As the founder of an adventure-travel company, I often have the chance to speak with our guests about their travels. One question I hear a lot is, "How do I know if my kids are ready for a trip to Europe?" (or Costa Rica, or New Zealand, or Peru...)
A recent conversation I had with my oldest son illustrates why I think it's never too soon to introduce kids to the big, wide world.
Jack, now 12, has been traveling abroad with us since he was an infant. (In his first passport photo, aged 11 months, he's wearing a Winnie the Pooh sleeper.) On a recent river-rafting trip, I seized just the right father-son moment to ask him which trips he remembers most fondly and why. With little or no prompting, he offered me the short list of his all-time top five.
5. New Zealand's South Island
While you won't spot any hobbits from the Lord of the Rings movies that were shot here, the whole family will find plenty of miraculous discoveries. Walk on amazing beaches, swim with the world's smallest dolphins, and explore a parrot-filled jungle with its own glacier. At a high-country sheep station, you can spend the day checking on baby lambs and watching the sheepdogs do their work. There's even jet-boat rides on the Dart River. Adults can enjoy sipping their way through award-winning wineries as well as some of the most scenic walks on Earth. New Zealand is a friendly country that captures the imaginations of all ages.
4. Costa Rica
It has everything for young and old adventurers. Look into an active volcano and go whitewater rafting. Walk on hanging bridges up into the forest canopy. And wildlife? The list only begins with white-faced monkeys, iguanas, butterflies, and crocodiles. The country has very cool mountainside lodges that feel like real treehouses. Costa Rica is a great learning experience with an emphasis on fun. Whether you're spotting scarlet macaws, dozing on a gorgeous beach, or taking a nighttime walk in search of glow worms and tarantulas, everyone in your family will remember this trip as a true adventure.
3. Italy's Amalfi Coast
For parents, waking in a cliffside hotel on Italy's Amalfi Coast may be a dream come true. For the kids, it's an eye-popping adventure. Visit Pompeii, walk the rim of Mount Vesuvius, hydrofoil across the Bay of Naples, and take dips at some of the most spectacular pools and beaches you'll ever see. Kids can get their hands dirty with ceramics artisans. Adults can go shopping in Positano and have candlelit dinners overlooking the sea. And everyone learns something about history, culture, or mythology.
Machu Picchu is on so many travelers' top ten lists. After this trip your kids and teenagers will recommend it to their friends, too. It's not just the wonders of Incan culture; Peru offers an amazing array of multi-sport options with thrills like whitewater rafting on the Urubamba River and mountain biking in the Sacred Valley. You can meet up with llama herders one day and hike a one-day portion of the Inca Trail the next. Save Machu Picchu for last on your itinerary. This mystery city peeks out of a cloud forest. (And if you're wondering about how the altitude will affect your kids, the highest point you're likely to reach is about what you'd experience at a Rocky Mountain ski resort.)
My own kids say Morocco was the location of their best day EVER. Four-wheeling the Moroccan plains, then clambering onto camels, swaying into steep Saharan dunes to watch the sun set, and settling into a Berber encampment to eat and sing and dance around the campfire before nodding off in a carpeted luxury tent. The very best day... unless you count spotting wild monkeys on a walk in a cedar forest, hanging out with shepherd families, watching the snake charmers in Marrakesh, squeezing past donkey carts in the ancient alleys of Fes, or biking along the dikes in an oasis ten miles wide and 20 miles long. As much fun as Morocco is as an adult, it's even better with kids. The terrain ranges from snow-capped mountains to deep, lush valleys carpeted with fields and date palms. And the best surprise of all is the warmth and pride with which the Moroccans welcome guests, making everyone feel comfortable and well cared for. --Edward Piegza
Edward Piegza is the president and founder of Classic Journeys, an adventure-travel company based in La Jolla, California. The company offers cultural walking adventures, culinary tours, and family journeys in 68 regions in 31 countries on five continents, including North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific.
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