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

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

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