We are often asked what makes a good vacation for children. Of course, much depends on the interests and ages of the children involved. But kids are natural explorers, and they are anything but passive. They want to be everywhere; see, touch, taste, smell everything. A great adventure vacation for kids are the ones that challenge kids to be fully engaged, using all their senses. Not surprisingly, that does not necessarily happen when they are just riding in a safari vehicle, stopping to watch yet another sleeping lion.
Kids have a lot of natural energy that needs to be involved in the activities at hand. They learn to care about what they are exposed to, what they experience firsthand. And, sometimes the most profound experiences can be the simplest such as walking through the Africa bush with traditional Bushmen in Botswana, where they are introduced to and see the personal side of an ancient culture, how it fits into today’s world, and they begin to recognize the traditional relationships between man and nature.
The best experiences take the ages of the children into account. For younger kids that might include activities that involve authentic interactions such as the Junior Naturalist Program at Forsyth Lodge, Satpura National Park, one of India’s tiger reserves. Over three days, participants learn basic knowledge about the jungle and keys to understanding any wilderness. Sessions presented by naturalists are about two hours a day and presented between safaris and in the evening.
Older children and teenagers need adventures appropriate for their age groups to avoid boredom. They can, for example, explore the creative side of Johannesburg, South Africa to discover the city’s unique past at the Apartheid Museum. They learn about the graffiti culture and street art on a walking tour of the inner city with an experienced guide who has a passion for graffiti, and they meet local artists who share about their art and their lives.
In Australia, children over ten years of age and their families can join one of two vital conservation projects – one involving the koala and the other the threatened tiger quoll, the largest remaining marsupial carnivore on the Australian mainland. Participants work alongside conservationists to carry out a range of activities, including population surveys; deploying, retrieving and reviewing camera traps; habitat assessment surveys; habitat restoration; biodiversity surveys, and vegetation surveys.
The fabled Galapagos Islands are a natural fit for all who love animals. Here, animals and people meet face to face, or foot to fin in some cases. But it is not only animals trying to survive here. Galapagos Safari Camp is involved with a pilot program with the Galapagos National Park Service that aims to engage local fisherman in tourism activities as an alternative means of income with the added benefit of protecting local fisheries from depletion. Families have the opportunity to go out with these fishermen on safe, modern, private speedboats for the day. This is a true cultural exchange as these traditional fisherman teach the children local tricks for fishing with a net and line, while sharing stories from their culture and a lifetime spent at sea. This excursion is both a wildlife experience and a true cultural exchange opportunity.
The young learn by doing, by experiencing the world beyond. Traveling with children is not simply good for you and your family; it is in the long run good for the planet.