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A trip for the ages

(ran HT edition)

Intergenerational travel sounds a bit like intergalactic travel, and in some ways it may be that far out: grandparents and grandchildren who may not know each other well set out on a trip to an unfamiliar place, often where the language is unknown.

The combination of 55-plus and 17-minus, while not nearly so common as family travel _ parents traveling with their children _ has grown in importance in the last decade. Its increase is linked to the large number of children of divorce and of families in which both parents work outside the home, leaving little time for vacations. The increase in the number of grandparents who retire before 65 also means there are more active people who can handle vacationing children and who may be better able to pay the bills.

The rub with intergenerational travel is that grandparent and grandchild may live far apart and almost certainly have different lifestyles. Custody decisions may mean a grandparent is seldom even discussed. Turning these relatives into roommates for 10 to 14 nights is not accomplished by benevolence and money alone.

Dr. Robert P. McCaffery of the Familyhostel program, which operates summer overseas trips for adults and children related to them, warns that 24-hour-a-day togetherness can sour fast. Travel in groups, he says, provides time for adults to take a break while the children are involved in other activities.

"Children need to relate to children," said Helena T. Koenig, the owner of Grandtravel in Washington. "There is only so much beauty you can impart to a child at once."

And the "days at leisure" so often found in itineraries for adults are not found in intergenerational schedules. Grandfather may be buckling, but the kids are still going like Energizer bunnies.

Both of these groups provide time for children to be with children, particularly at the end of the day, and to get vigorous exercise. McCaffery said his organization had tested staying in suburbs to provide more space, or perhaps a pool at the hotel, but discovered the travelers still preferred the convenience of lodgings downtown for urban destinations.

The Familyhostel program was spun off by the University of New Hampshire, sponsor of Interhostel. For this seventh year, it is offering six 10-day educational trips for grandparents or parents _ sometimes both _ and children 8 to 15. The maximum group is 40 people; the minimum is 17.

The trips are to Provence and Paris; Paris and Normandy; Vienna; Switzerland; Wales and London. Adult prices range from $1,925 to $2,975; children's, $1,665 to $2,895, all including air fare, in multiple-occupancy rooms. Familyhostel, 6 Garrison Ave., Durham, NH 03824; (800) 733-9753.

Grandtravel is offering 17 tours this year. When Koenig created this company in 1987 as a division of the Ticket Counter, her Chevy Chase, Md., travel agency, she offered a trip to Washington, one to the Southwest and a safari to Kenya. She still has these three, plus 14 others, most with two departure dates. Although the recession a few years ago brought a patch of no growth _ Grandtravel's offerings are expensive _ Koenig says that as she has added trips, they have continued to fill with her usual maximum of 26.

Other Grandtravel offerings are in the Pacific Northwest, the Grand Canyon, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota; Hawaii; Ireland, England and Scotland, London and Paris; the French countryside; Italy; Munich, Salzburg, Vienna and Prague; Spain, and Australia. The cost for nine nights in Hawaii, without air fare, is $4,590 for an adult in a double, $4,380 for a child. Grandtravel, 6900 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 706, Chevy Chase, MD 20815; (800) 247-7651.

Both Familyhostel and Grandtravel use teachers as escorts. "We thought we wanted experts in the area or the material," McCaffery, a historian, said, "but we really needed the middle-school or elementary teacher who knew the kids' span of attention and level of understanding."

Koenig's typical clients are a grandmother and a child whose parents are divorced. Sometimes two grandparents will take two children. The overall boy-girl ratio is 50-50, although some trips attract more of one sex than the other.

The Grandtravel ages are 7 to 17, and often one departure of a trip will be designed for the 7 to 11s, the other for 12 to 17s. Grandtravel has booked grandchildren going up in steps in succeeding years; younger children may hear from older ones and want the same trip exactly.

On Grandtravel tours, no child stays in a room without an adult, so the issue of how late the light or television stays on is to be resolved by the grandparent and grandchild.

What do the grandparents get from the trip? "They are energized, they come alive." Koenig said. "They have that responsibility again."

In the pure adventure category is a high-priced company, Rascals in Paradise, a division of Adventure Express in San Francisco. It is in its 10th year of "distinctive family vacations," with yacht charters in Turkey and Tahiti and trips to Africa, Hawaii, Alaska and Australia. The adults are more often parents than grandparents, but grandparents who enjoy things such as scuba diving will find opportunities here. The prices are still being set, but as an example, a Tahiti charter for up to eight people is quoted at $2,090 a day.

Rascals in Paradise, 650 Fifth St., Suite 505, San Francisco, CA 94107; (800) 872-7225.

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