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SHARING A TRIP WITH A GRANDCHILD

Taking trips with grandchildren ranks high on the wish list of senior travelers. The challenge lies in figuring out the best way to travel together.

A recent poll of group travelers showed that grandparent-grandchild trips ranked No. 9 of the 50 most popular destinations and types of tours. The survey was taken by the National Tour Association and Group Leaders of America, two of the country's major group-tour trade organizations.

Grandparents' first impulse often is to take the youngsters on a grand tour of Disney World or another theme park. But these popular attractions are so crowded during summer and other school breaks that bonding time together often is spent in long lines waiting for a short ride in a twirling teacup or a not-so-fast-food lunch.

For more reality-based trips to destinations exciting to both age groups, such as Alaska or Greece, traveling with a group can be an inviting alternative. Someone else is driving. Your itinerary, luggage handling, hotel and restaurant reservations and admission to museums and attractions are included. You'll surrender a certain amount of independence, but that trade-off may be worth it if it allows you to focus on your grandchild.

The leader in trips specifically tailored to two generations is Grandtravel, a 15-year-old company in Chevy Chase, Md., operated by Helena Konig, herself a grandmother.

Teachers, psychologists and leisure counselors developed the structure of its programs. Itineraries reach destinations as close as the U.S. Southwest and as far as China.

Groups are accompanied by a tour guide and a Grandtravel escort, often a teacher or leisure counselor. The schedule allows for private time together as well as occasional separate activities for kids and grandparents. This year, Grandtravel trips range from $4,000 per person on a U.S. itinerary to $8,950 per grandparent and $7,985 per grandchild for an overseas adventure.

Other group trips specifically for grandparents and grandchildren are difficult to find at any price. While some 45 of the 600 group-tour companies belonging to the National Tour Association list two-generation trips among their specialties, they do not offer scheduled departures. Representatives of these companies say that occasionally a grandparent brings a grandchild along on a regular trip for grown-ups.

Instead, these "specialist" companies will act as travel agents for you, helping you plan and make reservations for a trip on your own.

You must select a destination interesting to you and your grandchild. You'll need to riffle through guidebooks and pamphlets to figure out which attractions your grandchild would find fun and stimulating.

You'll have to determine each day's pace based on your and your grandchild's stamina, find child-friendly accommodations and restaurants, and make other decisions. A company experienced in student trips may be best prepared to help you.

Perhaps traveling in a recreational vehicle may be the way to go. If you have one that is self-contained (vs. towed), grandchildren can nap, use the facilities, grab a snack or click on seat belts at the dinette table while they view scenery through big windows or color and play games -- all while you're on the road. They're sure to find playmates at camping grounds.

Alaska Highway Cruises combines an RV tour with a Holland America cruise. The company provides the RV, plus a rented campsite each night during the road-trip portion of the tour.

If a resort is of appeal, choose one geared to families but where programs for children and teens are extensive -- not relying solely on a games arcade and movies. Dude ranches vary as much as resorts, their amenities ranging from horseback rides to golf and massages.

Cities such as New York, Chicago, San Antonio or Seattle make good grandparent-grandchild destinations. Guidebooks provide ideas for child-friendly spots to visit.

You can bank on the fact that the value of a birthday check or new toy pales beside the closeness and memories you and your grandchild will have for the rest of your lives when you travel together.

Grandtravel is at 6900 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 706, Chevy Chase, MD 20815. Call (800) 247-7651, e-mail grandtravl@aol.com or visit www.grandtrvl.com.

Alaska Highway Cruises is at 18384 Redmond Way, Redmond, WA 98052. Call (425) 497-1212, e-mail alaskarv@aol.com or visit www.alaskarv.com.

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