Travellers not tourists: How to have authentic travel experiences with kids

Last updated 19th January 2018

Travel is often an all-encompassing passion, with many young adults saving every penny of their hard-earned income and spending it (and their annual leave) on trips away. When kids come along, you might feel you’ve got no choice but to put your travel plans on the back-burner or head to the same resort every year to keep things easy and predictable – but it doesn’t have to be this way!

Relaxing beach holidays are often ideal for unwinding between hectic school terms, but they can leave parents and kids wanting more in terms of culture and adventure. The good news is, you don’t have to ride overnight on dodgy trains with no doors and sample unidentifiable street food in order to immerse yourself in the rich culture of a destination and have an authentic travel experience while travelling with kids. Here are our top tips for an enriching family trip.

There are two easy ways to go about creating an ‘authentic travel experience’; either choose a destination that is on a well-worn travel path and find a unique angle through which to visit (star-spotting in Tenerife, for example, or exploring a hidden side of Dubai) or choose somewhere more off the beaten track (the Atlas mountains of Morocco, perhaps). Try searching online for ‘alternative’ or ‘cultural experiences in (destination)’ to get some inspiration. There are also region-specific Facebook groups so you can ask locals what they would recommend doing in their area and even arrange play dates before you arrive.

star gazing tenerife

Stargazing in Tenerife. Photo: Tenerife Tourism

For a culture-hungry parent travelling with the family, the Internet is your best friend. There has never been so much information available at our finger-tips and this makes it much easier to find out exactly where would be best for your family trip. Think beyond booking a package holiday; do your own research and check reviews of hotels and tour providers on third-party review platforms to see what other families’ experiences have been.

Choosing the right accommodation can be a make-or-break when it comes to creating a successful family trip.  Instead of booking a hotel or apartment, why not try a home-stay or a house-swap with a family? Staying in accommodation with direct links to the destination’s culture and economy is a great way to experience the area like a local. Home-stays can be a fantastic option as guests benefit from the knowledge, company and help of their hosts, and children of the two families can get to know each other.

dome garden

Try unique accommodation when you travel

House swaps are also becoming increasingly popular and are a great way to save money on accommodation. It also means you get far more space than booking a hotel room and there is the added benefit of home comforts such as proper kitchens, gardens and kids’ toys. Websites such as Love Home Swap make the process of arranging a house (or apartment) exchange much easier, safer and reassuring for families, and families can list their home for free.

Preparing the kids can often help to ease the transition from typical beach holiday into something a little more adventurous. As fun as we might think it is to visit the back of beyond, kids might think differently and need a bit more help getting used to the idea. If you are visiting somewhere vastly different to home, prepare the family by finding out about the country together before you leave. Watch YouTube videos about your destination, go shopping with the kids for region-specific foods to cook and try together (sweets are always a win!) and look at local dress and customs. Talking about the traditional dress, customs and foods of home are a great way to open up discussions about different cultures and travel.

vietnam food

Tucking into local cuisine is a tasty shortcut to authenticity

Bringing the right gear is essential to make any trip with the family a success. If you’re going off the beaten track ensure that you have the right clothes (including footwear), appropriate attire for covering up in temples and the suchlike, and sturdy bags and cases. PacSafe do a fantastic range of security-focused luggage, from non-slashable bags to portable safes.

There are several aspects of the holiday itself that parents can think about when considering a more ‘authentic’ travel experience with their kids. Focusing on nature, culture and local activities are all good ways of creating a trip that nurtures a connection with the destination that goes beyond picking out a postcard. Engaging with cultural experiences also stimulates children’s thoughts about who they are, where they get their sense of identity and how they form their beliefs.

As educational as authentic travel experiences are, they are also a lot of fun. Visiting wild animals in their native habitats, tasting cocoa beans fresh from the pod or spotting dolphins from the shore are all child-friendly experiences that help kids to really engage with their environment. Children love exploring new and fascinating ways to look at the world and will love creating a Balinese flower offering, watching a carpet-weaver in a Moroccan market or taking in a tribal dance. Food is also a great way to engage kids- think warm baguettes in France, thick hot chocolate in Spain and fragrant Turkish delight tossed in powdered sugar.

pandas china

Visit animals in their native habitat

There are no one-size-fits all rules when it comes to travelling with children; each family is different and will appreciate different kinds of trips. For families who love returning to the same beach resort each year, a different travel experience might present itself simply by chatting to a local person and getting to know more about them.

Showing someone that you are interested in them and their culture is one of the quickest ways to have an authentic travel experience, discovering the people that make the place what it is.

sea turtles

Volunteering to help local wildlife will forge a deep connection with a place

There are several companies specialising in holidays that offer authentic travel experiences with kids. Responsible Travel, Families Worldwide and Exodus are all specialist travel agents that offer adventure trips with a cultural or nature focus; their experience means that they know the importance of the balance between the familiar and the novel when travelling with children.

Family Traveller tip: “If you like booking trips ahead of time, Get Your Guide is one great way to book authentic travel experiences. The tour booking platform is home to over 31,000 experiences hosted by locals around the world, allowing families to easily book activities and tours that give them a closer insight into the destination that they are visiting.

Looking for more meaningful holiday ideas? Check out our holidays to change the way kids see the world (and blow their minds!)