Is realizing a family dream vacation tops on your resolution list this year? To help you make the dream reality, we've gathered some ideas for where to point your wanderlust and travel tips and tools to help you get you there — strategies that have helped my family travel far and wide in recent years.
Croatia has seen its far share of hard times, but the war is long over and travelers are flocking to the natural beauty of Croatia’s beaches, forests and ancient cities. If you have always wanted to visit Italy, but aren’t ready to take on the crowds and expenses, head to Croatia, where tourists tend to visit a handful of places, but haven’t overrun the country … yet.
Have some Scottish blood in your clan, or just wish you did? Scotland has kicked off its Year of Homecoming campaign with loads of special events. Just as Ireland had The Gathering in 2013, Scotland would like to welcome back all of its sons and daughters (no matter how distantly related) home to explore their roots.
Nashville is seeing a local revitalization, with new hotels and loads of fabulous restaurants opening up, but with southern charm the country has learned to love through movies and an epic music scene. Make sure you head over to The Bluebird Café (as featured in the show Nashville, no age restrictions) to enjoy listening to the quiet twang of an acoustic guitar and some of the city’s hottest up-and-coming acts.
Central Coast of California
This isn’t just fly-over country, people. The drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles is always worth the trek. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the perfect pit stop for your restless crew, while the rugged coastline of Big Sur will offer you ample hiking opportunities and stunning views. Any trip down must include a stop at Hearst Castle and a few Spanish Missions to really get into the California spirit.
Thailand was named by Lonely Planet as one of the top spots for families to go in 2014. Why? To start with, the Thai people love children. There is also an overwhelming number of expats in cities like Chiang Mai that make travel throughout the country easy. Dive into a few of the stunning beaches with calm waters that you and your children can explore before heading into the mountains to an elephant rescue camp. If you are really looking for a treat, don’t miss the annual Yi Peng Lantern festival, celebrated in November each year. The skies turn into a luminescent wonderland as lanterns big and small are released into the air.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio is about to take center stage as they host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. People who never thought twice about this large Latin American city have booked their tickets, are grabbing their vuvuzelas and heading south. You don’t have to join the crowds, but you can get in on the fun by traveling to this city before or after the events. Take advantage of city improvements, chefs cooking up modern spins on traditional dishes, and hotels looking to fill rooms when all of the sports fans leave town.
Nicaragua is no longer a land of civil war. Just north of Costa Rica, the largest country in Central America is open for business and ready to welcome travelers who are tired of the crowds and prices of its southern neighbor, but still want to enjoy gorgeous beaches and crater lakes, trek through rainforests and explore a little something new. Travel + Leisure magazine has named Little Corn Island, just 56 miles off the coast, as one of its top destinations of 2014. As Jason Harper wrote, “The fresh lobster is cheap; the hammocks, plentiful; the pace, blissfully slow.” What more could you want?
Utila, one of the bay islands of Honduras, is often referred to as “the way the Caribbean used to be,” according to dive instructor Talon of 1dad1kid.com. If you are looking for a quiet spot to hang your hat, get some sun and do a little scuba diving, then this is the place for you. This sleepy island is very walkable and an easy spot to let the kids loose and enjoy the beach. Most local accommodations won’t be five star, but there are a few all-inclusive resorts if that’s what you need.
Tips for making your dream trip happen
1. Maximize your credit cards. Airline and hotel credit cards are great, but with a more flexible card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (annual fee) you can top off your existing frequent flier mile accounts or book directly through the Sapphire rewards program. Recently I booked flights for my entire family (two kids, two adults) to Denver, Colo. using our Chase Sapphire points.
2. Use travel and restaurant vouchers to save. No one likes paying full price. Sign up for deal alerts from sites like Groupon Getaways and LivingSocial Escapes to get updates on the latest hotel and restaurant deals in your area. These can inspire your next weekend getaway and save you a bundle in the process. (Just make sure you read the fine print. Many vouchers will expire, have blackout dates, or not include as much as you think.)
3. Score the best airfare with flight deal sites. Airfare costs are constantly in fluxWeb sites like AirfareWatchdog.com and TheFlightDeal.com can track airfare trends and alert you via email when ticket prices drop for specific destinations. Skyscanner.com has a handy function that allows you to plug in your travel dates, home airport and “everywhere” as your destination. This will give you a plethora of flight ideas and price ranges to start planning your next vacation.
4. Vacation rental sites are your best friends. Vacation rentals, whether a home, condo or castle, can save you money, give you more space, and let you specific your dream experience (whether it be urban condo or country cottage. (For example, we wouldn’t have been able to afford to stay in Kyoto and Madrid in 2013 with vacation rentals.) Browse VRBO.com, FlipKey.com and Airbnb.com to do a little hotel versus rental price comparison in your next vacation destination.
5. Meet the locals. Companies like Vancouver-based ToursByLocals can hook you up with expert guides that will show you their favorite side of their hometown and city. If a local tour isn’t in your budget, head to the nearest playground. Your children will open doors to new friendships you may be too scared to initiate on your own. My son regularly makes friends at the local playground no matter what country we are in. He doesn’t care that they don’t speak English; they speak a more important language — play.
Local Thailand Boys, Photo by Kowit Phothisan/Flickr/CC
Keryn Means is a freelance writer and founder of Walking on Travels, a site that gives hope to today’s modern parent who doesn’t want to stop their lives; they simply bring their kids along for the ride. You can find Keryn dragging her two boys around Seattle most days and across the globe several times a year.