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How To Pick The Right Destination For A Family Vacation (2023)

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Last Updated on November 6, 2023 by Nicole

Lucky you! You have decided that it is time for a family vacation. Now, you have to choose the destination. However, quickly, you become overwhelmed. You have always wanted to go to Paris to go to the Louvre and to Rome to see the Colosseum, but you are not sure if your 4 and 6 year olds are ready. Alternatively, you have two teenagers who can barely look up from their phones and are trying to decide whether going to an all-inclusive beach resort in Mexico is the best getaway for your family. What should you do? If your goal is to have an amazing holiday where you reconnect with your family, then you are in the right place. In this article, I help you navigate what holiday is the right one for you and your family.

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At A Glance

I know you are busy. If you only have a couple minutes to spare, here are the key takeaways from this article.

  • Before picking a destination for a family vacation, make sure you appreciate the age of your children and what they are and are not capable of handling.
  • Don’t pick a vacation spot and then, hope that it works out. Ask yourself a list of questions (provided below) to decide if that destination will work for your family BEFORE booking.
  • Keep things simple for a young family.
  • Keep more adventurous getaways and destinations with longer flights for when your children are older.

If you can find more time, try to read my full article. It explains my points, gives you examples and more strategies to try when thinking about the best destinations for your family holiday.

destination
Arto Martitinen Photographer

Background

I am a mother of four kids – two girls and two boys. They are all completely different people who have unique interests and hobbies. There is also 7 1/2 years differences between the oldest and the youngest. As I write this, the oldest is 26 years old and the youngest is 19 years old.

One of my most favourite things that I loved to do (and still love to do) with my children is travel. We have been doing this together since they were babies and it is unequivocally one of the most important ways in which we reconnect and bond as a family.

As of today, I have been to over 70 countries and my children have been to over 40 countries.

I can not emphasis enough how important our family holidays have been in creating the connections we have today as a family, even as everyone’s lives gets busier and more complicated.

Over the course of the last 26 years, I learnt what holiday destinations worked, didn’t work, and why, for each age of my kids. With four children, both genders, and a big age difference between the oldest and the youngest, figuring this out took a lot of work and thought. But, I did it.

And you can too!

Where Can We Go vs. Where Should We Go On A Family Holiday?

When I plan a holiday, I have a number of goals. I want to have fun, create lasting memories and reconnect with my spouse and children. This might not happen if you go to the “wrong” vacation destination for the age, temperament, and interests of your kids.

You must be realistic about what your children are capable of, and more importantly, what you are capable of handling. Remember, this is not about surviving a holiday with your family! This is about having an amazing and treasured time that you will look back on and wish to repeat.

Destination
Terria Van Resnberg Photographer

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Best Holiday Destinations For A Young Family

For approximately 14 years, while we were creating our family and waiting for our youngest daughter to turn seven years old, our holiday destinations always included:

  • A trip to a warm country or city;
  • One flight;
  • Six hours maximum flying time;
  • A hotel or a rental accommodation with a pool;
  • North American conveniences such as reliable health care and pharmacies, safe food handling, clean water, and good and safe roads;
  • A rented minivan; and
  • A well regulated tourism industry.
Destinations
Donald Tong Photographer

Why Did This Work?

A trip to a warm destination was a treat coming from Canada, a country with four distinct seasons and a very short summer.

One flight with a maximum of six hours flying time was the upper limit of how long our children could sit still and remain reasonably occupied. After that, we would be combining tired and cranky kids with tired and cranky parents for a stressful and unpleasant start and finish to a holiday.

We hoped for the best but prepared for the worst, making sure that if we needed a doctor or medicine, we knew that we could easily access them. As parents, we needed to know that whatever we ate, we would not become ill because of untreated water or unsanitary food preparation.

We had to be able to rent a minivan so that we could transport all our luggage, strollers and car seats, as needed.

Finally, we knew that if we took a boat ride to watch whales, rented bikes, or played and swam in the ocean, the boats and bikes would be well maintained, and there could be properly trained life guards at the public beaches.

holiday destination
Sophie Sollmann Photographer

For 14 years, when we travelled as a family, we did not stray from these ideals. They worked! We had fun and relaxing holidays that primarily focused on the schedule of the kids. They could spend hours at the pool, beach, or playground. We were also happy at the pool or beach with some sun and the promise of a glass of wine or cocktail at the end of the day.

However, once my youngest turned 7 years old, my husband and I were ready for more.

At this point I didn’t say, “Right, let’s hop on a couple of planes and travel for 26 hours to Africa!” Even though we were ready for more adventure, I had to carefully choose our first major holiday destination.

If it had turned out to be a disaster, then it could have stopped us from taking any more holidays for a very long time.

Considerations For Our First Major Family Vacation

I wanted to go to Europe. When I was 18 and 22 years old (1985 and 1989), I backpacked through many countries in Europe, and I loved it! The history, food, the culture… everything! I existed on $20 USD a day (for accommodation, food, transportation, and admission to attractions – a very tight budget!) and promised myself that one day, I would return with a little more money to enjoy Europe differently.

My goal was to go in the summer of 2012, when my children were 7, 9, 11, and 15 years old. London was hosting the Summer Olympics and we had a place to stay. We could use that as a launching off point to visit other European countries and cities.

destinations
Petradr Photographer

But did that make sense? Was this a holiday that we were only going to survive or an incredible journey that I couldn’t wait to share with my husband and children?

I sat down and considered the following.

Challenges To Go To Europe For A Family Vacation

Europe, for a family from Vancouver, offered many challenges.

  • It was a minimum 9 hour overnight flight to London, England. If we wanted to fly elsewhere in Europe, we would have to do a layover in London before reaching most other European cities, making the travel day around 16 hours;
  • The jet lag was significant. It ranged from 8 to 10 hours ahead of Vancouver depending on the European country;
  • Most countries spoke a different language and offered different foods than what my children normally ate;
  • Most hotels in the cities or towns did not have a pool;
  • Summer temperatures were regularly 35C or 95F or more; and
  • European countries were very popular holiday destinations and would be busy and crowded.
Destination
Anna Dziubinska Photographer

Advantages For A European Family Vacation

Notwithstanding the challenges, I recognized that Europe offered many of the same important qualities that I had relied upon for my successful family holidays for many years.

  • It was a developed country with very reliable and safe transportation and roads, good medical care, and stable politics;
  • There was a strong tourist industry with many types of accommodation, cultural tours, adventures, and beaches;
  • It offered lots of rental car agencies;
  • Most people in large cities spoke multiple languages, including English.
  • Wifi and internet service were available.
  • There was safe drinking water and food preparation at restaurants.

I balanced the negatives with the positives and knew that a European holiday could work for a my family.

Other Considerations For A European Family Getaway

Of course, it didn’t end there. Europe is not just one country, with one culture, one language, and one standard of living. It is made up of dozens of countries, with many holiday destinations.

Not every country or city is suitable for a younger family versus a family with older or teenage children. Some countries love and embrace young children, others are less tolerant. Some cities have activities more suitable for young children, others are best left for families with teenagers.

the-expedition - holiday destinations such as Venice, the Eiffel Tower and the Colesseum in Rome
Travel Coffee Book and Benny Jackson Photographers

Choosing which countries and cities in Europe we should visit for my family required a lot more research to ensure a successful trip. Here are some of the questions that I asked and researched:

  • What is the weather like? Is it too hot or too cold? Will it rain and is that ok?
  • What would we do there? Are there activities and attractions that would interest my children? Do they fit in my budget? (For more information about the importance of properly planning your days on a family vacation, please see How To Plan Your Days For A Successful Family Holiday).
  • What is the food like? Will my kids eat the food? Are restaurants expensive or will we need to cook our meals?
  • What is the accommodation like? Can we rent an apartment or house so we can spread out or will we have to rely on hotels? Will that work for us? (For more information about the importance of choosing the right accommodation on a family holiday, please see How To Choose The Right Accommodation For A Family Holiday)

Our Family Vacations Since 2012

We went to Europe in 2012 and 2013 and stayed multiple weeks each time. On each visit, we went to at least four countries and a number of cities within each.

All of these trips were methodically planned and organized keeping in mind the questions listed above. I always took into consideration the age and maturity of my children and how best each destination would work for each of them.

Once I was satisfied that I had figured out how to travel with my children to far away destinations, I got more ambitious. From 2014 – 2023, we went farther and farther afield. We traveled to Central America, South America, Southern Africa, and Asia.

However, my thought process for deciding which cities and countries worked, where we should stay, and how to plan our days remained consistent, using the principles in this article and the other articles listed above.

Today, my children are world citizens, as comfortable in a little village in Africa as they are in our home in Vancouver.

Family Holidays Should Be Amazing For Everyone

Remember, holidays are a gift to yourself and your family. Be honest and practical about what your children can do, and whether your holiday plans will allow you and your spouse to enjoy yourself as well. 

Holidays are expensive. In creating a vacation, you are responsible for managing your family’s time, money, and ability to create amazing memories and connections between you, your spouse and your children.

Don’t forget, your children will grow and mature, sometimes frighteningly fast and one day you will be planning that trip to Europe, a climb to Machu Picchu, or a safari in Africa. If you handle these earlier experiences with care, your children will fall in love with travel, and will be as excited as you for all the adventures the world has to offer.

If you would like to save this article for future use, please click on “Save” on the photo below. If you think someone else might find it useful, please feel free to share it on your social media channels.  Have a great day!

You have always dreamed of going to Paris, hike Machu Picchu or go on that African Safari. But, now you have kids. How do you know if your kids are ready for dream vacation? #travel #familytravel #travelwithkids #traveltips #familytraveltips | child, beach developing world, Europe, family, family vacation, holiday, lasting memories, maturity, older children, pool, reconnect teen, vacation destinations
the authorNicole

5 Comments

  • I love how you really take every factor into consideration, it makes for a really good checklist/reminder of what to get done before you go!

  • You have expounded your points nicely and I agree that holiday time is the one way to create lasting memories between you, your spouse and the kids. One thing I have learned about traveling to new places is that your life never remains the same. You acquire such a wide viewpoint of things it is simply amazing.

    • I agree. That is one of the things that I love about travelling, especially for my children. I think we all become better people because we travel and hopefully, we have a positive impact on the people we come into contact with on our travels.

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