Why Skip-Gen Vacations Are the Hottest Trend in Family Travel This Year

A skip-gen trip might be exactly the kind of vacation that kids, parents, and grandparents all need this year.
A boy and his grandfather on a skip-gen vacation hiking through an alpine meadow (Photo: @jordvdz via Twenty20)
Photo: @jordvdz via Twenty20

Skip-gen travel, also called gramping, is a growing travel trend of grandparents and grandkids traveling together without the children’s parents (“skipping the middle generation”). With pandemic fatigue hitting hard, a skip-gen vacation might be exactly the kind of multigenerational vacation that kids, parents, and grandparents all need this year

Parents can certainly use a break from non-stop family togetherness and maybe a little romantic getaway of their own. Kids have cabin fever from the monotony of virtual schooling and homebound routines. And for grandparents who’ve been isolated from family for a year, hugging the grandkids tops their family vacation ideas wishlist.

Fortunately, after a year in lockdown, there’s growing optimism that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently announced those who are fully immunized may travel “at low risk to themselves.” And according to an independent survey recently conducted by Destination Analysts, more than 70 percent of American travelers have dreamt of or are planning to travel in the near future. 

Among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, older Americans are armed with precious antibodies, and hotels across the country are seeing a boost in bookings made using AARP discounts and other senior rates. With a pent-up appetite to travel and summer approaching, skip-gen vacations are poised for an uptick.

Here are the trends that are shaping the skip-gen travel movement this summer.

For Skip-Gen Vacations, Think Safety First 

The vaccine has injected skip-gen travelers with increased confidence, but public health experts continue to advise mask-wearing, frequent hand washing, and social distancing. Though clinical trials are underway, children are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, making it prudent to seek a hotel, resort, or destination that takes COVID-19 precautions seriously. 

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Many hotel websites (and hotel booking sites) list specific enhanced measures to slow the spread of the virus, including mask mandates and keeping guest rooms vacant for 24 hours before and after each reservation. The Marriott chain has implemented a brand-wide Commitment to Clean  at all properties, with upgraded sanitization using hospital-grade disinfectants and electrostatic sprayers. Omni Hotels and Resorts’ chain-wide Safe and Clean initiative takes a pragmatic approach to COVID-19, with daily staff temperature checks and contactless transactions to go along with strengthened cleaning. 

Hotels, motels, and family glamping resorts with exterior access guest room doors and individual cottages are increasingly sought-after. With no shared elevators or common hallways, these accommodations limit unwanted interactions with other guests and staff. 

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For skip-gen holidays, or any summer trip, consider sticking to kid-friendly resorts and family vacation spots in the U.S. where hospitals are not overburdened. Grandparents are more active and physically fitter than ever, though they are still more likely to suffer from a variety of non-COVID health issues that could require medical attention.

Driving Destinations Make Sense This Year

Skip-gen travelers are staying close to home, avoiding busy airports and crowded flights. The pandemic appeal of a self-contained vehicle is clear for grandparent-grandchild trips, and vacationers across the board are prioritizing road trip ideas and domestic drive destinations

A drive destination is easy if you and your grandkids live in the same part of the country. Retired educator Bob Matano and his 11-year-old grandson Amos live in different parts of California. They have fond memories of their previous skip-gen trips, including one to Machu Picchu. Bob is now vaccinated, and after more than a year apart, he and Amos plan to meet in the middle in Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County.

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Bob is looking forward to the low-key pleasures of “spending time with my grandson fishing off the pier, licking a cone at Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab in San Luis Obispo, and watching a Dodger game on television at the motel.”

National Parks Allow for Social Distancing

Fresh air and open space are at a premium, and a visit to a national park in spring or summer fits the times like a glove. Hiking, stargazing, wildlife viewing, and sharing the restorative power of nature with the grandkids doesn’t have to mean roughing it, either. The country’s best national park lodges combine majestic scenery with upscale creature comforts. 

El Tovar, dramatically perched on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, has individually appointed rooms and concierge services. In Washington’s Olympic National Park, Lake Quinault Lodge is surrounded by lush emerald valleys with manmade perks like a heated indoor pool and sauna.

Skip-Gen Travelers Are Embracing Small Towns and Rural Regions

With sparsely populated destinations perceived as safer, the pandemic has turned the tourism tide towards small towns and rural regions.

Defined by a patchwork of freshwater lakes and rugged peaks, the Adirondacks region of New York is seeing a jump in bookings. There are socially distant accommodations to suit a variety of budgets, from a rustic cabin in a forest preserve to a luxurious cottage posh enough for the generations of Rockefellers and Vanderbilts who summered here.

In Ohio, Hocking Hills is expecting one of its busiest summer seasons. With more than 10,000 acres of unbroken forest punctuated with waterfalls, caves, and natural bridges, there’s room to roam. Booking a quirky free standing lodging option like an upscale yurt, teepee, or a transformed vintage train caboose adds a memorable touch to any skip generation trip.

Getting Outdoors Remains Popular

To help stop transmission of the virus, the World Health Organization suggests choosing open-air venues whenever possible. Restaurants with outdoor seating and botanical gardens with timed tickets and reduced capacity accompanying the beautiful blooms are popular options for skip-gen travel. 

Trade the stuffy space of a traditional museum for an outdoor sculpture park. Kids can run and play while absorbing color, form, and the ever-changing dialogue between art and the environment. Many such installations don’t charge admission, so it’s a low-stakes activity.

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All-Inclusive Resorts Offer Hassle-Free Skip-Gen Vacations

Pandemic stress has nudged some travelers towards hassle-free all-inclusive vacations where meals, drinks, and activities are part of the deal. Many people associate all-inclusive resorts with Mexico and Caribbean beaches on islands like Jamaica and Aruba, but there are a surprising number of all-inclusive resorts in the continental U.S. and Hawaii, too. 

A dude ranch vacation is a western-themed all-inclusive that doesn’t sit on its high horse. In the Colorado Rockies, C Lazy U Ranch helps skip-gen families achieve a healthy balance of time spent together and apart. With comprehensive teen and children’s programming, kids can spend active supervised time with their peers, freeing grandparents to enjoy the ranch at their own speed, perhaps relaxing at the spa or taking a yoga class.

Group Tours Gain Steam

Like all-inclusive resorts, small group tours offer the added convenience of letting someone else do the organizing. The educational non-profit Roads Scholar pioneered “Grandparent Adventures” for multiple generations 35 years ago, helmed by experienced leaders who know how to appeal to varying interests and attention spans. This summer, the company is running a handful of domestic itineraries that cater to skip-gen travelers with stringent safety measures in place. 

And the future looks even brighter for skip-gen travel: “Our phones have been ringing off the hook with people planning grandparent and family programs for the summer of 2022,” says Chris Heppner, Director of Communications at Roads Scholar. 

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There’s equally encouraging news at REI Adventure Travel, where according to senior manager Justin Wood, “our most popular trips are completely booked for summer 2021 while others are more than 60 percent sold out.” While not exclusively for skip-gen travelers, these small group family adventures to national parks and outdoor destinations are on-trend. 

For Skip-Gen Vacations, Practice Makes Perfect 

After so much time apart, grandparents may be surprised at how much their grandkids have changed. Kyle McCarthy, editor of the travel website Family Travel Forum, suggests a practice run before any big grandparent-grandkid vacation: “Spend an overnight in a nearby hotel so everyone gets comfortable before the big adventure. Remember, you’re traveling together to make new memories. Once you’re on your way, relax and enjoy.”

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Allison Tibaldi
Allison Tibaldi has written for publications including CNN, Business Insider, FamilyVacationist, HGTV, USA TODAY, and Travel Weekly. As a former early childhood educator, she is interested in the way kids experience the world, and thinks that travel is the best education for young minds. Tibaldi is based in New York City.