Some parents worry that it is all souks and sleaze, and therefore not a child-friendly place to visit. Don’t. Think Sahara, sand boarding and surf. Friendly, family loving people; fascinating Berber culture and superb food to fill those hollow legs after a day camel riding through the desert; riding a sand board over the dunes, or a surfboard alongside the dudes. And the souks are an adventure unto themselves.
America’s national parks are like an antidote for its theme parks. Here are 59 natural playgrounds, with no crowds and no commercialism. And once a child has taken in their first view of the Grand Canyon, camped alongside the granite greatness of Yosemite or rafted down the Colorado River, they’ll be converted to the real thrills of life.
Don’t just associate Catalonia with a city break to Barcelona. It is one of Europe’s most accessible and family friendly adventure hubs. Whether you are cycling through a volcanic national park, rafting, rambling or mountain bike riding through the Catalan Pyrenees, or just exploring local markets and superb family friendly restaurants, it’s one big family fiesta in Catalonia really.
The idea of a walking vacation is always going to take a bit of selling to children. From toddlerhood on that instinct to just say ‘carry me’ can take time to wear off. However, throw in a safari camp, a donkey to carry your bags, a mountain yurt or a swim at the end of each day and the walking bug will kick in. Combine it with some kayaking and horseriding, and you’ll have converts for life.
The Croatian islands, in particular, are all about going with the flow. Literally, on a sea kayaking or adventure vacation, or metaphorically, as you zone into island time and allow your kids to find the feral within. Especially on the car free islands. The mainland has lots of adventure opportunities too, such as white water rafting on the Una River, which beats any theme park trip you have ever had.
Family adventure vacations are not all about adrenaline, but more about stepping out of the comfort zones many of us have unwittingly built around our children. Unwrap all that cotton wool by hiking to an Alpine peak, or wild camping in a canyon, while feeling the fear just a little. Or mountain biking back down and watching grizzlies in the wild. And feeling the fear just a bit more.
If a family adventure vacation makes you nervous about packing and planning, let it go. As most of them are small group vacations, everything is organised for you – by experts who totally get family needs. All the equipment is provided, so no battling with bike carriers or stuffed-to-the-brim roof boxes. Or worrying about how to get from A to B. Just pack and go.
The ultimate gap year destination, don’t wait until the children want to head there on their own. With older children you can trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, go downhill biking through the Andes and raft through the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It is hard to find cooler paddle boarding locations than Lake Huaypo, with the snow-capped Urubamba Mountains in the distance.
Theme parks are a big attraction for many tourists to the USA, with Mickey Mouse being the main reason for many first time visitors. Adventurous for some, but try white water rafting down the Colorado River for a real waterpark. Or see whales in the wild rather than in captivity. And with 59 national parks, all with themes of adventure and adrenaline, it’s a no brainer really.
These are an adventure with a small ‘a’ really, given that they are all resort based, with robotically timetabled activities, all-inclusive and pretty much cleansed of local culture. If you want the A Team, seek out adventure vacations that are led by, interact with and support local people. And ones where the instructors focus on all the best spots to explore. Rather than how good they look in tennis whites.
Apart from the fact that these floating, all inclusive hotels are environmentally dubious and disengaged with local communities and economies, the idea of taking on a climbing wall in the middle of an ocean, or jumping into a pool in the middle of the Med is not even soft adventure, it is downright unsustainable squishy. You don’t need a bigger boat. Just a bigger imagination.
High achieving parents and super competitive offspring, step back. This is a vacation. It is meant to be fun. Not about getting to the top of the mountain first, or getting the fastest kayaking time across the bay. They are for families that want to have a laugh, push their boundaries a little, but also explore different cultures and chill. Obsessed with staying ahead? Go to Club Med.