How to plan a big trip with kids?
I’ve been traveling with kids for 13 years now, and planning changes as their ages change. But some questions remain the same.
Where to go? How far do we need to plan ahead? Do we need to book all our accommodation in advance? Should we have a travel professional do it all for us? Which hotels? How will we get around? What about vaccinations?Food? Visas?
Obviously, this is a major topic.
So, here is some insight into how I do it.
1) Where to go?
I am an adventurer – I often like to get off the beaten track, if possible – I am also a big believer that when kids are young, I should dictate where we go. When they are older ie teenagers, they must be part of the planning process. When ages are mixed, it’s harder. Right now, the kids are 5, 9 and 13. My 13-year-old has had some input (albeit fairly limited) regarding our next trip. The world is big, and unknown, but at the same time, it’s getting smaller. There is no end of guidebooks on the shelves to almost every country out there, and of course, there are kids in every country. So, as I see it, the world is our oyster. This year, we are going to a variety of countries – four in fact, of which three are very familiar to us, and one is totally unknown. As part of my work for Quivertree Family Expeditions, we are off as a family on a research trip to South Africa, Israel, Turkey and the Republic of Georgia.
South Africa is easy for me – I was born and raised there. We’ll be visiting Cape Town and the Garden Route, up to Port Elizabeth. Nothing off the beaten track over here, but even in these heavily touristed areas, you can always escape the crowds. If you have any local connections – use them! Locals know their city a whole lot better than a guidebook ever can. Cape Town especially is a great city for kids – tons to do, and a treat for any inquisitive young mind – take Greenmarket Square – vendors come from all over Africa to sell their wares – bronze lions from West Africa, colored materials from East Africa, souvenirs from everywhere, paintings, jewelry, you name it. The food also is one of the great highlights – typically inexpensive, and excellent. Cape Town is highly multicultural – from the local Cape Malay and Cape Dutch specialties, to food typical of rural Africa, to some of the best fish and meat available anywhere. We’ll be there in winter – known locally as the Green Season (it rains). Not a big tourist Mecca normally in winter, it can still be a great time of year.
Israel: I know Israel very well having spent a good deal of time there. Perhaps the most kid-friendly country I have come across. The whole place seems to exist for kids. This might well have something to do with the day-to-day existential stresses that Israelis live under. Their kids really are the most important thing in the world to them. We’ll be there in summer – hot! As far as travel with kids go, it’s hard to go wrong with crusader castles, walking through thousands of years old water tunnels with a flashlight or candle, beaches on the Med, lots of interesting foods to try, and lots of summer activities for local kids that we’ll look to participate in as well.
Turkey: Another great country – incredibly varied with amazing history, natural attractions, great beaches, one of the worlds great cuisines and very hospitable people. We’ll be traveling well off the beaten path as we make our way along the Black Sea coast towards the border with Georgia. We’ll be traveling by bus mainly – Turkey has one of the great bus systems of the world – it works wonderfully and is fascinating in its own way. We’ll be visiting a variety of places – beach towns, historic towns, mountain villages and fantastic Istanbul as well. There are things Turkish that are very different – such as Dondurma – Turkish ice cream – quiet unlike any other kind – it is so sticky, you can shake the serving spoon as much as you like and it will stick fast to it!
Republic of Georgia: This is a great unknown for us and we expect it to be a challenge. An incomprehensible and unreadable language, very few Western tourists, but at the same time known to have wonderfully hospitable people, great food and very interesting sights. Years ago, a friend of mine who was brought up in Moscow told me that Tbilisi and Georgia was the favourite holiday destination in the old Soviet Union. There must have been a reason. It is true that the region has had its fair share of conflict in the past twenty years, but things appear to be well settled these days.
How far to plan ahead?
It depends on how well you know your destination. If you know it well (like back of your hand well), then you really don’t have to do much. Book your flights and take it as it comes. If you don’t know it well, I would say start researching up to 6 months in advance. Read books, log onto www forums, ask questions, make contacts.
Flights. I use travel search engines for this. There are lots out there, from Expedia and Vayama, to local airline sites etc. Of course, you can call up your local agent or walk into a Flight Center or suchlike. To a large degree, flights are a commodity these days.
Booking accommodation: I would say, with kids on board, go ahead and book in advance. Maybe not everywhere, but at the very least, when you land in a new country have a hotel booked! You don’t really want to be wandering around a foreign city trying to figure out where to stay, while your kids are becoming more and more unhappy. Maximum, if you don’t like where you are, move out, but at least have somewhere to arrive at when you reach your destination. Booking is easy these days – search engines will do it, or the hotel directly. And researching accommodation is simple – try Tripadvisor.com for example. Some hotels allow four , even five in a room sometimes, but in others you’ll have to take two rooms. The smaller the kids are, the better – as far as hotels go.
What about using a travel professional? My view is that if you are at all daunted by your destination – third world, different language, far off and unknown or if you are simply an inexperienced traveler then yes, it makes a huge amount of sense to use a professional. The fact is, in many cases their mark up is worth it, when you take into account the hassle and grey hairs saved. Every professional should be able to work within your budget. And if they won’t or can’t – they’ll tell you. I have been traveling the world for years, but if I were off to India, China, parts Africa that I don’t know, Russia – I will almost certainly be looking for help.
PS These days I am helping other families plan great trips to destinations on five continents. If you’d like to see how I can help you, click here.