Travelling to intrepid destinations with children can be daunting and may not be the first thing you think of when ‘family holiday’ comes to mind. However, travelling off the beaten path with the family can be fun, memorable and rewarding. Immersing in another culture makes for plenty of valuable real life experiences, not to mention, an awesome adventure!
We spoke with Jen from Flight Centre who has travelled extensively to adventurous destinations with her husband and two children, from as young as seven years old. From backpacking through Cambodia and Vietnam, island hopping in the Philippines to just recently adventuring in Central America for two months - Jen gave us her top tips on travelling to intrepid destinations with kids.
1. No devices
This can be a controversial rule, particularly with the kids, but it has been by far the best rule we’ve stuck to while on holiday! This rule should also apply to Mum and Dad too, with the only exception to the rule being one phone for emergencies and research.
Travelling is a great opportunity to live in the moment and appreciate the smaller things. Without devices, we connect and engage more as a family, instead of relying on technology for entertainment. As a result, the kids can become very resourceful at entertaining themselves whether it be with card games, boards games or some paper and coloured pencils. Even stumbling across an English book store was like arriving at Disneyland to the kids!
2. Pack light and use packing cells
We like to pack light by only travelling with two large backpacks and then we each have our own individual day packs. This reduces a lot of stress when it comes to luggage and means we can easily fit into any form of transportation whether it be taxi, tuk-tuk, motorbike or boat.
Fitting two months worth of luggage for a family of four between two backpacks can be challenging but you may be surprised how little you actually need. Packing cells are a lifesaver for this! We usually travel with 6 packing cells between us, 1 cell per person for all clothes and shoes, 1 smaller cell for a medical kit and 1 cell for washing. Everyone gets a different colour so the kids know which one is theirs and if it doesn’t fit in the cell, then it doesn’t come along.
This also makes for super easy packing and unpacking. Once at our accommodation, each person grabs their packing cell out of the large backpack, puts it next to their bed and voilà, you’re unpacked! Then when it comes to packing up again, the kids just need to take care of their day packs, pop everything back into the packing cell and done! No fuss, no arguments and no “can’t find” moments!
3. Travel with a portable stretcher
If you’re a family of four, it’s usually nice and easy to fit in a standard family share hotel room but if you’re more than four, then it can be a little challenging and more costly. An easy fix for this is to travel with a lightweight portable stretcher that one of the kids can sleep on with a silk sleeping bag liner - most of the time the silk liner is enough to sleep in, but if it gets cold, there’s often plenty of spare blankets in the room. Even if you are a family of four, I would still recommend bringing along a portable stretcher as some rooms only sleep three. Also, if your kids are anything like ours, it's a great fix for avoiding the arguments when the kids have to share a bed together!
4. Get the kids involved in the decision-making
The whole family is involved in our travel decision-making, even the biggest decision of where to go. We have everyone in our family write their ‘bucket list’ activity for our next adventure and then we plan the destination and trip to suit everyone’s top bucket list item. For our most recent trip, we chose Central America as it ticked one of everyone’s top bucket list activities.
During the trip, of course you’ll probably make the bulk of the decisions, but it's always great to get the kids involved. Some of our best accommodation finds have come from providing the kids with a budget and giving them full responsibility to find and book our accommodation. For example, The Pipe Hotel in Costa Rica was a great gem the kids had found, we ended up loving it so much, that we stayed an extra night.
Where to have dinner is also another decision that we often leave to the kids. We usually let the kids know in advance if it’s their turn to choose dinner, this way they have plenty of time to explore during the day while we are out and about and choose a place that they like the look of. You may end up at the worst pizza joint in town, but the kids will always end up feeling great that they made a decision for the family.
5. Research, research, research
Flexibility armed with knowledge is the key to success on our travels. When travelling to more intrepid destinations, research is really important. Travel forums are a very helpful source of information. Leading up to departure, it’s a great idea to build a spreadsheet of information, recommendations and ideas on the key spots you want to go to, as well as identifying the “not so good” places and activities to avoid.
We like to only pre-book the first couple nights of accommodation after the long-haul flight but then it’s nice to have flexibility with where we would like to stay and go. It’s good to have a general idea of the route you plan on, but little booked in advance means you can be totally flexible if you would like to stay longer in places you love and move on if it doesn’t live up to expectations.
To relieve the stress of travelling this way, it's a good idea to have the research already done and a short list of accommodation you would like to stay in at key locations. This way, if you need to, you can easily book accommodation a couple nights ahead.
6. Take local transport - it's so much more fun!
Taking local transport may be more daunting and sometimes more difficult than taking a taxi, however not only does it save money, but it can make for such a memorable and fun experience!
One of our best transport choices was deciding to travel by tuk tuk to the Vietnam border crossing from Cambodia. Rather than taking the typical tourist van, we decided to take a gamble and give the local transport a try. Sure it would have been easier to get picked up by an air conditioned van from our hotel, be escorted across the border by an english speaking tour guide and driven to our hotel on the other side - but where is the adventure in that!? Instead we arranged with a local driver to be picked up at the crack of dawn for the 48 km journey to the border. From there it was a 2 km walk across the border into Vietnam and it ended up being an experience we would never forget!
7. Don't be afraid to eat street food
Go exploring and eat as the locals do, not only is the food fantastic but eating street food is also very kind to your budget. It’s a great way to encourage the kids to immerse in the culture and be open-minded to international foods. The kids loved to try the variety of interesting and tasty food from the markets that they wouldn’t have been able to experience at a typical hotel restaurant!