The Wild Pair

Traveling with Kids: It’s All in the Family

In Travel Tips on November 30, 2008 at 6:39 pm

They’re small. They’re adorable. They ask a lot of questions. They have more WILL than Shakespeare, and when they say “no,” they mean it. When they get bigger, they’re still adorable. They’re wired all the time, and when they’re not wired, they’re tired. They say “no” louder than ever. Does any of this sound familiar? We’re talking about that wonderful blend of egg and sperm – your children!

Sometimes you feel as though you will never have enough time with them, and sometimes you want them to visit the planet Glubis for a few hours to give you a break. When it comes to traveling, should you take them along? You want to turn them on to travel and the larger world out there, but how do you do it without being carted away in a straight jacket?

You asked. We listened. This month the Wild Pair turned to experts in the field for some kid-friendly advice. Savvy about planning family getaways, their tips for trips can make all the difference to mommy and daddy road warriors.

All Together Now

When it’s time to explore the world, planning an action-packed escape plan that’ll please everyone isn’t easy. “Traveling with an outfitter experienced in family travel can help take the guess work out of planning,” says Eileen Ogintz, author of the popular syndicated column Taking The Kids (http://www.takingthekids.com/). “Opt for a family based itinerary. They tend to be less intense and have more free time built in. But, follow the outfitters advice; if they say a trip isn’t suitable for kids, then it isn’t.”

Some Family Assembly Required

“We know from personal experience that family members who share in the planning process often have a more memorable vacation,” says Kurt Kutay of Wildland Adventures (http://www.wildland.com/). “We invite our family travelers to gather around the family computer to answer some questions together – What activities do you want to do? What kinds of animals do you hope to see? Is there anything you learned about a destination that you want to see first hand? What things do you feel would make this a wonderful experience for your family?”

Built for All Ages

Say the words family vacation and watch your hard-to-please teen cringe with visions of enduring another dorky Clark-Griswold-style car trip or being dragged from one European museum to another. Maybe it’s the adults in your clan whose eyes are rolling as they imagine spending their hard-won time-off standing in theme park lines. Fortunately, today’s adventure outfitters know what it takes to pull off a family trip built for all ages. Splash down the Grand Canyon, hang out in the Galapagos with marine iguanas and giant tortoises, bed-down in tented safari camps; the choices are endless. “With plenty of options and flexibility on our family vacation trips, we’ve created the perfect blend of cross-generational activity, R&R, comfort and adventure to satisfy adventurers of all ages,” says Carol Austin of Austin-Lehman Adventures (http://www.austinlehman.com/). While the guides are keeping up with the ADHD teens, you’re free to hang back, jump in the shuttle, or exchange paddling for a ride in the skiff, and experience the thrills at your own level of adventure. Or, maybe it’s the kids who want to sleep in or hang out with their own, while you’re off climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, ticking off another life-lister.

Babes In The Woods

Don’t let the name fool you. Whereas adventure travel was once the domain of just a few audacious adrenaline-fueled adventurers, today’s version has gone kid-friendly and has a lot to offer tot-toting families. That said, there’s still the question of how young is too young for family adventure. “It’s a case by case situation,” says Allie Almario, of cultural adventure outfitter Myths and Mountains (http://www.mythsandmountains.com/). “On group tours, we do prefer children to be at least 7 years old. At that age, they’re more mobile, can handle longer drives and flights, and can absorb information and rules more readily.” At Wildland Adventures, where the age minimum is 5 to 8, depending on the destination, “we slow the pace, minimize long drives, carry snacks and drinks, and make frequent stops for impromptu cross-cultural interactions on our family adventures,” says founder Kurt Kutay. “Kids are quick to adapt to new situations. They like interacting with children from another country. When they’re young, build in plenty of breaks at school playgrounds or parks for a change of pace,” says René Hoeve of Euro Bike and Walking Tours (http://www.eurobike.com/). “For children,” advises family travel author Eileen Ogintz, “less is more. I recommend itineraries light on cultural sightseeing and heavy on free time. And, follow the outfitters advice; if they say a trip isn’t suitable for kids, then it isn’t.”

Having a Grand Time

Young, or young at heart, it’s a state of mind. Grandparents taking grandkids on the road was once associated with the genteel-style Grand Tour – a textbook lineup of churches, monuments and museums. That was then; this is now. Today active grandparents are eschewing the more traditional routes for roads less traveled and taking their Nintendo grandkids on up-close-and-personal trips that both enthrall and enrich. “Kids love trips that take advantage of all 5 senses. On a Myths and Mountains journey, we encourage them to: touch the earth, get dirty and not worry about their clothes; see amazing places on this planet that may not be here in 50-100 years from now, or see things that existed 1,000 years ago; smell the roses and rare orchids in a jungle, the spicy curry in India, the fecund green rice paddies of Vietnam; taste new foods, ostrich meat in Africa, zingy lemon ants in Belize, lobster in Vietnam; hear things they’ve never heard before, the ringing of ancient church bells, the sound of the wings of macaw feathers rustling overhead as they divebomb over you in the Amazon, the sound of barefoot Buddhist monks entering a monastsery, etc.” says vice president Allie Almario. “Every year we have grandparents taking high school and college grads on one of our walking tours,” says Judy Allpress of The Wayfarers (http://www.thewayfarers.com/). “Both our river trips and Mediterranean yacht voyages are popular with grandparents and grandkids,” says Peter Grubb of ROW Adventues (http://www.rowadventures.com/). “You know why they get along so well? They have a common enemy (joke)! What better way to get both parties out of their usual comfort zone and to explore and learn together.”

The Gang’s All Here

Okay, it’s a done deal. You’ve booked the South African safari, the Grand Canyon river trip, the Canadian multisport. Are there ways to rally the troops and raise the excitement level before you go? “Read a book, watch a movie set in the destination, or create a scavenger hunt check list” advises Ogintz. “Learn a few words of the language together – please, thank you and hello will get them far with the locals in any country,” says Hoeve of Euro Bike and Walking. “Watch a DVD about the trip. Look up information on the Internet about the area you are going to visit,” says Sandy Harmer of Western River Expeditions (http://www.westernriver.com/). “Begin planning early and get them excited about the things you will be seeing and doing. Our suggested reading lists always include a kid’s list as well for our family destinations,” suggests Carol Austin of Austin Lehman Adventures.

It’s In The Bag

Every traveling parent knows to pack a few secret weapons, those special items that will keep the kids smiling and the adults in your clan, and others, sane. “Don’t assume the outfitter will have it,” says Ogintz. “Throw in a deck of cards, favorite snacks, and, if traveling in remote locales, don’t forget to check with their pediatrician for any emergency medications or shots to bring along.” “Most important is to be well prepared with the proper gear that keeps kids safe and comfortable (i.e. rain gear, sandals, sunscreen and hat, good walking shoes, etc.),” Kutay advises. “Give kids a disposable camera so they can document the trip themselves, then let them create a journal,” suggests Almario. “I’ve brought a few two-way radios on trips that I’ve handed out to other kids on the tours, so they could stay in touch with each other while on a bike route or in town. These can be good for communicating with your child as well,” says Hoeve. For many traveling parents the jury is still out on whether to iPod or not to iPod? Some choose to go cold turkey. Other’s wouldn’t dream of leaving home without it. Carol Austin advises parents to “bring books, iPods or a deck of cards to keep children entertained during airplane travel. While Harmer says, “[On a river trip] it’s great to have kids in an atmosphere without all the modern devices that seem to dominate kids these days. You learn to relate to each other, and to the circumstances around you, differently when you’re not tied to a video game, plugged into an MP3 player, or any number of things.”

When It’s All Said and Done

If you’re lucky, some of your most memorable travel experiences occurred with your kids or as a kid, and that’s what keeps these traveling parents, experts and outfitters motivated and eager to share the wonders of this blue planet with families. “There isn’t a better classroom than the great outdoors. My children have been traveling since they were six and four respectively; they have seen some wonderful places in their lives and I hope they continue to love to travel,” says Austin. “I think travel is an great asset to sparking interest in history and culture and can be one of the best educational experiences a child can have,” says Hoeve. “For example, after visiting the Anne Frank House, my daughter read her diary for school and was able to relate her own personal story of her visit. She went on to read more about Anne Frank’s life on her own and has often come home to say that her class had read about a place she had visited on a trip.”

So, what are you waiting for? Bon Voyage!
ABOUT THE WILD PAIR: Judith Fein and Ellen Barone:
They’re smart, sassy, savvy, award-winning travel journalists and photographers and now they’ve joined forces to become THE WILD PAIR, bringinG you cutting-edge information and tips on how to turn your next vacation into a life-enhancing experience.

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