Adventure Travel With Kids

Here’s how to plan your next epic family adventure.

Having kids changes everything, but it doesn’t have to curtail activity-filled vacations. Think of the added challenges as part of a new adventure. And think back to your own earliest adventures; if they played a formative role in your life, then pay it forward by launching new ones with your children. It’s an invaluable gift to help them appreciate travel, new experiences and problem-solving the adversities of travel beyond their comfort zones. So, step out of your own travel routines and bring the whole family along for a new challenge filled with more moving pieces.  

Yes, the dynamic changes and the extra considerations stack up, but there’s an added reward—even if indirect—in the memories and years of stories from a trip spent sharing something you love with your kids. Whether your dream is showing the kids your favorite desert river or exploring Europe by bike, tackle the task with the following tips, considerations, and questions to ask yourself before planning your next epic family adventure.  

Pick the Right Location 

While you might be dying to take your family to the rock climbing destination you frequented pre-kids, it’s important to pause and ask yourself if that’s the best place for everyone to have an enjoyable, fun vacation. Do your kids enjoy rock climbing? Are there routes that they can climb there? Are there other activities in the area? What’s the weather going to be? While you might tolerate the hot sun, your family might not be too keen on spending the whole day in the heat. When you consider the best location and activities, be honest with yourself about what’s right. Don’t overlook the importance of playgrounds and kid-first amenities. There are so many family-friendly adventure options out there, but you need to first calibrate your expectations to do what’s best for the group. 

After all, you want your kids to love the outdoors. Nurture that love as opposed to scaring them away with an experience that’s too intense. If you’re unsure whether the family will enjoy backpacking, try car camping and day-hiking first. And for the first camping or backpacking trip, pack the luxuries: Bring a comfy sleeping pad, spring for a backpack that’s comfortable for your kid, and bring a tent that’s roomy enough for everyone. If you don’t know if camping is the move, plan for a night of camping and a night in the hotel. Does the hotel have coveted kid draws like a pool? As long as everyone’s needs are considered, the trip will be a success. 

Allow for Extra Time 

Nothing creates stress faster than being pressed for time. You can set yourself up for a calm travel day if you allot more time than you think you need. It’s safe to expect that something will go wrong—a flight delay, long security line, or problems with public transit—but if you have a buffer for the unexpected you can avoid the stress that comes along with that. If you’re flying, leave plenty of time to get to the airport, schedule longer layovers so you have time for food and pee breaks. Make sure to bring luggage that’s easy to maneuver and don’t overpack—heavy bags make moving between cars and planes and trains so much more cumbersome. When traveling with kids, keep important documents with you and keep essentials in your carry-on to reduce the headaches that occur with a lost bag. And remember, if a child is traveling internationally with just one parent, airlines will typically want a notarized letter of consent from the other parent. It’s also a good idea to inject some extra time into your itinerary to reduce stress during the trip and focus on the fun. 

Try To Stick to Usual Schedules

If you’re traveling with younger kids, try to keep them on their regular eating and sleeping schedule if you can (or get close). This will help keep moods and energy levels intact so everyone can enjoy themselves. In that same vein, don’t overload the itinerary and leave some unstructured space for rest and play. Traveling to new places or trying new activities can be overwhelming for kids, so let them know what the general schedule is each day and what they’ll be doing so they know what to expect. 

Keep the Kids Engaged

If you’re traveling with older kids, propose a few different activities and let them be the ones to choose so they can have some stake in the trip too. Better yet, enlist them to help in the planning process; it’ll help them invest in the trip’s success and get excited about the itinerary. Also, snacks. Kids always stay more engaged with snacks on hand; bring extra goodies, including fun extras they don’t usually get to have at home. And though your vacation goal may be to unplug, packing some toys, books and electronic devices (charged with new shows and games downloaded in advance) can ease transit if kids can entertain themselves with a few comforts from home. Another way to boost engagement: Give your kids a camera so they can focus on the activity and take ownership over documenting the family and the fun things they see. 

Ditch the Rules

Routines are good, especially for young children, but one of the best parts about vacation is that everyone loosens up a bit and takes a break from normal life. Give everyone a longer leash and a little extra freedom (yourself included). Maybe that means everyone gets to sleep in or the kids get to stay up late and eat ice cream every night (or even use that familiar iPad for an hour to maintain morale). Take a break from the rules to bond as a family. And while ditching restrictive rules can be a welcome break, it’s important to implement new vacation rules. Make sure the kids know exactly what to do and where to go if they get lost or separated, and have your phone numbers and lodging address on them just in case they need it. 

Hire a Guide

Help from an outfitter has major benefits: You get taken to the best spots for the area’s best adventures; you don’t have to worry about conditions, logistics, necessary equipment or safety; and you can expose the family to new, fun activities outside of your outdoor purview. Maybe you’re a stellar rock climber, but you’re not used to being responsible for someone else’s safety and you don’t know how to perform a rescue. That’s a great reason to hire a certified climbing guide who has years of training to ensure they can take folks out for safe, fun days. Or maybe you lack the relevant experience to lead an outing and need a professional. Either way, doing a new activity together—from a guided bike ride touring a city’s best cultural sites to a llama trek or rafting trip—is a great way to bond and create memories. Leave the logistics and hassle to the experts and focus on having an exciting time with your family.

Similarly, consider free options for adventure at local, state and national parks. Many parks do ranger hikes or ranger talks or specialty programs—like astronomy sessions—that are free and open to the public. That’s a great way to do something different and interesting as a family, even if you’re on a tight budget. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.