Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo has taken his kids (7, 10 and 12) to 48 countries and all seven continents, and they add at least 10 new destinations a year. We asked him where adventurous families should be looking to travel to in 2018.
2018 Family Travel
One of the questions I get most frequently is: where should we go on vacation next year? Budgets and interests vary from family to family, but in general people want to stay within a few time zones of home for shorter school breaks but are open to more far-flung destinations for summer or holiday travel. When planning our own travel, I ask myself: what’s the coolest, most interesting destination that we haven’t been to yet? And does it look like it’s family-friendly? Most places in the world are kid-friendly (because there are kids everywhere), but we’ve found a few destinations that simply aren’t easy for families to navigate or they aren’t interesting to kids. Live and learn.
So taking all of that into account, what do I recommend for families in 2018? Here are my top ten travel suggestions. Some are great for weekend getaways, some for school breaks, and some for longer family travel.
Chile has been getting a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. It’s a stunning, diverse country that’s safe and easy to navigate, and it’s not heavily touristed. I particularly like it as a winter break or spring break destination, since the time difference is far less than Europe (meaning less jet lag), and the seasons are opposite the US. Winter here is summer there.
We’ve hiked in Chilean Patagonia, run down sand dunes in the Atacama Desert, explored Easter Island, with its iconic Moai statues, and checked out Santiago’s food scene. And my kids loved all of it! Tickets are typically less expensive than to Europe, and there’s a wide range of hotels and lodges.
Tip: If you can’t make Chile work with your dates or budget, look at Argentina. The two countries share Patagonia, they both have stunning desert regions, and they both have amazing food. Fly into Buenos Aires, but then head to Salta for the desert or San Martín de los Andes to explore Patagonia.
Japan is an amazing destination for families, from Hokkaido in the north to Kyoto and Hiroshima further south, but we’ve come to love Tokyo as a stand-alone destination. There are inexpensive, non-stop flights from a lot of US cities, so it’s easy to get there, and transportation in Tokyo is efficient. There’s a definite language barrier, but that’s part of the adventure. Plus, it’s the safest city in the world.
A perfect one-week itinerary would include exploring Harajuku and Shinjuku, visiting shrines and temples (don’t miss Meiji Shrine or Sensoji Temple), eating sushi from the stalls around Tsukiji fish market, walking through the arcades of Ikebukuro, heading across Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba, and enjoying the peace of the gardens and tea houses.
Tip: The Park Hyatt Tokyo, featured in Lost in Translation, is the iconic place to stay. Well worth the splurge.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Whitefish, Montana and nearby Glacier National Park are an easy getaway, especially in summer. Fly in to Kalispell, rent a car, spend a night in Whitefish, and then head into Glacier. It’s absolutely stunning. Over three days we kayaked, went fly fishing, perused the Whitefish Farmers Market, and did half a dozen hikes through forests, along rivers and among wildflowers. Oh, and there’s horseback riding, an adventure park/ropes course, and much more.
Wildfires destroyed portions of Glacier National Park last summer, but iconic structures like Lake McDonald Lodge survived. There’s no way of knowing when fire will return to Glacier or other National Parks, so definitely don’t wait too long to go.
Tip: There’s glamping, complete with s’mores, not far from the entrance to Glacier National Park at Under Canvas Glacier.
Safaris are amazing experiences for kids – and adults. Having gone on safaris in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania, I’d give the nod to Tanzania. It’s easy to visit, and you’ll see A LOT of animals.
Fly into Arusha, and then head to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Ngorongoro Crater, roughly four hours away. The nice thing about the Ngorongoro Crater is that it’s a volcanic caldera – essentially a really large bowl inhabited by 25,000 animals. Most of the animals don’t migrate in or out of the crater, so it’s easy to spot virtually everything there except giraffes. They’re right outside the crater though, so no worries.
From Ngorongoro head to the nearby Serengeti for its wide-open plains, and to Ndutu Lake, where you can witness the annual wildebeest migration and drive off-road to get closer to animals. Based on experience with young kids, I’d recommend a ten-day trip, with 7-8 days in the parks and then 2-3 days of relaxation on nearby Zanzibar.
Tip: If you’ve seen the photos of giraffes poking their heads into a dining room where people are eating breakfast, that’s at Giraffe Manor, not far from Nairobi, Kenya‘s international airport. Flying to or from Tanzania, it’s easy to stop there for one or two nights – and so worth it!
The Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, are all about relaxation. So it’s a perfect honeymoon destination, but it’s also amazingly kid-friendly. We’ve stayed at both an overwater bungalow resort and an island-based resort and definitely preferred to be overwater.
At both of our resorts there were bicycles waiting for us, including kid-sized bikes, and we had a great time riding both on the bungalow walkway and all around the islands. We also kayaked frequently, jumped off our overwater bungalow into the warm ocean water, took advantage of kids club activities, played a lot of ping pong and beach games, snorkeled, and watched the sunset every night from overwater hammocks.
Seriously, take your kids to the Maldives! But it’s one of the spots on earth most threatened by rising ocean levels, so don’t wait too long to go.
Tip: We liked Six Senses Laamu best. But there are overwater villas and island-based hotels in every price range throughout the Maldives.
Yes, quite different from the Maldives! But Orlando remains a great destination for kids, and it’s continually evolving. In the past year Disney added Pandora – The World of Avatar to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Universal opened its third theme park, Volcano Bay. Universal’s also adding Fast & Furious – Supercharged in the spring.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal continues to be my kids’ favorite destination anywhere. It’s impossible to spend too much time in the Harry Potter areas – or to drink too much butterbeer! And if you’re wanting to escape the theme parks, the Kennedy Space Center is less than an hour from Orlando.
Tips: Stay onsite at the parks for early admission and other perks like express passes. My personal favorites are the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal and Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World. The pool at the Four Seasons is amazing! And go off-season. Theme parks are far less enjoyable during school breaks.
Costa Rica has become extremely popular the past few years, and prices have increased accordingly. So head next door to Panama instead! Panama’s claim to fame is its canal that winds its way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and it’s fun to visit the canal locks, but there’s so much more. And it’s all kid-friendly. Head out onto Gatun Lake and search for monkeys, sloths, birds, iguanas and crocodiles. See starfish right off the beach in Bocas del Toro, and take a surf lesson while you’re there. Explore the hanging bridges (and zip lines) of the Boquete rain forest. And the San Blas islands are stunning.
Tip: Don’t spend much time in Panama City itself (although the colonial neighborhood of Casco Viejo is charming). The most interesting areas of the narrow country are in the center and on the Caribbean coast.
Greece has quickly become one of our favorite destinations in Europe. It has amazing history of course, and the iconic ruins that come with that, but it’s also remained relatively inexpensive as a tourist destination. Restaurant and hotel prices are 20% less than the European average.
Fly into Athens and spend two days exploring the city. Don’t miss the Acropolis and the nearby Plaka neighborhood. But then fly (or take a ferry) over to the islands. Crete and Rhodes are larger, with numerous historic sites. Rhodes’ old town is particularly fun to explore with kids. Mykonos and Santorini are the most famous and touristy islands, but for good reason. Santorini has our favorite Greek town, Oia, and gorgeous sunsets. Mykonos has a charming main town, but it’s also about night life. And Naxos and Paros are great destinations if you want quieter islands with fewer day-trippers but still with excellent beaches and food. We especially like Naxos.
Tip: If you want to spend a week or two on a Greek island with kids, choose one without daily cruise ship arrivals. An influx of thousands of people for a few hours drastically changes the feel of a small island. It’s one reason we like Naxos – there are plenty of ferries to other islands, but it’s not on any cruise ship itineraries.
New Orleans turns 300 in 2018, so there’s never been a better time to go. Get beignets from Cafe du Monde or Morning Call. Ride on one of the iconic streetcars. Visit City Park for Storyland, the playground and climbing on mossy oaks. Take a riverboat cruise. Visit the Aquarium of the Americas. And think about going for Mardi Gras! It’s crowded, but the parades taking place between January 27th and February 13th (2018) are a blast for kids.
Tip: Stay downtown. We love being able to walk over to Cafe du Monde in the morning for beignets and coffee, explore the French Market, relax at Jackson Square, and walk the French Quarter. Bourbon Street is all about drinking, but otherwise New Orleans is amazingly kid-friendly.
If you want to be truly adventurous, take your kids to Antarctica! When I went with my 8-year-old for her annual one-on-one trip, I didn’t know what to expect. But it’s actually very kid-friendly! Penguins, whales, seals, snowball fights, snow angels, hot chocolate on frozen fjords, kayaking, belly sliding down hills – it had it all. Plus our ship organized scavenger hunts and cookie making for the kids on board.
In December and January, Antarctica isn’t all that cold – just a couple degrees below freezing. Much of the US was far colder the week we were there. And it’s not very difficult to get to. Just fly to the southern tip of South America and board a ship.
Tip: Eight is a good minimum age. At that point kids can occupy themselves on the ship during the Drake Passage crossings and at night on the ship, and they can appreciate where they are.
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