by Candyce Stapen, USA TODAY 3:02 p.m. December 15,2013
Forget flat-screen TVs, robotic toys and even tablets. The trendy gift this season is a trip together, especially for families.
“Materialism is taking a backseat to experiences, ” says Darren Humphreys, owner Travel Sommelier, a safari and gastronomic travel company. “The giver — the grandparent or the baby boomer — realizes that what’s important is spending time in a special environment with people who are important to you.”
That’s why trips trump other gifts for families. “Our busiest travel week is now Christmas week, “says Dan Austin, Austin Adventures president. “A big and increasing segment of our business is multigenerational travel. Our multigenerational travel over the holidays has doubled,” says Austin.
Austin credits the bump to several things. “We first started seeing an increase in gifts of multigenerational trips and grandparent/grandchild vacations in 2008-2009 when the economy was struggling. Adults were looking hard at what they were gifting. Giving time together is much more valuable than anything else. And we’ve seen double-digit growth for these trips every year since 2008/2009.”
Wilderness Safaris‘ North American manager Craig Glatthaar notes that the company’s family travel business has increased 20%-25% in the last five years. “With the technological revolution, we’ve become more and more detached from nature,” says Glatthaar. “The older generation wants to give the younger ones an appreciation for nature. We see more and more families with young children age 6 and older as well as more multi-generational trips with grandparents, their children and grandchildren.”
After all, think about what’s remembered fondly at family gatherings. Last year’s big TV purchase may not even be mentioned. “You’re more likely to relive the adventure trip you took together,” says Austin, who sees Yellowstone as a stepping stone for a grandparent/ grandchild trip.
“Maybe the grandparents went there as kids and now want to show their grandchildren, “says Austin. “The next year that family is adding going further away so they might do the Canadian Rockies or Costa Rica and then the Galapagos or cycling trips in Europe.”
REI Adventures has also experienced a rise in holiday family trips. “A lot of times grandparents will take the whole family as a holiday gift, “says manager Cynthia Dunbar. ” The Galapagos and Costa Rica are popular over the holidays,” says Dunbar. “We launched our family trips seven years ago and the number of departures has increased an incredible amount.”
Not only does adventure add fun, but it encourages interaction. “Out of your home environment, out of your comfort zone, you converse, you interact, “says Humphreys. ” On a safari a family is in a vehicle a couple of yards away from a lion.”
That gets families talking to each other. Nancy Ozizmir, Greenwich, Conn., calls the South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe safari Travel Sommelier arranged last year for herself, her husband Dan, and children Daniel, 16, Annika, 13, and Charlotte, 9, “the best family vacation we have ever taken.”
Says Ozizmir, “On a ski trip, we ski at different levels so we’re apart a lot. A safari is very much about togetherness. We were together in the jeep with our guide. We were excited seeing the zebra, leopard, lions and rhinos. The kids learned so much.”
And not just about the animals. Humphreys arranged for the Ozizmirs to visit a small village in Zambia.
“The people were so happy to see us because they were curious and excited. We were too, ” says Ozizmir. “The villagers lived in mud or straw huts. There was one well for the whole village. Some kids didn’t have shoes, but the kids were smiling and laughing. My kids gave them piggyback rides. My kids were impressed by the villagers’ warmth. The people were lit from within. My kids realized that you do not need things to be happy.”
And that’s a timeless gift that can come from traveling together.