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Traveling with grandchildren adds joy, dimension to trip

I've considered it — but never had the guts.

My mother actually did what I go into cold sweats thinking about. She took two of my kids, my daughter, then 11, and my oldest son, 13, to Europe during the summer of 1972.

As I recall, the trip was not exactly a disaster, but close to it. The kids were bored and homesick and my mother was a nervous wreck.

Anticipating other such stories that would be appropriate during the summer vacation season, The Grands asked readers a while back to share their experiences with grandparents taking their grandkids on trips.

After all, there are now guided tours, cruises, even luxury travel specifically for this demographic.

Check Grandtravel (, Elderhostel (, or just Google pretty much any version of the phrase "travel with grandchildren" for tons of information and advice.

My anticipation for reading amusing tales from Grands readers about, say, kids throwing up on a train, as I did back in the day, didn't show up in my e-mail.

Maybe they're so painful no one wants to relive them.

What did come in were some delightful stories that relayed treasured memories.

Jeannie Wallace recounted multiple trips she and her husband, Paul, have taken with numerous grandchildren.

"There's nothing like seeing the world in a different light than to take a child along with you," said Jeannie in an e-mail.

The Pinellas Park couple was able to enjoy several "firsts" with some of the kids, including a ride on Amtrak's AutoTrain that runs from Sanford to Lorton, Va.

Certainly the most entertaining story came from Betty and Dick Westra, octogenarians and former snowbirds from Michigan who moved to Seminole permanently in 1999.

Neither can remember the exact year they invited all seven grandchildren on a summer trip, 2001 or 2002, she says. Only two of the kids, Chris and Mike Westra, were able to go.

Though the exact date of the trip remains elusive, other highlights of the journey to Washington with their teenage grandsons stand tall like the iconic spire, Ad Astra — to the stars — in front of the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum.

The foursome headed east from Grand Rapids, Mich., in the Westras' 35-foot motor home.

Even though they were close to the boys and had traveled with them before, Betty said she and Dick, a Kent County, Mich., employee for many years, still worried about how to make the 600-mile drive interesting.

Turned out, planning what they were going to do when they reached their destination filled many hours on the way.

"Conversations were heated for awhile," said Betty. Both boys wanted to see the Air and Space Museum. Other stops were not unanimous.

"We decided we'd see it all."

On the way home, the boys sat at the motor home's dinette and played Go Fish and Uno to amuse themselves.

There was no muss, no fuss, said Betty, a school secretary and aide during her working years.

Just a lot of fun.

The historic Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., was the first stop.

Although the boys had steeped themselves in Gettysburg history, they were touched by the battlefield's acres of green; at the spot where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, the boys recited the speech.

Near D.C., the Westras found a campground that offered bus service to a stop on the city's metro line.

At the Air and Space Museum they gawked at Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and the Russian Soyuz space capsule.

That was a major highlight of the trip. But there were other stops they all enjoyed, including the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Holocaust Museum.

"And so it went," says Betty. "Every day we went somewhere."

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall connected them to their Michigan home.

Chris and Mike checked the logs of the 58,198 names carved in the black marble and found several casualties from Grand Rapids.

They were particularly touched by the flowers and mementos placed on the ground at the base of the wall by relatives and friends of those who were killed.

Betty says that the kids — who have since graduated with engineering degrees from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich. — never gave them a bit of trouble during the entire trip.

In fact, the 12 days they spent together was a wonderful experience for all of them, she says.

"They behaved beautifully." But she never doubted that.

Even today, the four still remember that trip.

"We still talk about it," says Betty. "Every once in a while I send them a picture."

Judy Hill is a grandmother and freelance writer in St. Petersburg. She can be reached at or Judy Hill/LifeTimes, c/o the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Traveling with grandchildren adds joy, dimension to trip 06/22/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 22, 2009 4:30am]
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