarity allows grandparents to use their ingenuity to avoid crowds. For instance, if you take your grandkids to New York, sidestep the big tourist attractions like Times Square. Instead, frequent the “insider” places that most tourists don’t know, visit a museum at off-hours (usually early weekday mornings), and enjoy outdoor attractions like Central Park or a summer outdoor performance.

One big drawback to a city visit, however, is that public transportation is required – unless, of course, you drive straight to your hotel and then walk everywhere. Such a “walking tour” is possible in a surprising number of cities, but that probably won’t be welcomed by most children.

Organized tours. Some reputable companies now have tours especially designed for grandparents and grandchildren. After researching the company’s reputation and its COVID-19 protocols, I would consider signing up for such a skip-gen trip.

Granny camp. Don’t forget the enormous appeal of one more exotic location: your place. Especially for younger children who live at a distance, grandma/grandpa’s house, backyard movie nights under the stars and surrounding areas are full of new things to see and experience. In addition to the local activities and treats you provide on a staycation, you can take the grandchildren on one or two day trips to nearby sites. When you do, many of the travel tips above will apply. 

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I also would research and reserve all lodging ahead of time. An impromptu stay at a funky motel that was the last available room in town might usually make for a good story or fun memory … but not this year. I would take a cooler, plan for picnics, look for places to eat outdoors. When I choose to eat indoors, especially with children as my guests, I try to make it at a place that is unusual, important, fun and memorable.

A final tip for first-timers

Plan for “down time.” The kids aren’t always going to be enthusiastic about the thing you want them to be excited about. They would rather swim in an ordinary motel pool rather than do something you think is important and interesting; they may get tired or cranky or hot or cold or whiny (so may you). Expecting and allowing for these things – being flexible – is also a good health habit, as useful as hand sanitizer for a healthy and happy multigenerational vacation.

Approach this skip-gen vacation experience not only with caution and planning but also with enthusiasm and joy. Travel is a wonderful opportunity to share new experiences with your grandchild.

More from FamilyVacationist: covers family vacation ideas; family travel destinations; all inclusive resorts; and must-have travel accessories for families of all shapes, sizes and orientations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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