6 Ways to Add Mitzvah to Traveling with Your Grandchild

Jewish Values, Travel

Traveling with teen grandchildren can be a wonderful way to spend time together. The thought might also be intimidating: What will your destination be? Will your teen be interested in going to museums? Monuments? Instagram-worthy stores? Or maybe they’ll want to hang in the hotel room and watch TikToks.

How best can you choose a destination, sights, and activities that will please you both?

Consider exploring the website and services of a trip provider who specializes in travel with purpose. Such organizations include https://bbyopassport.org/https://nftyisrael.org/, https://journeys.uscj.org/life-changing-summer-travel-worth-planning-for/, and https://tzedekamerica.org/. Or consult with a Jewish Federation or a local synagogue who can guide you to appropriate trip providers. Make it clear you would like to plan a trip for you and your teen together.

The following six tips can provide the framework for a meaningful and purposeful travel experience with your teen grandchild.

1. Plan your trip together

Priya Parker describes in her book The Art of Gathering that when planning a party, the party begins when you send out the invitation, not when the guests arrive. Similarly, your trip begins as soon as you sit down to plan it out. The best way to get your grandchild’s heart in the trip is to plan together. Meet with your teen (or Facetime/Zoom). Start a Google document or Pinterest board to record ideas and notes. 

Explore the options you gleaned from conversations with trip providers. Discuss places you’d both like to go or sites you’d like to see; how much time you have; what your budget allows; what type of transportation you’ll take; where you’ll stay. Choose between adventure, resort, sightseeing, ocean, or mountains. Come up with a list of things you each like to do on vacation. Consider asking your teen if they would like to do some research, for example, places with gluten-free foods or a town with awesome waterfall hikes. Talk about any causes or social justice-oriented experiences you both care about.

2. Volunteer together

One of the best ways to really experience an area is to spend time with local residents or shopkeepers. While on your vacation — or in advance — seek out a volunteer opportunity one morning or afternoon. This will spark great conversation with your grandchild and provide a common experience as you serve food, dig up weeds, or sort clothing together. You will begin to find out which social justice issues touch you and your grandchild.

Here are some resources for finding volunteer projects:

3. Eat at restaurants with a social mission

Most major cities and many small towns have restaurants that help people with disabilities become self-sufficient by learning life skills in a work environment. (Self-sufficiency is the highest level of tzedakah on Maimonides’ ladder of tzedakah. You might know it as teaching a person to fish, rather than giving them a fish to eat.)

Examples of restaurants that have a social mission include Flavors from Afar and Homegirl Cafe in Los Angeles, Farestart in Seattle, and One World Everybody Eats in many cities around the country. The food is extremely flavorful and you’re supporting a good cause while learning about a new issue. These restaurants present great opportunities for discussions about why you chose to support the mission of this restaurant and the importance of deciding how you spend your money.

4. Go thrifting

According to a Y-Pulse survey, 57% of 13- to 37-year-olds say that they never pay full price for clothing, and buying secondhand clothing is a big part of their shopping behavior. Thrift stores often stock the trendy, vintage clothing that teens prefer. And eco-consciousness is a major draw for young secondhand shoppers. The environment is one of the top five social causes teenagers care about. Some thrift stores support a not-for-profit cause. While finding treasures together, you can learn about the cause that the thrift shop supports. Use this website to find a thrift store in the area you’re traveling:  www.thethriftshopper.com

5. Talk to shop owners

You can learn a lot about a city by shopping locally and chatting with the shop owners. Learn how the freeway coming through the town changed the neighborhood. Find out how racism and the racial divide has affected the town or city. Ask how urban flight or gentrification has impacted the city and affected businesses; what they do to make a difference for the local community; who else in the community you should visit. Leave with a locally made souvenir that will remind you of this special time with your grandchild.

6. Tour a non-profit

It’s easy to find group tours of historic neighborhoods and tourist areas, but how about a fascinating private tour? Consider calling a nonprofit in which you’re interested. Tell them that you’d like to donate to their organization — and do so — and ask for a tour of their facilities so that you can learn more about their work.

You could tour a commercial kitchen where people are being trained to transition out of homelessness to work in the culinary industry. You might get to visit a drop-in center that supports teenagers who are experiencing homelessness or a church that now provides food, medicine, and nutritional education to neighborhoods facing high rates of diabetes. Not only will you learn about a new non-profit of which you may become lifelong supporters, you will also meet fascinating people who use their own expertise and passion for social innovation to train, nourish, and sustain others.

Adding a little mitzvah into your itinerary can help transform you from visitor to shaliach mitzvah (an agent to do a mitzvah). It can help you bring goodness and kindness to the world, can add something brand-new to your experience, and may give you insights into the lives of the people and places you visit. The great 12th-century rabbi and commentator Maimonides teaches that the person doing something good for others benefits greatly too.

At the end of a trip with a mitzvah component, you and your teen may just be able to say, that was fun, that was meaningful, or we learned something new about the world and about each other. From that, indelible memories are made.

Avram Mandell is the founding director of Tzedek America. Tzedek America transforms lives, strengthens Jewish identity, and changes the world through immersive social justice experiential education.

Tzedek America provides 5-hour to 5-day impact travel experiences, teaching about social justice issues in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Arizona, Kentucky, and Guatemala. They also help B’nai Mitzvah students find direct service projects through their personalized concierge mitzvah project program.  

Before this pioneering work, Avram served as Director of Education at Leo Baeck Temple from 2004 – 2014 and he received a Master of Arts degree in Jewish Education from the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. Avram has studied improvisational comedy, has performed stand-up comedy across the country, is a percussionist, and is an avid pickle maker.

Special thanks to Aviva Gutnick for her expert review

Photographic Credits
Photograph of restaurant and thrift store courtesy of Pexels
All other photographs by Stephanie Fink