We all have our dreams. If you love to travel, chances are you travelled before you had children. You probably have that crazy story about an extraordinary experience that you once had on one of your trips – one that it is best left unshared with your children until they are comfortably into their adulthood! Those of us with those pasts, and those of us who just simply dream of seeing the world, are sometimes impatient to do so. We are older now, hopefully with some disposable income handy, and more established in our careers. It seems to be a perfect time for a holiday. But, where should you go? If you have children, picking the right holiday destinations is key to having a successful and memorable vacation with your family.
Where can we go?
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 I pick the wrong destination.
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.
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.
Why Did This Work?
A trip to a warm destination was a treat coming from 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 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 would be properly trained life guards at the public beaches.
For 14 years, when we travelled as a family, we did not stray from these ideals. They worked!
However, once my youngest turned 7 years old, my husband and I were desperately 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 South Africa!” Even though we were all ready for more adventure, I had to carefully choose our first major holiday destination. If it turned out to be a disaster, then it might have stopped us from taking any more for a very long time.
Europe, a holiday destination that made sense.
I wanted to go to Europe. When I was 18 and 22 years old, I backpacked through many countries in Europe. I loved Europe – the history, the food, the culture… I wanted to go in the summer of 2012, when my children would be 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. But did that make sense? Was this a holiday that we were 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.
Europe, for a family from the west coast of North America, offered many challenges.
- It was a minimum 9 hour flight to London, England, and required a stop over for most other European cities usually making the travel day around 16 hours;
- The jet lag was significant. It ranged from 8 to 10 hours ahead of our home;
- 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.
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 first world 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 even beaches, if interested;
- 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 Europe could work!
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 as suitable for a young family to visit as a family with older 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.
Since 2012, we have gone to Europe three times and have stayed multiple weeks each time. On each visit, we have gone to several holiday destinations – at least four countries and a number of cities. These trips were methodically planned and organized. I always took into consideration the age and maturity of my children and how best each country or city might meet those needs.
After that, I created itineraries that suited the age and temperament of each of my children, and the interests of my husband and I. Creating balanced itineraries that create fun for both a 7 year old and a 15 year old is a challenge. But, it can be done and done well. It just takes a bit of thought. For more assistance in choosing the right country for your family and creating the best itinerary for them, please refer to my other blog Family Vacation Ideas: How Best To Engage Children of All Ages.
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. 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. Embrace the challenge and dream of the possibilities!
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 properly, your children will fall in love with travel, and will be as excited as you for all the adventures the world has to offer.
For other articles about how to plan the best family holiday for your family, please refer to the following:
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