It’s somewhat of a British tradition: each summer, the whole family packs their suitcases and heads to a warmer destination in search of sun, sea and sand. With budget flights and rock-bottom budget package deals readily available, the annual ‘fly and flop’ holidays became a thing of routine, with parents packing their summer reads and kids looking forward to making new friends at the children’s clubs.
In recent years, however, the traditional beach holidays have increasingly been swapped for adrenaline-filled sports breaks or adventure packages. A study by the Adventure Travel Association (ATTA) classes ‘adventure travel’ as a trip that focuses on ‘connection with nature, interaction with a culture or physical activity’. It found that over 80% of tourism boards now classify adventure travel as a standalone category, compared to just 40% a decade ago, and that the market for this kind of travel is now worth £263 billion- so what has fuelled the increase?
As with anything, there are several reasons that adventure travel is now becoming more popular with families. Websites focusing on cut-price flights and holiday deals are becoming increasingly competitive; a quick search on Google for ‘flights from London’ unearthed a direct trip to Singapore for £175, a round trip to Moscow for £159 and return flights to Iceland for £35. The cost of travel has been pushed down and reduced-price or free children’s spots make trips more accessible for families, who can spend the difference on activities.
Another reason for families choosing activity breaks over beachside holidays is the increase in accessible ‘volun-tourism’. Companies such as Responsible Travel provide package adventure holidays that offer a ‘giving back’ aspect, focusing on volunteering activities that children will enjoy. Families can book a break as they would a beach holiday, and look forward to a programme of activities from caring for baby sea turtles in Sri Lanka to playing football with local children in Africa. Parents can enjoy a week or two working alongside their kids, spending quality time together while doing something worthwhile and children benefit from a fun and memorable experience as well as learning about a new culture. The rise in the profile of ethical ‘volun-tourism’ companies means that families can be confident that their money is going to a worthwhile cause, as opposed to arranging trips to illegitimate ‘sanctuaries’ or unethically run children’s services.
According to the experts at the green travel magazine Ecophiles: "Among travellers themselves there is a marked inclination toward concepts like slow travel and eco travel. Travellers seeking that once-in-a-lifetime experience are opting for homestays versus chain hotels and experiential tours offering authenticity are more popular than ever. Learning about a culture, caring for the local community, and respecting nature and wildlife are not just key tenets of green travel, but also make for shareworthy vacations."
Perhaps something that inspires parents to book an adventure break is the desire to get back to nature, without the distraction of emails, the ‘ping’ of Whatsapp or the buzz of texts. Embarking on an adventure holiday is a great way to start a digital detox - taking on a new challenge together as a family will have everyone forgetting to check their inboxes and, anyway, it’s pretty hard to find WiFi on a remote beach or in a bat-filled cave!
Karen Edwards, the Travel Mad Mum blogger who has visited over 70 countries and used her two maternity leaves to travel the world with her kids, thinks that although ‘fly and flop’ holidays are great for a relaxing break there is much to be said for pushing the boat out and trying something new.
“People are starting to veer from the norm and take their kids to do things they loved doing themselves long before their arrival. My motto is I want my kids to be a reflection of who I am so why wouldn’t I take them to experience different cultures, sites and sounds? Recently our three-year old attended a class with a non-profit organisation where she made a purse with traditional textiles in a small Guatemalan village. She hasn’t forgotten being sat up at the sewing machine with the lady. Many families are choosing the cultural, learning experiences for their adventures nowadays.”
It’s not just intrepid explorers like Karen who are enjoying this style of travel; 42% of travellers reported that they had previously been on a trip classed as ‘adventure travel’. The health and educational benefits from engaging in this kind of trip are obvious - families are far more likely to come back from a mixed-activity holiday healthier and having had novel experiences than those heading back from an all-inclusive beach resort.
However, with platforms like Instagram becoming the go-to way to share travel experiences, it leaves one wondering if the trend in adventure travel is just that - a trend. Whereas once the technical limitations of nature meant leaving your phone in your hotel room, nowadays people are finding ways to stay online so that they can share photos and videos of what they are doing. Phoebe Smith, author of Wild Nights and editor of Wanderlust magazine, thinks that people are becoming too influenced by the one-up culture. “People want to be seen doing something that gives them bragging rights - such as climbing a mountain or meeting a tribal elder.”
The increase in adventure travel doesn’t mean that beach holidays are becoming less of an appealing option. There is something wonderful about relaxing on a beach, watching kids build sandcastles or splashing in the hotel pool before a leisurely lunch. Perhaps a twin centre break like the Thailand Family Discovery holiday or the Adventurous Botswana and Beach packages from Scott Dunn are the perfect balance; after getting up close to wildlife and exploring native cultures, families end their time away relaxing on a sunny beach.
Hopefully, families can benefit from the wonderful aspects of adventure travel without falling prey to the selfie culture. If going on a far-flung expedition is out of the question this year, there are ways to get into the adventure spirit right here in the UK - why not try a PGL activity holiday or a few nights in a tipi?
There are also other ways to discover the world without leaving the sofa. If time and money are tight, sign up to the educational and environmentally-focused Global Guardian Project interactive e-magazine as well as National Geographic and National Geographic Kids. Nurturing a love of travel and nature is a great way to help kids foster an adventurous spirit (and say ‘yes’ when you suggest a hike up Machu Pichu instead of their favourite beach-side kids’ club!)
“Galapagos on a shoestring” from £702 per person for seven nights
“Sri Lanka family holiday” from £900 for fourteen nights
“Croatia holiday for families with teenagers” for seven nights