Experiential Travel with kids

family vacations

The Indian travellers are quite evolved and thanks to the Internet are also very aware. Their expectations now match global needs in terms of service, deals and most importantly, experiences. They now want to experience the place rather than just visit them or tick them off their checklist. Their bucket list comprises of activities like canyoneering a la James Franco in the Grand Canyon, go wine tasting or truffle hunting in Italy or France. Stay at a local apartments or do a homestay rather than booking a hotel, attend world-renowned events like running with the bulls in Spain or take surfing lessons in Australia.

Most of these experiences are for adults and hence, the notion that families with young kids should stick to theme parks, holiday parks in the UK or the good old beach resorts with kids clubs. Places like Rome, Florence and Angkor Wat are not the first choices for Indian parents for family vacations. They normally choose cruises or destinations like Singapore, Hong Kong or cities, beach places or theme parks, aquariums and zoos while travelling abroad. This is because they feel kids are not ready to absorb the history and cultural aspects of a new country.

There are however tours available where even historic places like the Colosseum in Rome and art museums like Louvre in Paris can be fun & educational for the entire family. I specialize in Family Travel and conduct trips, which include treasure hunt at the Colosseum and Louvre so that kids learn about the places in a fun and interactive manner. Even places like Hong Kong which most families visit to take the kids to Disneyland, can be given an experiential twist with a dim sum making class, visiting old monasteries or temples or may be a Kung Fu lesson for the entire family!

When a survey was conducted with about 100 mothers of kids aged 7 – 12 years, most of them wanted some time off for them to have a quiet dinner with the spouse or just enjoy some drinks without the kids. Include activities and workshops like an art class in France, pizza making in Italy, gladiator combat skills workshop in Rome, so that the parent’s have some free time to shop or visit a museum of their choice. However, not many are aware of the off-the beaten-path options available for families to enjoy together.

When we took our 7-year-old daughter to Singapore last year, her most cherished memories are those at Chinatown and not at the Universal Studios or Jurong Bird Park. Was it because she had already visited Disneyland in Hong Kong and a very good zoo in Bangkok? Or was it because she was intrigued by the Chinese culture thanks to the Disney film Mulan? I think it was the latter. It does help if kids know a little bit about the place they are visiting, so that they can connect with it. I always advise watching a movie or reading a book on the country you are travelling to. The names won’t seem so foreign to the kids and they will be able to make an immediate connection.

Hence, if you are planning to visit the Parthenon in Athens and think the kids won’t enjoy the ruins… think again!

Feel free to write to me at: info@soltrips.com

Sojourn to Greece with kids

family vacations

Adventure awaits you in Greece and its idyllic islands! An action packed holiday which will bring you closer to the historical heritage and fascinating local traditions of the country.

Greece is not just about ancient ruins and piles of stones which translate B-O-R-I-N-G for most people, especially kids. A holiday to Greece can be very enriching and exciting for adults and children alike with a host of active life experiences – something you will remember forever.

The best time to plan for a vacation in Greece is to generally make it part of summer holidays (mid April to mid June) or in the fall (September to mid October). This way you will avoid the summer high season crowds and peak season rates. As far as possible avoid August totally.

Athens is a must visit – that’s a no brainer. There are many interesting ways of exploring this city steeped in ancient culture, bursting at its seams with history. How about discovering this city through clues and directions, solving riddles, interacting with locals, learning about local food and people? Sounds interesting, right? It is – it’s fascinating!!

Some of the experiential things to to soak in the Greek culture are visit the Hellenic World foundation, which is a museum of Greek history and culture, and the Athens Planetarium. These are both especially interesting if you have curious kids in tow.  A walk around the Monastiraki Flea Market and dinner at one of the quaint cafes at the Plaka is a quintessentially Greek experience. Athens at night with all the monuments lit up is truly a magnificient sight.

There are 175+ islands in Greece, each one characteristic in its own way, can be explored individually or you can base yourself at a central island and make day trips to the other islands. Travelling with kids can take a toll on their moods, but this will keep them happier with a familiar room every night and you will be thankful not to pack and unpack bags very night. It is an excellent idea to have your holiday base in an area which is located in the centre of the Cyclades, which is easily accessible from Athens ports with frequent schedules to and from there to take boat trips to nearby islands. Some of the unique island activities include visiting an olive oil making unit or see how the famous feta cheese is processed in a farm. Biking around fertile green landscape and playing on the golden sandy beaches with clear waters and restaurants by the beach make up for a very relaxed vacation. All of these can be enjoyed with your kids, and will keep them engaged and busy. Quaint traditional Greek villages are magical and on the less touristy / crowded islands, the locals are very warm and love kids.

Ravishing Santorini lives up to the postcard-perfect photos you’ve seen, perhaps calling you to Greece in the first place. You can explore this island on foot hiking to the caldera and making a picnic out of it. The picture perfect sunset at the end of the day leaves a lasting impression of this renowned island. Also they get to tour a volcano that they have only read about in their science books.

Another exciting way to explore the islands is by hiring a yacht (with crew or self helmed!). You don’t need to be an expert sailor, just do a short pre-course and join a group of sailboats. There are some really good luxury yachts with jacuzzis and all the luxuries of a modern 5* hotel.

For the little nature and animal lovers, like my daughter, there are superb farm stay options not far from the idyllic beaches.

Whether it is a cooking course to learn delicious Mediterranean delicacies, or an art class to learn ceramic or textile painting, wine tours, snorkelling, hiking or biking or a sunset cruise – Greece has so much to offer for you and your little ones, to make your holiday a memorable one.

Feel free to write to me at: info@soltrips.com

Where to go for a vacation? The big question…. – Part I

disney

We all have our bucket list of places to visit, which just keeps on growing each time we see a travel documentary, a movie or read about a new place. On the other hand, most of us have also been blessed with some wonderful memories of vacations we’ve had with our loved ones and families and wish we could re-visit those places to relive the memories. Here comes the big question, should we go to the place we know we love and enjoy or start ticking off our bucket list?

Being a parent we are also faced with another big question whether it would be worth the money spent on a vacation aimed to please the kids or are they too young? Honestly, the parents can only answer this question, as they know their kids best. However, being a travel consultant I do give some pointers to my clients, which I would like to share with a series of blogs:

Places with theme parks like Hong Kong or Singapore:

We all want to take our little ones to meet Mickey, Minnie and all the wonderful Disney characters at some point or take them to an international zoo or safari park. However, what I realized with my daughter is that theme parks can be quite tiring; especially with Asian weather and for a kid less than 8 years you have to give more time if you want to see the entire park. Pick a season when the locals and neighboring countries’ schools do not have school holidays to avoid huge crowds at the park. If you can afford, buy the fast track pass to skip the huge queues. Figure out in advance the timings to meet the characters you think your kid would like to meet. Merchandise within the park are super expensive (of course they are originals, hence the price), so think twice before you take your kid into the shop. I always give a budget to my daughter and she picks whatever she wants with that money. Helps them learn the lesson of spending wisely and make their own choices. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience with your child rather than going berserk clicking pictures and shooting videos.

Most parks like Ocean Park & even the ones in Singapore like the zoo & bird park have special educational and interactive experiences that can be booked at a fee. If you think you have a Jr. Zookeeper in the making, ensure you book these encounters where the kid gets a chance to get within the enclosures and spend quality time with the rangers.

Because there are so many themed parks on offer, all geared towards kids edutainment, we tend to spend days visiting one park after the other. My daughter doesn’t enjoy many organised activities and with so many kids around her, she would actually just want to gather all of them and have her own party going… but most kids are rushing to the next ride and hence she has to make do with just making friends in the queues! I remember at a park in Bangkok she found a wall where kids could draw with coloured chalks on a wall and though we had a planned schedule to see one animal show after the other, my husband and I just sat there chatting & relaxing over a cup of coffee while our darling was happy colouring the wall! We did exchange a glance, which said did we spend so much to come all the way to Thailand to draw on walls, but when we saw her having fun and us time to just chill, we didn’t mind it at all.

Vacations are about having fun and relaxing too besides checking out the sights. Do take time to just roam around the streets, mingle with the locals and take some public transport rather than packaging your trip so much that you are just rushing all the time. You and your kids will get a better insight about the lifestyle and people of the country when you use public transport and eat at local joints.

Big cities like Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur & Singapore may end up giving you similar experiences unless you opt for non-touristy tours. Opt for walking tours rather than seat in coach city tours where you just whizz past places. Sample a bit of tradition by visiting religious places with a knowledgeable child friendly guide. Opt for a local activity like dim sum making class or a short Kung Fu or Tai Chi lesson with locals. Light an incense stick at a local monastery and make a wish on the wishing tree… Yes, I am still referring to Hong Kong & Singapore, the cities renowned for shopping and theme parks.

Feel free to writ to me at: info@soltrips.com

Where To Go For A Vacation? The Big Question…. – Part II

family vacations

I had gone for party this weekend and she wanted to know what I meant by ‘Experiential Trips‘, so I started narrating my standard examples like treasure hunt in the Coliseum, making your own Venetian Mask, Art class post visiting the Louvre in Paris, etc. She started cringing and my ego just shattered, I have always had eyes sparkle when I narrate these tours. She said I had moving around so much on my holiday! I just want to do nothing and that is a holiday for me, but I do want my 7 year old occupied enough so that she doesn’t bother me. This blog is dedicated to parents for whom holidays mean ‘doing nothing’!

‘Doing nothing places!’

We are indeed blessed with out strategic location in South East Asia. Good connections to almost anywhere in Europe too, with a max one stopover. Firstly, I do believe that ‘doing nothing’ is an art and everybody is not lucky to have mastered it. I count my daughter & myself fortunate to have mastered this art! We have had many a ‘doing nothing’ holidays at exotic locations like Krabi, where we stayed at a luxurious hotel with kid’s camp and we spent 4 days hopping from the room – restaurant – beach – pool – restaurant – room – kids camp – restaurant. I forgot, I also sneaked into the spa twice while papa and baby were snoozing in the afternoon. We can’t wait to go back to the same place. Another good place is hiring a villa with some friends in Bali and one can skip going to the restaurant too, as you will have the chef churn up delicacies for everyone. Even more bliss!

If this seems too lazy for your liking, then you can rent a villa in Tuscany where you can go driving or bicycling around charming villages at your own pace. Or stay at an Agroturismo hotel, which has kids activities and cooking classes for the entire family. If you like beaches then the coastline of Liguria, popularly known as Cinque Terre. Whereas, my favourite Marche, let’s you explore both picturesque villages as well as the coast.

Related Read: Where To Go For A Vacation? The Big Question…. – Part I

Find a good base in Provence or Cote d’Azur in France, visit perfumeries or castles and dine at Michelin star restaurants. You can combine this holiday with a pre / post tour to Paris and you will have a perfect blend of ‘doing nothing’ and seeing sights holiday.

Greece is another place where you can experience a perfect blend of sightseeing and relaxing in a charming coastal town. Pick one of the islands which is not frequently visited like Naxos, which is also very family friendly, and make sure you do take them to see an Olive Oil pressing mill…. though it might seem like an effort, it is worth it!

The trick is to end the holiday on a relaxed and quiet note, where there is no abiding by schedules and running around so that you get back to your routine life on a happy note…. until you have to wake up early on a school day & wish the holiday never ended!

For more information, you can write to me at: info@soltrips.com

Germany with kids – Not as cold and unfriendly as you might think

family vacations

Stained with its WWII history and Hitler, Germany might easily be perceived as a very cold and unfriendly place to visit with kids. This is precisely why I think you should take your kids to Germany especially if they are aware of the history of the place and people. Present day Germany is a far cry from its brutal past and the locals are open to welcome people from different cultural backgrounds.

Think of Germany and you cannot ‘not’ think about super cars! You have the fancy factories of BMW, Audi & Volkswagen. Kids (especially boys!) would love to go through the process of car making with a guided tour and you will see the kid within ‘daddy’ come out and flaunt mesmerized expressions too!  Depending on which part of Germany you are visiting a factory visit can be easily fit into the itinerary. If you are following the Bundesliga or like soccer then you have some famous stadiums home to Bayern Munich or Dortmund.

Enough of stuff to do for boys (though I know many girls who would enjoy soccer & cars!), Germany boasts of some of the most magnificent castles and also the famed Romantic Road. The best thing about Germany is that it is very easy to get around. The rail network is superb, there are intercity buses and of course if you want to visit quaint villages, renting a car is the best option. The popular Heidelberg Castle is just 20 minutes drive from Frankfurt (one of the major gateways) and from there within an hour you are touching the Black Forest Region. Cut across to Wurzburg for the scenic Romantischestrasse (Romantic Route) from where the winding road through Rothenburg culminates at Fussen in the Bavaria region. Fussen is also home to the renowned Sleeping Beauty (Neuschwanstein Castle). Bavaria is also home to picturesque lakeside resorts if you just want to relax with a scenic view from your room. If you are visiting in June / July, a must do is a cruise on the Rhine, especially when the sky is filled with fire crackers each night.

So what are the essential German sights to see and cuisine to try? Kids can enjoy another German speciality – the pretzel while you enjoy your beer! End the evening with the sinful SchwarzwälderKirschtorte (Black Forest Cake). For meat lovers there are various kinds of Wurst(sausages).

If you have older kids there are some really interesting walks in Berlin and Munich explaining Hitler’s regime. You can also visit the Dachau Concentration Camp, an easy drive from Munich. There are some brilliant guides who highlight the past and discuss the mindset of present day Germans. Especially in Berlin, it would be interesting to take the kids to visit the remnants of the old wall, most of us parents must’ve witnessed the historical incident on Doordarshan and have vivid images of the crumbling wall.

For the little ones, there are plenty of zoos, open parks, interactive museums, theme parks and even the Forest ropeway course, which has various obstacle courses and is fun for the entire family. There are some very good biking and hiking routes in the Bavaria and Baden – Baden. The Europa Park is one of the most renowned theme parks in Europe, in case you want a theme park fix.

Don’t forget to shop for that cuckoo clock and if possible visit a workshop to show the kids how craftsmen make these unique clocks. Moms, there are some fantastic outlet malls outside main cities like Berlin, Frankfurt & Munich. In fact, there is an entire Porcelain Route where you will come across some amazing porcelain factories. You can also buy renowned brands like Nachtmann, Villeroy&Bochand get some excellent deals.

I have planned 4 itineraries this summer and when the first person approached me and said I have 7 days for Germany are they enough? I thought to myself, yeah sure… but after planning more tours to Germany I realised there is plenty to see and do Germany.

Pick pocketed in Paris!

 

sunset-eiffel-tower-hd-wallpaper-1080p

Paris holds a very special place in my heart, my husband asked me to marry him on the Eiffel Tower! So you can imagine what the place means to me and hence we were very excited to visit the same place now with our darling daughter. My 8 year old was equally excited to visit Paris, albeit for a completely different reason. After watching Barbie & Monster High girls acting as fashion designers in Paris, she already knew that it is fashion capital of the world.

I had planned a whole list of experiential stuff for us to do which included couple of interesting walks in the Latin Quarter and Montmartre, taking her to the Louvre, where we had identified sections we wanted to visit before leaving India, of course visiting the iconic Eiffel Tower and taking her to either the Notre Dame or the science museum.

The Jet Airways day flight to Paris was just ok, as we were in the economy class. The inflight entertainment had only Despicable Me 2 movie for kids and some TV episodes. In the 9 and a half hours long flight they served lunch at 2.30 pm (IST) and until 7.30 pm (IST) there was no other service. With an 8 year old who eats everything, I had not packed any snacks for the flight. After asking them twice for food, I just lost it and they gave her an ice cream to eat. About 30 minutes later they served some kind of vegetable roll and ice cream to all. The roll was a bit spicy, so they gave her another ice cream. She wasn’t complaining at all, but I was a furious mom.

Arrived all excited in Paris and enjoyed the sunlight at 8.30 pm en route Adagio ApartHotel with a view of river Seine and the Statue of Liberty saying hello to it’s twin in New York! The apartment had a sofa -cum – bed in the living room, an oven, a hob, mini fridge & a microwave. Exactly what we hoped for.

The guided walks were very good, I was afraid my daughter would get tired and bored, but she enjoyed it thoroughly. She took bits of information, which were a bit ‘spicy’ or controversial in nature and kept asking me more about it. The weather God was kind throughout our stay. Louvre was also very fascinating for her and she saw the most talked about Mona Lisa and thought it was a picture of a man! A long discussion followed… We were heading to the Eiffel Tower next and this is when our trips had an interesting twist. My husband’s wallet was flicked on the metro. While kept running like a headless chicken, I was just too upset as he has was carrying a lot of money, like he was going to buy me an LV or Hermes bag! Which I know wasn’t the case. He then revealed that his driver’s license had gone in the wallet too. I now donned my Kaali avtaar and was ready to throw him down from the Eiffel Tower!

I had planned an amazing itinerary in the Loire Valley where we would pick up a car (an Alpha Romeo which they show on Masterchef Australia!) from Paris and explore the Loire Valley. We were to visit many chateaux where my daughter could dress up in Renaissance clothes and have a kid friendly guide take us around the place. Take her to a fencing school to try a bit of fencing a la Barbie & the 3 musketeers. Go to Les Machines, which has rides based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s machines, but all these places were only accessible by car. I had booked a charminggîte (countryside cottage), in a very small village devoid of any public transportation.

He spent the rest of the evening going to the cop station etc., we had a long argument as our holiday was ruined and that I wanted to go back home. I later realized, that the little one was thoroughly lost, so I fed her, explained her what had happened, that mamma / papa are not fighting but just venting out and put her to bed so that we could resume the blame game. I was really upset, as holidays mean a lot to me, if it were up to me, I would sell my apartment and spend all the money on a round the world trip! Thank God, he’s sane more practical. I just wept and slept and woke up with some real grit, determination and positive outlook. Got straight on to work, figured out how to get to the gîte using public transportation and asked my daughter if she wanted to visit the Cité des Sciences or the Notre Dame, to my surprise she chose Cité des Sciences.

 

Cité des Sciences is easily an entire day affair for all ages. They have 2 wonderful interactive areas based on various aspects, which are hands on activities. My 8 year old absolutely loved it and was the highlight of her Paris trip. For example, they can measure how fast they run, test their balance, have a makeover, work with a friend to complete a mission, learn to write “house” in Chinese… play a television presenter, appear in a film’s special effects or lip-synch to the music of Vincent Malone… produce the energy to power a television…

After the Cité des Sciences, we went to the Eiffel Tower, this was just the day after we lost our wallet and we had loads of fun laughing and joking about the incident, with my daughter adding her two bits and reminding us how violent we looked the previous day. As they say ‘all is well, that end’s well’!

Au revoir Paris, we were off to Greece and you guessed it, my next blog will be about our wonderful adventures in Greece.

Things my 8 year old daughter enjoyed the most & will never forget:Swimming pool at the hotel, buying tickets for the metro ride from the vending machine, buying some goodies from the vending machine, shopping at the super market, playing at the neighbourhood park with local kids, the process of posting a card for bestie (weighing the envelope, buying stamps and posting in the box), watch a musician play the accordion on the metro, the science museum where 3 hours at the interactive area with a group of French kids was also not enough, having fun posing at the various sculptures at Louvre and of course eating crepes. Of course mamma / papa throwing a fit after we were pick pocketed!

Crete a different region altogather

Though, Crete is part of Greece and is Greece’s largest island; the people, food and feel is very different than the rest of the country. The Cretans are  warriors with very high self esteem and pride a bit bruised with the bloody past and war with the Ottoman Turks.

After our fiasco in Paris, we were quite looking forward to a relaxed beach holiday with our friends from UK. We reached Athens a couple of days before they arrived with their 3 year old as we wanted to see the Acropolis and museum in Athens. My daughter loved walking on the glass floor, where we could see the excavations underneath and then after touring the museum we hiked up to the Acropolis. I expected them to be majestic & enigmatic like the Pyramids in Giza, instead there was a lot of scaffolding work around due to restoration work. Nonetheless, it is a site to behold, the icon of Greece and a place rich in history. My daughter is a big fan of Egyptian, Greek & Roman history and of course thanks to Disney movie Hercules, she knew a lot of characters from the Greek mythology. We had also read a book on the Acropolis which showed the site in its glorious past. It always helps empowering ourselves with some basic knowledge on historical sites, else they just seem boring and worthless and we return discarding them as a ‘waste of time’, not fair at all! Also a good guide matters a lot at these place, we had a child friendly guide and hence he weaved a wonderful story, which my daughter could contribute to and hence all the walking up and spending 3 hours at the monument didn’t seem like a big task.

Our next stop was Crete. A very practical, nothing fancy, overnight ferry from Athens got us to Crete the next morning. A lot of people asked us why Crete instead of the very popular Santorini & Mykonos? There were 2 reasons: Crete is much cheaper than Mykonos & Santorini and secondly, the beaches are lovely. Our agenda was to make the most of the lovely Mediterranean waters, lovely food and a good 4* family friendly resort with swimming pools. That is exactly what we got. Our resort was bang on the beach, it was an all inclusive resort (all food and drinks (including alcohol) was included in the price), it had 3 swimming pools and lots of European families with kids. Each night we could dress up and unwind at the resorts ‘disco’ with the kids in tow and not feel deprived of the party scene. Most of all, it was absolutely relaxing.

I get withdrawal symptoms if I do not go inspecting hotels and hence I spent an entire day scouting the best hotels on the island, which also gave me an opportunity to see the entire island. Gosh, it is a BIG island! It is quite hilly and hence there are plenty of adventure activities like trekking, hiking, rock climbing, etc. and also some historical sites like Knossos Palace. The Cretan food is delicious and the locals proclaim that it is the best in Greece. We thought so too. Our resort used to have local as well as continental delicacies and always ensured there were fries and pizzas for the kids. The best part is Santorini can easily be visited as a day trip by sea. If your kids like theme parks, there are 3 big theme parks to keep the kids busy. Honestly for us the sea and the pools were all we needed.

We absolutely enjoyed our holidays in Crete, it was sunny and the weather was just perfect, even though the sea was a bit cold in end of May. If you are looking for a good beach holiday, I would definitely advise you to look at Crete as an option. If you need more information, write to us at info@soltrips.comKreta-Matala07.jpg