Not Your Ordinary Summer: Taking A Family Adventure Vacation
Leora Rothschild has been booking safari adventures for families since 1998, but this is the first time she's going to the bush with her own child.
"From age 4 on up is a great time to start taking kids on safari," says Rothschild, founder of Rothschild Safaris, a boutique travel agency located in Denver, and a 20-year safari veteran. "You just have to be really mindful about where you are going to stay, like making sure you stay in a camp that has a swimming pool, or one that will provide downtime so you aren't sitting in a vehicle in the bush all day."
If searching for wild game in the wilds of Africa with your 4-year-old sounds like an ideal summer vacation, you're not alone. Adventure travel for families is a growing trend, and even big names such as Disney and American Express are offering packages that include exotic locales like Asia, Africa and South America, geared specifically for parents traveling with their children."Kids who have been on trips like this at a young age are changed by it," Rothschild, a mom of two, tells ParentDish. "It can be such a (formative) experience, and makes kids more flexible people. We've taken our daughter to Australia, and her last trip was when she was just 3 and a half, but it was very powerful for her and she still talks about it."
It takes about a year to book a trip such as the one she is taking with her daughter, Aisha, Rothschild adds, and parents should start by researching agencies that book adventure travel. Then, pick up the phone and ask agents some pointed questions about how long they've been in business, how they handle family travel and how many trips they've planned for parents and children.
"A good company will customize a trip around your needs, your budget and the ages of your children," Rothschild says.
Once you've nailed down your travel plans, you can start working on details such as passports, visas and immunizations, which often are necessary when traveling to exotic locales. Parents also can take time before the trip to learn about the upcoming destination with their children.
As for Rothschild's own upcoming adventure -- she's taking Aisha to Africa in October -- she says she can't wait to share her passion with her daughter.
"I'm not at all nervous," Rothschild says.
Joshua Berman, a Boulder, Colo.-based travel writer and author of several guidebooks, shares Rothschild's attitude. Exposing children to new -- and sometimes challenging -- environments is an important part of their education, he tells ParentDish. His daughter, Shanti, was just 21 months old when he and his wife took her to Nicaragua.
Traveling with a young child -- even when you're exploring the jungle or trekking through ancient ruins -- doesn't have to be a hassle. In fact, Berman recommends taking kids as young as 3 months old on your adventures.
"Infants that age can lift their heads, but are still portable and breastfeeding, so you don't have to worry about food or water -- just strap 'em on and hit the road," he says.
Berman adds that exposing his daughter to people who live in conditions vastly different from those in the United States is an important part of her education.
Richard Webb, co-founder of ProWorld, agrees. His company organizes volunteer excursions to Peru, and he says kids as young as 6 are perfectly capable of not only traveling to off-the-grid locations, but also of taking away powerful memories and lessons from the experience.
"There are two different types of learning that come from helping others who are less fortunate and who are from a different culture," he tells ParentDish. "You go and see people who are living on the 'different side of the tracks,' so to speak, and you also experience a completely different culture at the same time."
So-called "voluntourism" is perfect for families, Webb adds, because it can be a little bit uncomfortable.
"Volunteer vacations are even better for families (than for individuals) because when you are with your family, that sense of newness is buffered," he says.
ProWorld takes families to remote villages to help improve the circumstances of those living there, and one of the more popular family destinations involves installing clean-burning stoves for Peruvian families. Groups of volunteers dismantle the old wood-burning stoves and replace them with new and more efficient models.
"You are essentially spending the day with an entire family," Webb says. "Not only are you building them a new stove, but you are also seeing what their daily domestic environment is like."
Those interested in voluntourism need to follow the same guidelines Rothschild sets out. Look for agencies with plenty of experience, and those that will customize a trip for your family's needs and desires. ProWorld, Webb adds, doesn't promote family travel on its website, but it has organized plenty of excursions in that vein -- so don't let your research begin and end with the Internet. Look for cultural experiences as well as volunteer work, and ask the organization to help you plan a good mix of work and play.
No matter what kind of adventure travel experience you decide on, Webb adds, the effect it has on your family will be immeasurable.
"There is so much learning that we get when we expose ourselves to others," he says.
Related: Taking the Family to a Hot Spot Abroad? Stay Safe by Planning Ahead
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.