Last updated on November 30th, 2023
Featured image: Grandparents and grandchildren learn from each other when we travel/ Photo credit By Wavebreakmedia on Envato
Learning about trust, gratitude and service through travel
by Carolyn Ray, Editor, JourneyWoman
For those who are fortunate enough to travel with their grandmothers, the memories and impact are long-lasting. I only travelled once with my 92-year old Nana, who lived in Toronto, while I was attending university in Ontario. She didn’t enjoy planes and made one trip with me to Florida after my grandfather passed away. I will never forget that moment at the Toronto airport when I realized she didn’t even have a passport and had brought her long-form birth certificate, which was like a scroll in those days. Somehow, we got through customs!
One thing that’s clear about multigenerational travel is that shared interests and values connect us, from wildlife to volunteering to photography, as JourneyWoman founder Evelyn Hannon discovered with her grandson Josh when they travelled to Iceland when he was 16 and she 75.
“My 16-year old grandson, Josh and I have two big interests in common,” Hannon wrote. “We both have a terrific love of photography and adventure travel – the kind of travel that allows us to delve into environments and cultures different from our own. At heart, Josh is a nature boy who loves the outdoors and has a keen eye for capturing the beauty in his surroundings. He also is a patient, uncomplaining, ‘go with the flow’ kind of explorer.”
In honour of Mother’s Day 2023, we invited three globe-trotting grannies — Liz Hathway, Lois Reimer and Nat Hagn —to share their wisdom about their travel with grandchildren. These adventurous women are leading by example, and showing through their own actions how travel can create trust and gratitude, while learning a few lessons themselves along the way.
Read More: Travels with My Teenaged Grandson
Liz Hathway, 79, and grandson, Jacob, 20, in February 2020 in South Africa / Photo provided by Liz Hathway.
Exploring possibilities and lessons from South Africa
Liz Hathway, 82, has taken her grandchildren on multiple trips in South Africa, including Johannesburg, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. In doing so, she wanted her grandchildren to experience a wide range of different cultures, customs, colours, languages, foods, ages, and socio-economic circumstances.
“I wanted to let them learn what they will about possibilities beyond their customary environment, free from family dynamics with parents and siblings,” Hathway says. “I believe that travel can also re-set one’s perception of one’s own homeland.”
Her most recent trip was with grandson Jacob in February 2020. Even with a 59-year age difference (she was 79, he was 20), Hathway says her grandson enjoyed discussing recipes and learning about the national sport of braai or ‘grilled meat’. Prior trips included grandson Liam, 22, Hailey, 21, and Ailidh, 22. With each of her grandchildren, Hathway used On Track Safaris, based in the UK, to accommodate school and work and to include individual interests. They stayed in small lodges with a maximum of 6 to 8 guests in huge wilderness reserves with communal meals hosted by guides, manager/owners.
A journey with her granddaughter to Guatemala
In 2017, Lois Reimer, 69, invited McKayla, her 16-year old granddaughter, to join her on a volunteer trip to Guatemala with Canadian Friends of Fundamaya Association (FundaMaya Canada). On their trip, Reimer and McKayla spent most of their time in Panajachel with visits to indigenous families in the area around Lake Atitlan.
“I felt this was a great opportunity for McKayla to learn about the Maya culture and traditions, experience the warmth and generosity of spirit of the people, as well as witness the struggles and poverty experienced by so many there and gain a new perspective on global concerns,” Reimer says.
“We participated in distributing clothing, shoes, food, beds, installing ecological stoves and visiting families to check on their welfare. We visited preschool nutrition centres and did activities with the children. We served luncheon at an elder luncheon program and exchanged smiles and pantomime with the elders. On the leisure side, we took a trip to the big market in Chichestenango, took a boat trip to several villages around the lake, visited the Iximche ruins, took a street food tour in Antigua, and enjoyed walks around Panajachel on our own.”
A trip of trust in Cuba
Nathalie Hagn, 50, took her two nieces, Emilie, 11, and Victoria, 8, to a place where everything wasn’t at their fingertips. Together, they boarded a flight bound for Cayo Coco, Cuba at 7 am, choosing the Iberostar Playa Pilar for its calm shallow waters, boardwalks, kids club, and sizeable rooms.
“I don’t have grandkids and probably never will, but I have taken an involved role in the lives of my nieces, and feel like so much more than an aunt,” she says. “I am the only elder in proximity, so I have a privileged place in the eyes of the family and fill multiple roles, like a grandma would.”
She says: “This was a trip of trust. They quickly sensed they could be totally natural around me, and we had a wonderful week of bonding. In them (they will roll with it), in me (Nat can handle this), and from their parents (she can keep them safe). All that was left was to savor every moment And at the end, I got to hand them back to their parents, and collapse!”
What these grannies learned from their grandchildren
As experienced travellers, we might think that we are teaching our grandchildren valuable lessons. But these grannies found that THEY were the ones who learned the most.
“Grandchildren are more fun! I was blown away by the ease with which each of them interacted with everyone they met from international guests, reserve owners/managers, guides, trackers, drivers, hospitality & maintenance staff, roadside vendors,” said Hathway. ”They were so interested, excited, respectful and asked so many questions, all I had to do was keep my mouth closed and my ears open! The discussions that ensued were thoughtful and impressive. I got to know aspects of each grandchild that I might never have known otherwise. I’m so glad I did this.”
Reimer says she was initially so ‘ hyper-vigilant and anxious’ at the start of the trip that her granddaughter would enjoy herself or be bored to tears that it put her on edge. However, her fears were unfounded.
“Right from the start, I saw her resilience and openness and warmth to the children and families with whom we were engaged despite not having a common language,” said Reimer. ”She never hesitated to dive right in and help out with whatever activity we were doing. I learned from her that travelling with a 16 year-old was not travelling with a child. I was travelling with a companion and while, yes, I did have the greater responsibility in terms of travel arrangements, safety, and care of a minor, all I had to do was listen to what she found enjoyable and what she didn’t and together we would have a successful trip together.”
“Travel gives you the opportunity to learn about other cultures and people if you let yourself be open to new experiences and not try to replicate home in what you see and do,” Reimer says.
As an experienced solo traveller, Hagn found that organizing for this was on a whole other level. “Forget carry-on only,” she says. “Half of my checked suitcase was dedicated to snacks, snorkel gear, every possible sort of OTC medication, sunscreen, bug spray, condiments, and snacks. Because you never know what will or won’t be available in Cuba, I spent weeks getting organized and had never been more prepared in my life, or at least not since traveling with my own children when they were young.”
“They took to calling me Nattie Poppins, because I seemed to be able to produce whatever was needed, on the spot,” she recalls. “Need a toothpick, some pepper, a hand wipe, tissues? I got that. They were also eager and curious when we visited towns in the center of the main Island, during a very long and sometimes tedious day tour. They went with the flow and were opened to see how others live was impressive and moving. We all returned with refreshed perspectives on our fortunate circumstances.”
Hathway, 74, and her grandson, Liam, 22, flanked by two of their outstanding wildlife guides, Dylan and Becky near Black Leopard Camp, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. / Photo provided by Liz Hathway.
Grannie-Grandchildren Travel Tips
In reflecting on their trips with their grandchildren, our vibrant, adventurous grannies offer some of their tips for those considering multigenerational travel.
“I urge other grandmothers to try this. Why not negotiate a destination with your grandson? Make sure it is the type of trip that will accommodate both of your energy levels and any common interests you might have. Choose something that doesn’t put a strain on your budget and before departure create some ground rules for what you expect from each other. Then, go! I think you will never regret it”. – Evelyn Hannon
“Give one another time and space. Allow for spontaneity and digression. You don’t have to be attached!” – Liz Hathway
“Plan long flights carefully for minimum stress re: layovers, time of arrival, jet lag. There is usually a spare room somewhere if sharing doesn’t work for somebody. Ask! I was never charged for an unscheduled single occupancy.” – Liz Hathway
“Because I had involved her in the planning and done a lot of prep around what we might experience and safety concerns, she was better prepared to be part of the experience without visible anxiety or distress.” – Lois Reimer
“We debriefed every night about what we’d seen and done and gave her the opportunity to talk about it. I think both ends of this would work on any vacation with grandchildren – involve them in the planning process and check in with them at the end of every day to see what worked and what didn’t and be ready to adapt where possible to ensure success on succeeding days.” – Lois Reimer
Discover More About Multigenerational Travel
Grandmother of three Kathy Buckworth’s new column “My Grand Journey” explores tips and places for multi-generational travel with grandchildren.
Claudia Laroye’s book “A Gelato a Day” includes short stories from leading travel writers that show the true impact of family travel.
Mother – daughter duos share their favourite travel experiences, lessons learned and tips to travel well together in this Mother’s Day feature.