When you think back to your childhood, chances are you remember a family vacation or two: learning to swim in the summer or ski in the winter, splashing in the ocean and making sand castles, or piling into the car for a road trip to a national park (and perhaps bickering with a sibling along the way). While the world – and the way we travel – has changed a great deal since then, parents (and grandparents) still value vacations with their children, which give kids and grandkids fond memories to look back on as well.
For a successful getaway, many travel advisors recommend involving your children from the get-go, by requesting their input or offering options for where they’d like to go and what they’d like to do. They’ll not only look forward to the day of departure, but will also be more enthusiastic during the trip. But settling on a place to go is only part of the process. The following ideas can help inspire your itinerary – and family bonding – no matter the destination.
Schedule a Family Photo Shoot
We’ve all been there: You’re sorting through a year’s worth of pictures for your annual holiday card, only to find that there isn’t one where everyone looks happy or has their eyes open. You may not even find a complete shot of your brood, since someone – usually a parent – is often on the other side of the camera. Enter the family vacation photo shoot, which your travel advisor can help arrange via local connections. The kids will be relaxed enough not to argue about posing, and they’re more likely to cooperate if a professional is doing the asking. (Funny how that works.) Plus, with a destination as your backdrop, you can do some sightseeing along the way – say, in Rome’s dreamy Villa Borghese gardens or at the Sydney Opera House on an adventure down under. Whether you’re at the beach, on a ski trip, exploring a new city, or out on safari, there’s only one key choice to make: to wear or not to wear matching outfits.
Spending time in the great outdoors – especially among wildlife – can take many forms, but the result is often the same: feeling in awe of your surroundings (not to mention your place within them). Many beach resorts provide ample animal-spotting opportunities beyond the requisite snorkeling and scuba diving, such as taking a boat to glimpse migrating humpback whales in the warm waters off Hawaii or watching sea turtles from the shore in Los Cabos. Some hotel properties have on-site preservation programs or in-house marine biologists that lead tours or educational seminars. And until you go on a safari – the ultimate wildlife adventure – it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to gaze up at a towering giraffe, watch elephants bathe in the mud, or see lions nap in the shade.
Every modern parent laments that their kids spend more time in front of a screen than outside – and a family vacation is a perfect time to remedy that. A little physical activity can make a big impact on a vacation, especially since you’ll probably be spending some time by the pool, catching up on reading, or – let’s be honest – mindlessly surfing the Internet. Plus, studies have shown that breaking a sweat is a surefire way to feel more relaxed, so why not get moving? Many getaways have expending energy built right into the itinerary, such as a bike trip through France or a week on a Montana ranch, where activities include everything from horseback riding to fly-fishing. Several hotels and resorts also offer family activities such as yoga, naturalist-led hikes, and other lower-impact outings.
Take a Cooking Class
Cuisine plays a big role in understanding a destination – and sampling new flavors as a family may be one of the things you’ll remember most. For an active, hands-on approach, Virtuoso travel advisors can coordinate with local chefs for cooking classes: Learn to make custard in Provence, prepare jerk chicken in Jamaica, or get a lesson in authentic Mayan ingredients in Mexico. Some workshops also include foraging for ingredients or visiting a local market. Even if you never end up attempting to re-create a recipe back home, it’s a fun – and tasty – way to spend an afternoon.
Seek Out Volunteer Opportunities
Spending a day or a few hours giving back is a great way to bond as a family and leave your vacation feeling more fulfilled. Most safari outfitters have philanthropic arms that can arrange visits to small villages to plant trees, serve meals, or socialize with children. If you’re visiting poor or remote regions in less-developed countries, ask your travel advisor if there are ways to do some good. It could be as simple as packing supplies to donate to local schools.
Learn a Local Craft
Skip shopping for tchotchkes at a busy gift shop – bringing home a souvenir that you created with your own two hands can be much more rewarding. In Mexico, some hotels offer lessons in painting and piñata making, while in Hawaii, you can make leis out of beautiful, fragrant flowers (ask about how best to dry them so they last). In Scotland, meanwhile, your advisor can arrange visits to workshops, including places where you can spin yarn out of wool, try your hand at glass blowing, or design your own kilt. Seeing these items in your home for years to come will be a constant reminder of what an amazing vacation you took as a family.
Spend Some Time Apart
Yes, we know you planned a family vacation to spend time together, well, as a family, but a little solo adult and kid time will do you all some good. Many hotels offer dedicated clubs for tots, teens, and young ones in between, so you can rest assured that they’ll be well taken care of. You can relax during the day, cocktail in hand, and your brood will go on scavenger hunts, work on art projects, and play destination-themed games while bonding with other children from all over the world. (And thanks to email and social media, they may just become lifelong friends.) Come evening, kids’ club pajama parties and in-room babysitting services allow parents to steal away for romantic dinners.