intergenerational travel

Travel and identity

by Steve Brock on December 9, 2010

Even an old train museum can reveal new insights...

Here’s one more illustration – a briefer one –  on intergenerational travel and what I have learned from our Guys Days, short half-day or so local trips with my sons and my dad.

We’re blessed to live in the Pacific Northwest where there is always something interesting to discover: moutains, rivers, islands, trails, big cities and small towns. A few weeks ago, we ventured out and found something even more unexpected: an old outdoor train museum.

Along an abandoned railroad siding stood a dozen or so old, rusting steam engines along with dilapidated freight and passenger cars of various types and ages. The sky intermittently sputtered rain on us but we managed to examine most of the old trains between drizzles.

The images here are of the various numbers used to identify the engines. The numbers, in a way, provided a sense of identity to these large pieces of transportation equipment that otherwise all looked alike in a busy train yard.

One of the benefits of Guys Days are that while not much may happen, we’re constantly discovering new things, both about the area around us and about ourselves. On this day, looking at the peeling numbers that identified these old trains made me realize how Guys Days helps me with my own sense of identity.

By spending time doing things together with my dad and my sons, we not only reinforce a feeling of belonging, but we pass on to each other what it means to be a family. Crises and daily pressures help define us and shape who we are individually and as a family. But these simple trips and times of discovery and wonder help us to share in common pleasures and learn each other’s story just a little better.

I don’t have a full answer as to what it means, in my case, to be a Brock. But I’m thankful for this small trip that helped me at least ask the question and to realize, in part, that I will find the answer through the shared experience of such trips.


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A lousy travel story

by Steve Brock on December 6, 2010

A typical Guys Day: Hanging out in a newly discovered location. It’s not much of a story…except to us.

The most common form of intergenerational travel I experience is one that barely constitutes as travel.

Every few weeks, my two sons, 16 and 13, and I pick up my dad (who lives about a half mile away) and we go do what we call a “Guys Day.”

Guys Days are the Seinfeld of travel: we never go more than an hour or two from our house and not much ever happens, at least that you could explain to others.

We have numerous rules for Guys Days such as Rule 43 that says you must never return the same way you came if you can help it. But that’s overruled by Rule 17 which says that all rules are subject to how we’re collectively feeling that day. And that’s mitigated by Rule 81 that says Guys Days are all about what everyone wants except when the guy with the car keys – me – wants to do something else.

In short they are about the experience of the experience itself and the bonds that occur between us by being away for a few hours every once in a while.

And they tend to make for fairly boring stories.

Case in point was our Guys Day trip this past weekend. Here’s a semblance of the dialogue with my wife when we got home to give you an idea of a typical Guys Day.

“How was your Guys Day?” she asks.

“Great,” I respond.

“You were going to the museum?”


“How was it?”

“Well, we got there before it opened. So we went to Fry’s instead.”

“The electronics store? What did you need there?”

“Nothing. That’s why we went.”


“If you go there when you need stuff – which you rarely truly need – you buy more than you plan. It’s like grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Not good.”

“So you didn’t buy anything?”

“Of course we did. It’s Fry’s!”

“Oh no. What did you get?”

“A free (with rebates) anti-virus program since one of ours is expired.”

(Her look that tells me she doesn’t want to know anything more on this subject.)

“So then you went to the museum?”

“Well, it was still too early. So in the same vein, we went to a nearby gallery I’d read about.”

“How was it?”


“What was there?”

“Not much; about ten contemporary works in a gallery smaller than our family room.”

“That must have been disappointing…”

“No, they were ten very interesting pieces.”

“Oh. So then you went to the museum?”

“No. We went to the park.”

“What park?”

“I don’t know. We just discovered it by the lake. We never even knew it existed.”

“How was it?”

“I don’t know. We discovered it. We didn’t explore it. We’ll save that for a warmer day.”

“So then you went to the museum?”

“No. We were hungry. We all agreed we wanted pizza and we found a place and each had a piece of pizza and a salad.”

“Was it good?”

“We told ourselves it was.”


“It was good, but it was like $10 per person and that seemed high but since we’d convinced ourselves to go there we agreed it was somehow worth it.”

“You’re either cheap or nuts.”

“Or both.”

“Or both. So then did you go to the museum?”

“No. We went to the model train store that was down the street.”

“But you don’t have, or at least the boys don’t play with model trains.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“So did you buy anything?”

“No. That would kind of defeat the purpose of going there.”


“That would be like shopping…It’s a guy thing.”

“Hmmm. So then did you finally go to the museum?”

“No. We drove home. We decided we weren’t in the mood to go to a museum.”

“But that was the point of your Guys Day!”

“No. Our Guys Day was the point of our Guys Day.”

She’s far too kind to actually roll her eyes, so she somewhat dismissively smiled and walked away, another successful Guys Day left unfathomable to the outside world.


I used to think of meaningful travel in terms of narrative, stories I can tell people of trips that move and transform me or others. But Guys Days remind me that not all good journeys make good stories. In a good travel story, the traveler is challenged and overcomes obstacles. That’s how we grow as individuals.

But sometimes, we also grow in relationships just by spending time together, time made possible by distance and being away – not necessarily far away – from daily routines.

Guys Days create space for connecting and they make for wonderful memories. They just don’t necessarily make interesting stories.

Well, that is to anyone but those of us who share in them.

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 After the disappointment of our intergenerational trip to Hawaii, my aunt died. No, the two events aren’t related except in one curious way.

If you do it right, intergenerational trips like this one here with my family in Scotland can be highly meaningful...and fun

Before she passed away, my aunt told me that she had always wanted to visit the castle of our ancestors (on my mom’s side of the family) in Scotland. It was too late for her now, but perhaps one day I could take my family there.

It turns out that my mom had long cherished the same dream. So the added impetus of a dying aunt’s last request led us to attempt another trip together: my parents, wife and two sons for 15 days in Scotland.

We had a few years of distance between the Scotland trip and our Hawaiian one which helped. But more importantly, we did the following things, some intentionally and some by pure grace, which made all the difference:

We talked before the trip. In a brutally honest way, we got everything out into the open: expectations, issues of control, small irritations and more discussions about boundaries than the combined diplomatic teams of India and Pakistan regarding Kashmir.

I prayed differently. With Hawaii, I prayed mostly for safety, good weather and fun. With Scotland, I took the trip more seriously and prayed that this would be a great experience for my whole family and that we’d grow closer because of it. Two very different prayers. Two very different results.

We addressed the issue of control. On every trip my mom has ever taken, she’s planned out all the details. On this one, I did all the planning. But every morning on the trip, I laid out a map and showed the general direction for the day but allowed everyone to weigh in on what they’d prefer to see. I gave up some of my control over the plans and by the fourth day, both my parents were saying they actually preferred it when I just made all the decisions.

I recognized the deeper layers. The issue of choosing the daily itinerary may not seem like a big deal. But I realized there was more to it. I was now taking the lead for the whole family, not my parents. In an odd way, I was now the adult. That was a big moment and I was fortunate enough to realize its significance.

We paced ourselves. We stayed the first week in a 17th century manor house south of Edinburgh and the second week in a newly built farmhouse north of Perth. Thus, we had a base to cover both the south and north. It allowed a more relaxed pace that seemed to calm everyone, physically and emotionally.

We had fun. Just as I didn’t know my parents hated beaches, I didn’t know they loved castles. We spent most of the trip exploring Scotland’s many castles (including my aunt’s desired destination, Castle Fraser). My dad shed at least ten years that trip climbing every stone staircase and following my boys through long, winding corridors. That trip rejuvenated both my parents in ways I can’t express.

I could go on, but hopefully you get a sense of how intergenerational travel, when done right, can bless everyone on the trip, often in surprising ways.

The biggest surprises to me came at the end. My parents flew home a day ahead of the rest of us. Before the trip, my immediate family was excited to have a day to ourselves. But on that last evening, the four of us realized something we didn’t expect: We missed my parents.

Most surprising of all was this: before the trip, we thought of traveling with my parents more as a familial duty. That evening we all agreed that the trip – and our lives – were better because we’d done it with them.

Scotland is a long way from Hawaii.

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Intergenerational travel: a tale of two trips – Part 1

by Steve Brock November 30, 2010

An intergenerational trip to Hawaii illustrates the downside of traveling with grandparents and grandchildren if you don’t address expectations – and certain dislikes – ahead of time.

Read the full article →

Tips for meaningful intergenerational travel

by Steve Brock November 25, 2010

Check out today’s new downloadable tip sheet, Tips for Meaningful Intergenerational Travel. If you’ve ever traveled with kids, parents and grandparents or you’re planning to, you’ll want to check out these tips to make your intergenerational trip as meaningful – and as enjoyable – as possible.

Read the full article →