Have children, will travel.. and no destination is spared. Used to be a silly idea taking kids on long-haul trips to faraway places they’re not yet intellectually capable of appreciating. How do those parents even enjoy themselves with junior fussing, whining and perpetually bored? I admit, I have long been a skeptic. Travel is too much of a privilege to be wasted on childlike/teenage indifference! But now that I’ve done it myself, I get it. And I’m far from alone. Families are hungry for shared travel experiences – all we need to feed that hunger is a shift in attitude and to make sure the kids are alright.

Word on the ground

What my research shows about family travel is that society has apparently moved on from dragging the kids to relatives or the nearest beach with a pizza shack during the school holidays. It seems the travel bug doesn’t die a natural death when someone becomes a parent. Parents are just travellers with dependents – they still have bucket lists and want to share the travel experiences they desire with their children. For them it’s about seeing foreign destinations through their children’s eyes, learning together through immersive, authentic experiences. It’s about bonding and exploring the family culture outside of the comfort zone.

There are some brave souls doing it independently, blogging about it, advocating the benefits of family travel, trying to convince everyone how easy it is; then there’s a growing community of would-be family travellers scouring the Internet for tips and ideas. The latter may be interested in doing something different but are unsure how to combine the kind of travel they used to do pre-parenthood and travelling with kids; so they need direction.

Travelling parents come in all ages & nationalities – traditional mom and pop units, LGBT couples, single parents – with minor kids of all ages. Since they’re all raising children, they share a desire to impart family values to their kids.

Travel is an opportunity to teach, test and reinforce family values – it’s saying this is who we are as a family, how we interact with people and the world outside our intimate circle, at home or abroad. The Bucket List Family added this travel manifesto to their blog to inspire other families to travel with purpose!

Just try Googling family travel and you’ll see how many blogs pop up. Family travel bloggers are pointing the way forward, dispelling myths: they talk about going wherever they want to go and see their kids not as deterrents to their wanderlust but as companions of choice, with some special needs.

Tap the family travel trend

According to Pinterest, family travel increased by 72% last year. US Millennial families are projected to increase their holiday spend by 19% according to Travel Agent Central.

Millennial families intend to spend 38% more than Millennial couples on vacation & 88% more than Millennial singles

Travel Agent Central

The definition of a child/family-friendly destination is anywhere that welcomes or at least allows under 18’s. A common view held among the travel blogger community is that all parenting requirements remain the same regardless of where they are – as long as some essentials and simple conveniences are catered for, travel can be deemed family-friendly. Here’s a community that takes care of its own – they share info and recommendations about travel brands and practical tips.

In the age of the personalised travel experience, how do you adapt your itineraries and service to ensure your brand earns a family-friendly rep?

Confessions of a family traveller

Forgive us our priorities, but we travel with little ones and/or teenagers; then we also need some adult time alone, please. Seems like a tall order but understand the need, practise a little constructive empathy and get creative! After interviewing a few daddies with kids under 12, a few common themes came across – it’s probably their male brains being super practical. Things like how long it takes to arrive at a destination, the weather in-destination at the time of travel, safety and medical assistance in cases of emergency, babysitting services, child-proof accommodation, food, and discounts or special child rates. Good value for money and favourable exchange rates are also high on the parent wish-list.

On long trips (yes, they will consider long-haul flights, road trips, cruises and train journeys), most parents need to know there will be enough toys, snacks and entertainment to distract junior & co. All age-specific, of course; the trendier, the better. Less Monopoly, more Lego for 5 year old travellers.

Where meals are concerned, 2 preferences were popular: access to a kitchenette with fridge, kettle and basic cooking utensils for fussy kids or infants; and quite simply, smaller portions of whatever the parents are having. In other words, kids of the world are so over generic mac n cheese, chicken strips and ice cream menus – same species, hello!

Families with kiddies need safe adventures, with emphasis on outdoor activities that all ages can participate in and families can bond over. Is there a life guard at the pool, beach or lakeside, a ranger to facilitate outdoor programmes, junior safaris, eco activities or treasure hunts, a child-minder to watch over games rooms and kids club?

It’s not necessarily a matter of having someone to palm the kids off onto so that the parents can play golf or get a manicure, it’s about having someone trustworthy with local knowledge who can teach them something about the destination, someone with experience managing groups of kids who don’t know each other or engaging individual kids on a 1-on-1 basis; someone who is genuinely invested in creating a fun environment for their little patrons, and helping out the parents.

Parents of teenagers, my heart goes out to you. What’s already a tough job under normal circumstances can become a minefield during family vacations. How does one please the teenager? Guess what, even the teenager doesn’t know.

Balance is the safest answer.

Priorities here are clear-cut: provide teen-approved activities, lounging and gaming opportunities, guaranteed free WiFi, plenty of photo opps #forthegram, time apart from and time together with the old folks (with tag-along baby siblings naturally not allowed inside teen space), the option to sleep late, minimal walking, or if a great deal of walking is absolutely necessary, offset it against some kind of reward. Finally, a vital ingredient for a successful family trip is the presence of other teenagers.

Research and identify travel products that make allowances for teenagers (cruise companies are doing this very well, which is why they’re growing in popularity among travelling families) and work them into your itinerary. Wherever other families go is always a good start.

Ensure there’s plenty of physical exertion to help those teens burn off energy and moods, with the kind of low-level adrenaline fixes that satisfy their need for speed and instant gratification, while observing the safety requirement. Of course I’m being half tongue-in-cheek as I talk about what teens want. They’re not monsters, really, and there’s something pretty awesome about experiencing a destination/culture/food/anything from a fresh, un-jaded perspective. With the level of digital exposure they enjoy from a lifetime of Internet, their interests and tastes are often more sophisticated than ours were at the same age.

Teens (and their younger siblings) are keen to learn about and experiment with foreign foods. They’ve learnt about sustainability from academia and are keen to get involved in conservation activities. They’re learning languages at school that their parents didn’t and luckily for them, tend to be far less constrained by national or ethnic barriers than previous generations.

In fact, they’re fertile soil for the kind of values open-minded parents want to instill (and quite frankly, what the world needs more of IMHO).

The kids are your clients

The term ‘Kidfluence’ was coined by HomeAway during a survey on the growing trend among US and European parents giving kids a say in family holiday planning. How amazing to get the opportunity to experience first hand things they’ve only read about at school or university! They will know certain things about your destination that their parents won’t even know. Ignore them at your peril as you design their itinerary.

Here’s another perspective: anticipation of a trip can be just as exciting as the trip itself and building that anticipation is a clever way of making kids feel invested, especially if they’ve been included in planning their upcoming trip.

I can see this trend taking off – my nieces loved being tasked with researching the destinations on our recent holiday to identify what they wanted to do where.

If their input can be accommodated in a personalised family travel itinerary, everyone wins. They tend to unearth some pretty cool activities the average adult wouldn’t suspect of being interesting; so be sure to research for your entire audience, not just their parents. As a destination expert, you’re privy to more info on local events, making your content essential to time-strapped travellers.

Mobile apps with content that covers the bases, highlights activities and presents destinations in beautiful imagery, help set the scene in the young traveller’s mind and help them prepare better for what’s to come.

This works especially well for teenagers who are inseparable from their mobile devices and social media.

My travelling teens had great fun clicking through their itinerary ahead of our departure and showing it off to their friends. It also helped fill in the blanks where they didn’t know the geography that well! There was considerably less “are we there yet?” and getting lost (never a good thing when travelling with kids), having maps and directions on hand. Whatever it takes to make travel easier for your clients!

Your destinations are kid-proof

Whether rural or urban, your destination takes on a slightly different view through the eyes of a travelling family. What your itinerary needs to have loads of are outdoor activities for the whole family. Teens will already have hobbies and interests developed that you could capitalise on, like horse riding, photography, surfing, 10 pin bowling..

Essential stops on your itinerary should include aquariums, zoos, safaris, theme parks, water parks, open-air markets and film screenings, gardens, skate parks, ice rinks, ski slopes, dunes for bashing, trees for zip-lining, hills and mountains for hiking, bush walks, paintball, tandem paragliding, cycling/biking, beaches, dams, lakes, rivers, mineral hot springs, waterfalls, and pools for swimming, diving, boating and general frolicking, animals to pet or gawk at, fish to catch, play parks, camp sites, farm stays, art in museum and galleries or art on the street, festivals, just to name a few. Provide the requisite safety measures and communicate those clearly in your presentations.

On foodie matters, picnics and hosted barbeques create great opportunities for family bonding with an atmospheric twist, but get your families to do some cooking too.

And while you’re in educational mode, put programmes in place using local teachers, guides or rangers for children who want to learn about how local kids live and what they do for fun.

The history of a place can be told personally with passion and flair (or it can be read about in a book, which might be slightly less fun for them).

It’s wonderfully humbling to see the wonder in a child’s eyes when they realise their parent doesn’t actually know everything, and they learn something new together. Sharing outdoor adventures, appreciating new destinations or new perspectives, and bonding over shared learning, these are things that knit a family together more tightly.

The growth stats show the business potential for family travel clearly. Travel professionals the world over should be doing a double-take on family travel and what families need to make travel easier, more convenient for them and accessible to more families, regardless of their children’s ages. If we’re to grow our business and encourage healthy tourism, this investment in family-friendly travel will, after all, serve entire generations of future travellers who earned their travel stripes on vacation with their parents.

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