With the right planning, it's easy to travel with kids
If you thought you'd have to give up traveling until your children were grown, think again. The travel industry of the 21st century recognizes family vacations as a specialized segment of its market and is prepared to help parents accomplish rewarding experiences on expeditions with their kids. With the right practical and mental preparation and a savvy travel agent, you don't have to wait for an empty nest in order to hit the world's highways and byways.
It's not at all unusual nowadays to spot entire extended families reuniting on a cruise in the Caribbean, game-tracking in the wilds of Africa, investigating the medieval cities of Europe or hiking in our national parks. Many cruise ships, hotels, tour operators and resorts have instituted programs specifically for families so that adults and youngsters may achieve a satisfying balance of togetherness and apartness while on vacation. Intergenerational family travel needs are indeed specialized, and you should know how to seek out those travel providers who are prepared to cater to you, your parents, and your tots and teens.
Resources: Begin your search for planning information, essential travel wisdom, and specific family holiday recommendations at www.travelwithyourkids.com, www.familytravelforum.com, www.familytravelnetwork.com, and www.familyadventuretravel.com — four Web sites with superb, comprehensive content and related links.
Award-winning author of the "Great Vacations with Your Kids" series of guidebooks, Dorothy Jordon publishes Family Travel Times, an online magazine offering invaluable resources, destination articles and pointers for globetrotting happily with youngsters. Subscribe for $39 a year at www.familytraveltimes.com, 888-822-4388.
Top book titles on how to survive, and even thrive, with kids on vacation include the latest editions of "Frommer's 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up" by Holly Hughes; "100 Best Family Resorts in North America" by Jane Wilford and Janet Tice; Pamela Lanier's "Family Travel & Resorts"; and "Travel with Kids: The Definitive Guide to Family Holidays Worldwide" by William Gray. In addition to nitty-gritty practical information, each book offers lots of encouragement and advice for parents leery of traveling with their offspring.
When researching your options, you'll discover that trip opportunities for your family are limited only by desire and finances.
Once you've determined that traveling with children — even unruly youngsters and reluctant teens — can indeed be made pleasurable and affordable, you will want to investigate the kinds of trips that best meet your personal criteria for an exceptional vacation experience.
Contemplate not only the obvious theme park destinations but also such realistic possibilities as a dude ranch, a ski resort, a cruise or an escorted tour. What about an RV camping trip, a sun-and-surf holiday, a wildlife safari or a river-rafting adventure?
Think ahead: While musing and choosing, address basic considerations. If considering a hotel, resort or cruise, are there supervised educational and entertainment programs and special facilities for toddlers as well as older children?
What discounts, such as free bed and breakfast or reduced-rate adjoining rooms, are offered for youngsters? Are sitter services available? Is there a doctor or nurse on call? Can parents be assured of some privacy and time out from the kids? Are meals suitable for picky palates? Will other families with tots or teenagers be sharing your travel experience?
Fly/drive: These programs can provide an excellent means of traveling together at economical prices, without the discomfort of long cross-country treks. Most airlines offer special family vacation packages to theme parks, beach venues and other popular destinations. Resorts and hotels that are particularly sensitive to the needs of family vacationers and have developed excellent youth programs include those operated by Club Med, Hyatt Hotels, Hilton, Radisson and Days Inn.
Don't overlook Amtrak's inexpensive family fares and highly regarded trip-planning suggestions. And consider the convenience of a motorhome rental if you and your children are super-compatible in a compact space.
Tours: For those who seek a stimulating learning experience with their youngsters in the company of others, an organized, escorted, and affordable tour may be the right choice. Check out the following specialty tour operators for domestic and worldwide travel geared to children of all ages accompanied by parents or grandparents: Rascals in Paradise, 415-273-2224, www.rascalsinparadise.com; GrandTravel, 800-247-7651, www.grandtrvl.com; and Thompson Family Adventures, 800-262-6255, www.familyadventures.com. The innovative programs from each of these highly rated operators offer captivating, hassle-free family holidays at budget-pleasing prices.
By sea: Cruise lines have jumped on the family travel bandwagon by offering reduced air/cruise rates, ship and shore youth programs appropriate to age, special meals, staff supervision and complete facilities for large or small family reunions.
www.FamilyCruises.com, at 800-854-0500, and www.FamilyCruise.com, at 800-338-4962, can provide a complete overview of ships eager to entertain youngsters and pamper adults for unforgettable family travel experiences.
Irene Croft Jr. of Kailua, Kona, is a travel writer and 45-year veteran globetrotter. Her column is published in this section every other week.