Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo is always traveling with his kids, from domestic weekend getaways to spring break and summer vacation trips to around-the-world expeditions. We asked him what amazing places he’s traveled to recently that other family travelers should be booking now.
Where to Travel in 2019
I flew over 220,000 miles in 2018, mostly with my kids, searching out the best, most unique kid-friendly destinations all over the world. Some places we didn’t love, and some were over-touristed or weren’t unique. But we found a lot of amazing places – destinations domestically and internationally that impressed us on multiple levels. Based on all of that travel, these are the 10 places I would recommend for family travel in 2019.
Singapore is newly popular because of Crazy Rich Asians, but we’ve been visiting for years – typically on layovers to/from other Asian destinations. It’s easy to get into the city from the airport, it’s walkable (although there’s also easy, inexpensive public transportation), it’s safe, and the food is amazing. And there are unique pockets throughout the city where you feel like you’re in other lands – Little India, the Arab Quarter, Chinatown and, if you like shopping, Orchard Road.
My kids love the entire Marina Bay area, Gardens by the Bay, the ArtScience Museum, and the street food. And they recommend renting mini-Segways and electric scooters and having fun while exploring!
Wisconsin in the summer is amazing. We were impressed by Milwaukee’s vast activities and Door County’s charm. From farm dinners to well-thought-out museums to beaches to tractor rides to state parks, we never got bored, and my 8-year-old is already asking to return. And the food is great – more cheese curds and frozen custard please! A highly-recommended inexpensive kid-friendly getaway.
Where to Stay: The SpringHill Suites Milwaukee Downtown is a perfect base.
Arguably Italy’s most beautiful region, Trentino is rarely visited by Americans. They’re missing out! Beyond the stunning Dolomites, Trentino has numerous charming villages (sort of a cross between Italy and Switzerland), excellent food (the best of Italian with mountain elements), and a LOT of outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, cycling, and rafting. My kids loved biking through the valleys, hiking from the top of chairlifts, seeing cows everywhere, playing at adventure parks, and zipping down mountains on fly lines and alpine coasters. Visit Rome, Florence and Venice, but add on a few days for Trentino as well. It’s a completely different Italy!
The Celebrity Edge
Before sailing on the Celebrity Edge, I typically chose cruises for the port stops. The Edge is the first ship I would return to regardless of where it’s sailing. Our cabin, with its infinite veranda, was the one of the largest we’ve had on any ship, and the design elements throughout the ship are amazing, from the three-deck Eden space to the pool cabana passage to the rooftop garden. And dinner at Le Petit Chef is fun and unique – your table comes to life through animation. Note that there aren’t waterslides, climbing walls or arcades, so it may not be the perfect choice for active teens, but for upscale relaxation it’s perfect.
Abu Dhabi is absolutely perfect for layovers, with or without kids. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of my favorite buildings in the world, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is amazing both inside and out, and late-afternoon desert safaris are always fun. Add in kid-friendly attractions like the new Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi and Yas Waterworld, and it’s possible to ignore the heat – at least for a while.
Where to Stay: The Rosewood Abu Dhabi is inexpensive luxury, and well-located for everything we wanted to do.
If you want to get well off the normal tourist path, head to Southern Greenland! It really is green – perfect for exploring and hiking during the summer. We slept on sheep farms and in rustic cabins, sometimes hiking between them and sometimes riding Icelandic ponies. We kayaked between icebergs and took glacier/iceberg cruises. We rode ATVs and fished, catching dinner. We read, relaxed and played a lot of Frisbee. And we thoroughly enjoyed being away from other tourists, and off the Internet, for a week in a stunning location. Given the logistics of getting there (most flights go through Copenhagen or Reykjavik) and the limited lodging options, Greenland will never be as touristed as Costa Rica, Iceland or Croatia. But I’d still highly recommend visiting now to have it (mostly) to yourself.
Where to Stay: We loved the small (tiny) towns of Igaliku and Qassiarsuk.
Closer to home, but just as beautiful, is Jackson Hole, Wyoming — great for family vacations in the winter or the summer. Go skiing. Or hiking. Or whitewater rafting. Head out on a wildlife safari in search of moose, bighorn sheep, deer, bears, eagles, bison and lots more. Explore downtown Jackson with its perfect town square and elk antler arches, then head up to the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to explore, or go even further by taking the Aerial Tram to the summit. And there’s a fun snow sculpture park in Teton Village during the winter. We loved visiting in winter and are already planning a return trip in the summer.
The Galapagos and Ecuador
If the Galapagos are on your bucket list, what are you waiting for? Make 2019 the year you finally go! It’s everything you think it would be – the animals are incredible, the scenery is stunning, and the snorkeling is the best that we’ve found anywhere. But don’t ignore the rest of Ecuador. Quito is well worth a couple of days before or after the Galapagos, and our kids found the cloud forest to be just as interesting as the islands – especially the waterfall hikes and hummingbird experience at Mashpi Lodge.
Where to Stay: Galapagos trips are either land-based or ship-based depending on your budget. In Quito we loved basing out of Casa Gangotena. And Mashpi Lodge in the cloud forest is one of our favorite hotels anywhere.
The Via Francigena
Italy is my favorite place in the world and I visit several times a year, with and without kids, but this is the first time that I’ve hiked a portion of the Via Francigena – the old pilgrimage path that stretched from the Canterbury Cathedral in England to the Vatican in Rome (with a small boat ride required between England and France). It’s usually overshadowed by Spain’s Camino de Santiago, but it’s well worth seeking out. I hiked roughly 100km of the existing Via Francigena through Tuscany over six days, having my luggage transferred from site to site by a local tour operator. The hike is a great way to see Tuscany from a different perspective, and it’s particularly fun to arrive at Italy’s hilltop towns on foot – just like pilgrims did for over a thousand years before cars. I wouldn’t hike the entire Tuscan stretch with my kids, but I’d definitely take them on a few of the day-long, moderate hikes.
Where to Stay: My favorite stop along Tuscany’s Via Francigena was La Cisterna in San Gimignano. It’s a perfectly-located hotel, and it was great to have San Gimignano to ourselves in the evening after the day-trippers had left, and in the morning before they arrived.
And last but not least, take your kids to the Amazon Rainforest! From waterfalls to narrow river passages with perfect reflections to rainforest hikes to piranha fishing to abandoned village visits to animal spotting, Brazil‘s Amazon is magical for adults and kids alike. Probably my favorite trip ever. We stayed on a small ship on the Rio Negro for four nights, but there are a lot of ways to experience the rainforest, including land-based expeditions. And now that Brazil has simplified its visa system, it’s never been easier to visit.
How to Visit: Fly in and out of Manaus, explore the city and the rivers/villages nearby for a couple days, and then move into the Amazon with a local operator.
I’d love to know your thoughts as well. What’s your favorite family travel destination? Where are you off to in 2019?
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