My husband and I recently returned from an unforgettable trip to Brazil. The Brazilian beaches, nightlife, culture, and food were spectacular, but the true highlight was vacationing with our 14-year-old grandson, Ben. This was the first time my husband and I planned an international excursion with a grandchild — without his parents — and the experience was one we’ll never forget.
Travel opens a young person’s eyes like no other experience. It introduces them to foreign sights and sounds that free their minds and expand their world views. Travel teaches life lessons, like that people who look, speak, eat, dress, and behave differently are still people just like you.
By traveling to Brazil with Ben, my husband and I also expanded our own world views by viewing the country through his fresh, curious eyes and savoring new experiences through his enormous appetite for adventure. Ben’s excitement began the moment we stepped off the airplane, and he remained in a state of wonder for the entire trip. We watched him soak up every detail, ask questions, embrace a new culture and people, and try strange foods, and we were delighted as every one of his firsts transformed into our own.
The experience not only influenced our views of Brazil, but it also forged bonds among us that would never have been possible under other circumstances. Traveling without Ben’s parents allowed us to truly get to know one another in a new way, and appreciate each other far beyond the traditional grandparent and grandchild relationship.
I highly recommend that all grandparents make the effort to give their grandchildren a gift they will never forget — the gift of travel.
Before you embark on your travel adventure, here are a few things all grandparents need to know:
1) Attain a letter of consent. Before we left the country with Ben, we attained a notarized letter of consent from Ben’s parents. For the safety of children, this document is necessary to clear customs with a minor. It’s proof that the child has the parents’ permission to travel with you, and that you have authority to make decisions about the child’s health and welfare for the duration of the trip. In the letter we listed information such as Ben’s date of birth, passport number, our address of residence in Brazil, and his parents’ signatures. We also made multiple copies so each of us on the trip had one, and we left one at home with Ben’s parents.
2) Get debriefed. Ben’s parents know him better than we do, and for that reason, I made sure to get briefed on his sleeping habits, food likes and dislikes, allergies, and medical treatments. When traveling with grandchildren, it’s important to learn their routines and preferences ahead of time, and prepare for them accordingly to prevent potential sicknesses or meltdowns. I also attained a list of family rules from his parents to keep similar guidelines on our trip. (Okay, I admit to being somewhat less than fastidious about every rule.)
3) Book connecting rooms. In each hotel on our itinerary, we made sure to reserve connecting rooms. At 14, we felt Ben was old enough to appreciate his own room, and it gave us all some privacy. But we didn’t want him to be too far away in case he needed us (or we needed him). If you’re traveling with a child who is old enough to sleep in his own room, definitely request connecting rooms.
4) Help pack. My husband and I are experienced travelers, with a lot of knowledge about what and how to pack. Before our trip, I helped figure out what Ben would need by making a list. Then, he went through his closet, and tried on clothes that he wanted to take but hadn’t actually worn since last summer. It was a good thing we checked because Ben definitely needed a few new items for his trip, and we promptly added a pre-trip shopping spree to fill in the gaps. Ben was in heaven because I let him buy whatever he liked (within reason, of course).
5) Pick the right age. My husband and I waited until Ben was 14 to take our first trip together. We wanted to travel with him while he was still young enough that international travel was a novelty, yet old enough to understand and remember the experience. I found 14 to be the prefect traveling age, but use your own judgment on what age would work best for you. Some children are very independent and are ready to travel without their parents at younger ages, but for Ben, 14 turned out to be the perfect age.
6) Plan together. When we decided we wanted to take Ben on a trip, we asked him to choose where he wanted to go, and he picked Brazil. For several years, he had been practicing capoeira — a Brazilian martial art that combines dance, aerobatics, and music — and it was this practice that drove his desire to visit Brazil. Since capoeira was his principle reason for wanting to visit the country, I made sure we saw several performances during our stay. In fact, Ben even participated in a show when the performers pulled him up on the stage. He loved it, despite his shy nature, and I could tell by his delight that this was a moment that would stand out as one of his trip highlights.
Once we knew our destination, we planned our itinerary together. We wanted to be sure we would all enjoy the trip, so we carefully avoided day-long trips to museums or other “boring” activities. We made sure to add fun stuff to the itinerary, like a visit to the oldest coffee shop in Rio, known for its delicious coffee, pastries, and fabulous ice cream sundaes. Finally, I gave Ben a copy of our itinerary so he’d know what to expect and could share the trip details with friends and family.
Our trip to Brazil was full of excitement, amazing sites, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but my best memories were the small moments. The ones spent sipping coffee in the hotel’s “fancy-shmancy” lounge with our pinkies up. Or when we rode the cable car up Corcovado, posing for photos with arms outstretched like Christ the Redeemer. And when we waited for the rain to stop for a half hour so we could dip our toes into the sea at Copacabana beach, which Ben said he could not go home without accomplishing. These are the memories that can only be created through the magic of travel, and are destined to be ones the three of us — Ben and his grandparents — will never forget.