Best Travel Apps For Kids

Here is a list of travel apps to keep the restless “Are we there yet?” kids occupied.

3 – 6 years

  • LEGO® DUPLO® Forest: Takes ages 1 ½ – 5 on an exciting road-trip to help the forest animals find the hibernating Bear.
  • 123 Color -Talking Coloring Book: One of Apple’s top picks for kids, this is the perfect road trip companion.
  • Marco Polo Weather: Games teaching ages 3–6 about the major climate types.
  • Fresh Paint: Thanks to digital oil paint, your kids can create art in the backseat for hours.
  • The King’s Stilts: This new Dr. Seuss app is for young children who want a book read to them. There are 3 modes: read to me, read it myself, and auto play.

6 – 8 years

  • Balloonimals: Every child loves balloons, your kids can create balloon animals in a safe and fun way.
  • The Amazing Quest: Interactive adventures with Caribbean pirates and in the Middle Ages, the Far West and Ancient Egypt and Asia.
  • Cut the Rope: Because it’s holiday time and sometimes kids just wanna have fun.
  • Kid Weather: Kids love knowing about the weather, so let them follow the weather around you while they travel with this special app.

9+ years

  • KLANG: The Road Home: A wonderful challenge requiring kids to help an alien stay safe from roads and cars while he fixes his crash-landed ship.
  • Lonely Planet’s Amazing World Atlas: Interactive maps, quizzes and games taking kids on a thrilling global jaunt. There’s an accompanying book with quizzes – also great for car journeys.
  • Wordzine (by Lisbon Labs): A language-learning app for ages 9+, with colourful graphics and a choice of eight languages.

Am sure as parents we do know how to restrict screen time. But a little digital fun will just make their holiday special. You can also download movies and it can be a good 2 hour break for you and the kids. Go ahead, plan the long road trips you have been craving.

Please feel free to add any interesting apps that you know of in the comments section.

Theme Parks With A Twist!

Fortunately for us, our daughter is not a big fan of theme parks! She hates waiting in long queues and she’s not much of a thrill seeker too. She would rather play with other kids from different nationalities, than go on a ride where she cannot interact with them. Hence for us, interactive museums are more fun. We love it, as we save up on the expensive entrance fees and we all know that we can never exit the park without buying some overpriced souvenirs from the gift shops.

However, I have been planning a lot of vacations to Europe with theme parks like the Disneyland in Paris, Warner Bros in Spain, Lego Land in UK, etc. I am a stickler for local flavour and culture, my philosophy is ‘why go to a particular country, if you are not going to savour it’s culture, know their people and try their food’! Hence, here are some local theme parks which are a must visit:

London: 

Thorpe’s Park: This park has many tummy churning roller coaster and other thrill rides. The latest being added to the list is a spooky train ride for older kids and teens. If travelling by train it can take upto 1.5 hrs to get to Staines from Central London.

Paulton’s Park: For the young Peppa Pig fans, this park has a Peppa Pig World and for dinosaur buffs, there is the Lost Kingdom area, part of the same park. Hence, this would work best if you have 2 kids with an age gap. Getting here can be tiresome though. It can take 1.5 hrs – 3 hrs depending on your mode of transport. I would not advise this park to teens though.

Chessington World of Adventure: This has a good blend of rides, zoo, aquarium and a forest adventure. Only 30 mins drive from London, this can be a good day out. If you child is a Gruffalo lover, they have a new ride based on the story.

Besides these, there are some very interesting historical museums in Scotland and Wales which are interactive and seem like a theme park.

France: The following 2 parks are sure to make you forget Disneyland, Paris.

Futuroscope: Welcome to the future. Very chic and modern with a lot of glass and steel, the rides here are not your ordinary roller coasters. Be wowed by virtual reality and 4D stimulation rides with a French touch as Le Petit Prince take you on an intergallactic journey. The food here is also futuristic with Heston Blumental style molecular gastronomic dishes. This park is very popular with the locals and neighbouring countries, hence during their vacation period expect crowds.

Puy du Fou: Absolutely at the other end of the spectrum compared to Futuroscope. Puy du Fou feels like a mega Hollywood set with mega gladiator fights, chariot races, vikings and medieval castles. They have made this park with a lot of passion and the shows are simply jaw dropping. Fortunately, translation headsets are available, hence you do not miss out on the commentary. The grand show in the evening lasts about 1 hr.40 mins (a bit too long for the little ones) but it is nothing short of an opening act of Olympics. The pyro-techniques and projections on the water have to be seen to be believed.

The above mentioned parks are situated in the Loire Valley region, about 2.5 hrs from Paris. This region is renowned for it’s many castles and a very interesting 1 week long itinerary can be designed here post your Paris stay.

Germany:

Europa Park: Visit The Netherlands, Italy, England, Scandinavia and of course Germany all in a day or two. This 95 hectares park has iconic landmarks of 13 countries across Europe. The best thing is that it has rides for all ages and is one of the most popular parks in the region which doesn’t cost a bomb. For the tiny tots, there is a water play area and they also have entertainment shows. If you are visiting Germany and your kids love theme parks, ensure you visit the Europa Park.

Phantasialand: This is based on more exotic locales like China, Mexico and so on. It has a more Indiana Jones vibe and has a good mix of rides and shows. However, this is further north and may not fit in the usual Black Forest, Rhine and Bavaria tours most Indian families plan. The drive from Frankfurt will take about 2 hours.

Vogtsbauernhof: This living museum is in the Black Forest region and is a wonderful delight. It has a good mix of interactive activities as well as shows to please all members of the family. This could be a very good edutainment stop set in a stunning backdrop.

Spain:

Tibidabo, Barcelona: This is one of the oldest functioning theme parks in the world. Set on the ridge of Mt. Tibidabo, getting to this park is half the fun. A funicular ride overlooking the city, brings you to some of the oldest rides in the world. Though in terms of thrills, this park doesn’t match up to others, but the nostalgic value and the spectacular views are worth a visit.

Poble Espanyol (The Spanish Village): If you want to see the different architectural wonders and craftsmen of different regions of Spain then do visit this place. They often have performance and you can witness the skills of the craftsmen and savour culinary delights of different region. This can be a wonderful day trip from Barcelona.

There are many more which I can add to the list, feel free to contact me on info@soltrips.com for more information. Happy holiday planning!

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

How to choose the perfect sightseeing tour when on a holiday?

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In my long career of planning customised holidays, I have seldom come across people being picky about the tours they want to include in the itinerary. Of course, that is because not many travel agents offer a bouquet of tours or an option of doing a particular tour in different ways. My clients now are often foxed when I ask them what they would like to do at a particular place, for example Paris. They would often come back saying see the popular places like Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc. I am referring to people, who want to visit the place but have had no time to read up on or maybe their travel agent always gave them an itinerary they thought would be best, hence they don’t know what to say!

So how important are sightseeing tours? I would say, the most important, unless it’s a ‘doing nothing‘ holiday. Even more important than your hotel, as I know most people definitely do a lot of research by checking reviews online. I don’t know how many people would check reviews on their sightseeing tours, which will make them like or hate the city. To give you an example, if you were to join a regular coach tour in Paris or Rome for a city tour with kids, I can assure you the kids will be cranky & bored at the Louvre & Coliseum unless you make the effort to keep them engaged & entertained. If they are well behaved, they will just find something to gaze at, but not learn or get back anything interesting from the tour. To be honest, I got bored at the Louvre even when I went alone as our guide just kept rattling off words, which made no sense to me. Instead, how about hiring a qualified kid friendly guide for the family to explore the Coliseum & Louvre where the kids can learn history in a fun way and the visit is not wasted. Mind you, if you divide the number of hours by the amount you spend on your vacation abroad, each minute seems expensive and this is without putting a value on time & the unhappy faces! Yup, you guessed it, I am a Gujarati and know my numbers well!

 The next time you prepare an itinerary, be very picky about the tours included for you. Read the description and see if there are any places you are not interested in visiting. For example, if you visit Italy and are not interested in museums and history but would still like to see the famous monuments like Coliseum and Vatican, then ensure you do not waste your money on a guided tour where you get stuck for 4 hours visiting other attractions. Instead, it makes sense hiring an expert guide to just visit these places and will save you time to do other activities. If you love biking and have older kids, most cities offer biking tours. If you are a foodie, do a culinary walk and small workshop at a local’s place. There are some brilliant workshops offered at museums, depending on your kid’s interests, you can sign up for these workshops.

Please ensure free time at any place to just soak up the place by wandering around or sitting at a cafe and observe the locals. Take the kids to a park, this is where they will get to mingle with other kids and make new friends for a complete culture immersion. Often the most memorable moments are the ones, which are not on a planned itinerary. For me it was at a tiny village in France where we had gone for a stroll post dinner and we listened to a children’s choir practice in a small chapel, sitting on a bench near a canal! Do share your impromptu memorable moment with me from your trip abroad.

 

Feel free to contact me on info@soltrips.com