Ready, Set, Go Wild
By Alison Ashton
When Terry Stroman plans her family's summer vacation, she never hears a chorus of "Been there, done that" from her sons, ages 11 and 13. That's because the Stroman clan is hooked on taking outdoor-adventure trips - a growing travel trend during the last ten years, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (202-408-8422; www.tia.org). So far, the Stromans have visited Yellowstone National Park, the jungles of Belize, and Utah's Desolation Canyon. Next summer, the family is planning a five-day, multisport-adventure trip to Colorado.
Adventure travel covers a huge range of activities, from cushy inn-to-inn cycling trips to hard-core, high-altitude treks. "Soft" adventure, with activities that offer excitement without too much exertion or danger, is big with families, according to Dave Wiggins, a vice-president of GORP Travel, Inc. (877-440-4677; http://gorptravel.gorp.com). "Camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and canoeing are among the most popular ways to experience the great outdoors as a family," says Wiggins.
What to Consider Before You Go
- The age of your kids. Most trips have a minimum age for kids, which is determined by the type of activities involved. Generally speaking, adventure travel is a better choice for families with older kids-ages seven and up. For trips that involve rafting, some companies require that youngsters be at least ten years old.
- The type of activities. For first-time adventurers, Wiggins recommends a ranch- or lodge-based trip that offers plenty of activities for families with young children or a variety of ages. Some adventure-travel groups offer half- and full-day activities, another good option for families new to the experience.
- Family-focused or family-friendly? Be sure you understand how the kids will fit in. Family-focused trips are designed with young adventurers in mind, down to the range of activities, level of difficulty, and quality of food. But don't automatically disregard trips that aren't marketed especially for parents and children. The Stromans' trip to Belize wasn't specifically for families, but the kids loved it nonetheless.
- Will other kids be on the trip? Meeting another family with kids the same gender and age as yours can be the difference between a good trip and a great one.
- The roughing-it factor. Some families enjoy the camping experience; others prefer the comforts of a condo or a lodge. Ask specific questions about the accommodations.
- What do the fees cover? Trips like these can be expensive, but moms agree that you get lots of fun for the money. Stroman says her trips' all-inclusive rates provided convenience and comfort. Make sure you understand what the fees cover (lodging, activities, equipment, meals, transportation) and ask about discounts for kids. If you're flexible, you can trim costs, perhaps by scaling down accommodations (for example, taking a one- instead of a
two-bedroom condo) or by opting for more self-guided activities.
- Don't forget tips. Tips for the guides—for example, $50 to $100 per guide on a rafting trip—generally aren't included in the price. The outfitter can offer guidance on appropriate tipping.
- Kid-friendly guides. Make sure that the trip operator has plenty of experience working with kids, says Wiggins.
- Gear up. Although outfitters typically provide most of the equipment, ask for a suggested packing list. Don't forget such items as hats and high-SPF sunscreen. If you need serious gear, such as outdoor sleeping bags or tents, you can rent the equipment affordably from a sporting-goods store.
- Consider less expensive options. If an adventure vacation organized by an outfitter doesn't fit in your budget, check out alternatives closer to home. Rangers at county, state, and national parks often lead kid-oriented nature hikes and other programs. Check with local sporting-goods stores for affordable day and weekend adventures in your area or visit outdoor outfitters such as REI (www.rei.com) and Adventure 16 (www.adventure16.com) for gear and travel tips.
Top Family Adventure-Tour Outfitters
- GORP Travel, Inc. (877-440-4677; http://gorptravel.gorp.com): Offers family-focused lodge- and ranch-based vacations, rafting excursions, and other adventures. As with all outfitters, fees vary based on the trip.
- Backroads (800-462-2848; www.backroads.com): offers family trips to destinations in North America, Latin America, and Europe. Choose from walking, biking, and multisport adventures. Sample adventure: A six-day camping trip in Washington's Puget Sound is $948 per adult. Kids' discounts range from 75 percent off for tykes 2 and under to 10 percent off for kids 11 to 16.
- Kids Go Too Travel (800-638-3215; www.kidsgotootravel.com): Customizes adventures in Colorado and Wyoming with activities ranging from covered-wagon trips and rafting to horseback riding, gold-mine visits, and dinosaur-fossil digs.
- The World Outside (800-488-8483; www.theworldoutside.com): Families are welcome on any trip, but the company also offers special family multisport adventures in the Grand Tetons/Yellowstone National Park, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and Colorado's Four Corners region.
- Thomson Family Adventures (800-262-6255; www.familyadventures.com): Trips to Africa, Nepal, Turkey, Costa Rica, Australia, Egypt, the Galápagos Islands, and Ecuador will appeal to families with a taste for the exotic. Thomson's 13-day "Affordable Tanzania Safari" offers tremendous value for the money. Cost: $2,990 per adult, including round-trip airfare from the East Coast, with a $500 discount for kids 11 and under.
- Wilderness Inquiry (800-728-0719; www.wildernessinquiry.org): Offers very affordable family canoeing, hiking, swimming, and fishing trips in the summer; cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and dogsledding in the winter.
Alison Ashton is a San Diego–based freelance writer and the coauthor of Romantic Days and Nights in San Diego (Globe Pequot Press).