Recently, I read about the rise in tween-directed travel. Tweens (the group generally defined as between ages 9 and 12) have become the most influential group of travelers under 17. While I typically still think of my 9-year-old as a “kid”, I guess technically he’s a tween. That means I have two tweens and a teen and it got me thinking about how we’ve been moving more & more towards planning our trips with their interests in mind.
If we plan trips that don’t take our kids’ interests into account then they likely won’t enjoy our trips as much as we hope. And as they get older and are pulled in multiple directions with school, friends, and sports, they may push back on traveling with us (this is already an issue with one kid in particular).
Kid-centric travel doesn’t have to mean Disney or amusement parks. To me, kid-centric travel means knowing your kids’ interests and planning trips that incorporate those interests into the itinerary.
Take Their Interests Into Account
One of the things I love about traveling as a family is that it’s something we can all do together. Many of the places we travel are new to all of us so we are all seeing and learning about it for the first time together. That keeps it interesting for all of us! While Mike & I will continue to travel after the kids have moved out, our time traveling together as a family of 5 is finite and we want to experience travel through their eyes.
Let Them Help Plan
I’ve learned that my kids are more excited to do things when they have a voice in the planning.
Let them pick the Destination!
There are so many places on my list that it’s hard for me to relinquish control of the overall destination. But, a few years ago, Mike & I decided to let the kids pick our summer trip after their 8th-grade year – to congratulate and acknowledge them for all of their hard work. We thought it would be fun to see what destination they would pick and how they would structure the trip. The only constraint is that they can’t recreate a trip we’ve already been on. Our oldest is graduating from 8th grade this year and he chose Australia! He wants to go to a new continent (his fifth!) and see the Great Barrier Reef. We plan to let them each choose again after graduating from High School as well. I’m so excited to see where they take us!
When Mike & I went to Australia before we had kids, we spent several days in the Hunter Valley exploring vineyards and wine tasting. It was lovely! When we head back this summer with 3 kids, we are skipping that region completely. Instead, we are seeking out animal encounters, parks, exploring by bike and kayak, hiking and zip lining, and diving/snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef with plenty of beach & pool time. That still sounds amazing to me and it’s an itinerary my kids can get behind because it’s based on their interests.
Let them plan an activity
When I research our destination I compile a list of activities I think the kids will like. I give them options and they can all vote on their top choices. I always make sure to have them identify their top choice so I can make sure we are able to fit in each kid’s top pick. My daughter was reluctant about traveling to Oahu last Thanksgiving until I told her I had booked parasailing which she had been asking to do for quite some time. As soon as I told her, she was excited about the trip!
I let the kids heavily influence our itinerary in Charleston last summer. We had everything all planned out, but when they saw an Escape Room in town they begged to do it. I kept thinking we could do an Escape Room anywhere, why would we spend an afternoon in Charleston doing that? Finally, I agreed and we all ended up having a great time. It was a nice break from the heat and recharged the kids – even though we didn’t quite escape in time!
My daughter asked every guide we met if there were any great pet stores around (her go-to question). They all directed us to Woof Gang Bakery on King Street. One afternoon when the boys were at the pool, the two of us set off to find it. She loved picking out treats for our dog and our friends’ dogs too!
Kids Can Push Us To Do Hard Things
I tell my kids all the time that we can do hard things – whether that’s in school, sports or trying new things when we travel. We have pushed our kids on some pretty tough hikes, to try rock climbing, to try out their Spanish skills with locals, and to endure some very long travel days among many other things.
But you know what, they push me to do things I wouldn’t otherwise do. I have a hard time refusing to do something that pushes my comfort zone when I ask them to do it all the time. I was adamant that I wouldn’t eat an insect on our Bangkok food tour, but when my daughter asked me to do it with her, I did. Surprisingly, it didn’t taste bad at all – I just had to get over the mental hurdle that it was a cricket!
I don’t like heights! So when we have ziplined, walked across hanging bridges or done a freefall I get a little (OK, a lot) nervous, but I do it and enjoy it! This summer we will do the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb which sounds amazing, but also really scary. I am determined to do it because it’s what our 14-year-old wants to do.
We look for hotels that welcome and accommodate families. The last thing I want to do is take our kids to a hotel where I’ll be worried the entire time that they’ll stand out or be annoying to other guests just by being kids. We look for hotels that have suites or connecting rooms that can accommodate us, a pool, a Kid’s Club (even though we don’t use these anymore it’s a sign that kids are welcome), and any other family activities. It helps to pick the right hotels. We don’t always get this right.
A lot of this is just knowing your family’s preference. Our kids prefer hotels with suites & residences, or they prefer to stay in a home. They don’t like hotels with hundreds of rooms and crowds of people – even though some of those hotels offer fantastic onsite pools/waterparks and other activities. They don’t like having to search for a lounge chair at the pool or wait in lines at checkin etc.
Family Centric Tours
We have recently booked vacations with tour operators – something I thought I’d never do. For anyone short on time for planning a trip, a tour operator is a great way to go. Especially since there are many who now cater to families, like Butterfield & Robinson, Thomson Family Adventures, National Geographic, and many others. Our trip with Butterfield & Robinson to Ecuador & The Galapagos was a custom tour designed by us. The agent I worked with took our kids’ ages and our preferences into account as she suggested different hotels & activities – and it was perfect for us. Thomson Family Adventures has pre-planned itineraries that cater to different ages and activity levels. Our guides have engaged our kids and been really patient with their endless questions. The next thing I’d like to look into is a Multi-Generational trip – an itinerary that incorporates the interests of kids through grandparents!
Last summer in Charleston, we booked a walking tour with Skip Evans at Walking Charleston. In the summer he puts together a tour just for kids – it leaves in the morning before it gets too hot and he got input from his own grandkids about what they’d want to hear on a tour. It focused on things like pirates, the waterfront, and what it was like to be a young person in Old Charleston. We saw Pirate tours offered for little kids, but this one was perfect for our older kids. These kinds of options are out there – it’s just a matter of looking for them.
We Don’t Always Get it Right
I’d like to claim that every trip I plan is perfect. Sadly, I have never been able to please all of the people all of the time. The truth is that the kids still bicker, even the most perfectly laid out plan sometimes has bumps, and inevitably someone doesn’t get their way at some point. But taking everything I mentioned above into consideration surely makes for a more enjoyable trip for all.
Here are some examples of when things didn’t go as planned…
Na Pali Coast Hike in Kauai
It’s my absolute favorite hike I’ve been on anywhere and I was excited to share it with the kids! I wasn’t upfront with them about how far we’d hike, they were tired, and someone stepped in a stream soaking her shoes & socks. But the rest of the vacation was amazing!
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Our daughter really wanted to go on this ride at the Boardwalk. By the time we got in the LONG line we didn’t have much time before the last train of the day left. We waited….and waited…..and finally had to pull her out of line to catch the train. Guess what? The train left 30 minutes late and she totally would have had time to ride this.
As soon as we stepped from our boat onto this island, our group was attacked by a Frigate Bird. It scared the kids and nipped our guide on the finger drawing blood. He said he’d never seen anything like this – must have been a juvenile bird wanting to play! It took a lot of coaxing to get the kids to continue our walk instead of running back to the boat.
We went deep sea fishing one day in the Galapagos. It was amazing until we caught our first fish and learned our youngest had really strong feelings about intentionally killing fish. He cried or hid for most of the trip.
The weather forecast before we left said temps in the 60-70s. So we were completely caught off guard when a cold front moved in and it was in the 30s! We put on every layer of clothes we had and tried our best to stay warm!
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The zip-lining excursion I thought I had booked had actually not gone through. Instead of trying to rebook it, I took it as a sign that we should see one more temple instead. That decision did not go over well – it was the one thing our 8-year-old had asked to do and in hindsight, I made the wrong call. This decision has cost me several zip-lining trips since. 8-year-olds do not forget.
While not all trips go according to plan, letting kids in on the planning process and keeping their interests in mind helps to keep the trip enjoyable for all!