All of Martha Seaberg's friends thought she was nuts to go on a whitewater rafting trip at age 76. The rapids ... the camping ... the outhouses!
"But I didn't care," said the Long Island grandmother. "I had my whole family together and we had a wonderful time."
The 16 of them -- including her children, children's spouses and grandchildren -- spent a memorable week rafting the Snake River last summer with ROW Adventures (www.rowadventures.com). "I could have taken them all to a resort," said Seaberg. "But when the grandkids get older, you've got to up the adventure quotient to get them to come."
Upping the adventure quotient is exactly what a growing number of well-heeled and fit grandparents are doing to gather their far-flung progeny. They're sailing in the British Virgin Islands, hiking in Yellowstone, exploring Costa Rican rain forests, bird-watching in the Galapagos Islands, heading to Africa on safari, fishing in Alaska and even studying marine biology in Virginia. "I'd rather do this than buy a new car," said Irene Miller, 75, who took her whole family to Yellowstone National Park last summer.
Some grandparents leave their children behind so they can focus on the grandkids. Ellen and Everett Long take their grandchildren on Elderhostel trips (www.elderhostel.com). They studied marine science in Virginia and toured San Diego.
Despite the economy, Elderhostel (www.roadscholar.org) reports that its intergenerational trips -- it now offers more than 200 -- are among the organization's most popular.
Steve Markle, spokesman for the adventure company OARS (www.oars.com), said it hosted 100 multigenerational trips last year -- a company record -- while Adventures by Disney (www.adventuresbydisney.com) reports that nearly a quarter of its guided trips around the world now include multigenerational groups.
The number of active seniors opting to share bona fide adventures with their children and grandchildren is changing the way we think of family vacations. Companies like Tauck Tours (family-travel.tauck.com) and Abercrombie and Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com) that once catered mostly to seniors now have entire divisions specializing in family trips.
Other adventure outfitters like Austin-Lehman (www.austinlehman.com) and Thomson Family Adventures (www.familyadventures.com) report active grandparents spearheading trips that most of their parents would never have considered.
"At my mom's age, my grandmother was a little old lady," laughed Martha Seaberg's daughter, Valerie, who lives in Wyoming. "My mother isn't a little old lady."
She and her mom agree that these annual trips her mother funds keep the far-flung family much closer than they would be otherwise.
But it is not cheap -- sometimes costing tens of thousands of dollars, especially when families opt for guided trips so grandparents don't have to sweat the details. Another plus: The guides help entertain the kids and can arrange activities to suit every age group.
The key to a successful multigenerational trip is planning. "Cater to the youngest and oldest," suggests Suzanne Teng. Besides price, of course, you need to consider the mobility of the seniors, as well as the attention span and interests of the grandchildren. A tip if you are planning with tweens in mind: The more involved they are in the planning, the more vested they'll be in the trip.
Grandparents like Martha Seaberg think its money well spent.
"My husband and I worked very hard all our lives," she said. "I want my children to enjoy the fruits of our labor while I'm still here!"