Trending Now: Guided Vacations for Family Travel: Travel Weekly

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Replace the stress of planning a family vacation with the relaxation, personal connections and immersive experiences of a family guided vacation.

How many times has a parent or grandparent come to you with one of these vacation issues when they’re thinking of a family trip?

  • We want to go on a family vacation, but planning is so overwhelming.  
  • We’ve gone on cruises as a family, but we want something a bit more cultural.   
  • We’re looking for something more than just the beach for the whole family—but don’t even know where to start.
  • We’d love to take the whole family on vacation, but how do we find experiences that will make everyone from the kids to the adults happy on the same trip?
  • We’ve started to plan a family vacation, but the budget is getting out of control—how can we plan a great vacation with lots of inclusions while keeping a handle on the budget?

Pretty common, right? These are some of the biggest issues parents and grandparents face when trying to plan one vacation that will make everyone happy—without losing their own sanity along the way. And according to travel advisors who specialize in family travel, these are among the primary reasons why families reach out to them to help make their family vacation dreams come true. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a travel style that took the stress out of the process, for both travelers and travel advisors? 

Enter guided vacations. Trips planned by experts with one goal in mind—creating the ultimate travel experience.  Bucket list destinations and attractions? Check. Surprises and hidden gems not found in guidebooks? Check. True cultural connection and unique experiences that will have the whole family in wide-eyed wonder. Check! An all-in-one, stress-free package that takes care of everything so travelers can do what they came to do—vacation.   

Sanity Saver
“One of the biggest benefits of guided vacations for families is the simple ease of travel,” says Heather Pringle, travel advisor and team leader at Liberty Mercer Travel, based in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. “Families don’t have to worry about getting from point A to point B, about what to do when they get there, about where to stay or eat—those are the finer details that can be quite overwhelming when traveling with children.”

Casey Carr, general manager of Sharon Carr Travel in Dallas, Texas, agrees that one of the primary benefits of guided vacations for families is “the worry-free aspect to start,” he says. “The parent or grandparent doesn’t have to be the one planning all the activities, securing hotel rooms, figuring out what the kids will enjoy—if it’s a company like Trafalgar, they have already done all the legwork.”

Carr notes that oftentimes a grandparent or parent will start off by telling him that last year they went to a particular place, but “the kids were bored.” He says, “When they tell me they want memorable experiences that will balance entertaining their children as well as providing enjoyable experiences for themselves, a guided vacation is a natural starting point.”

Patty Zesut weighs in: “I recommend guided vacations to families as a sanity saver.” As owner and travel advisor of Exemplary Travel Advisors, affiliated with Travel Planners International and based in Woodlands, Texas, she works with a lot of families with children, as well as a lot of parents who are professionals. “They don’t have a lot of free time,” she notes. “They want ease in planning and to be able to just go and enjoy once they’re on their vacation.”

And guided vacations are “a homerun for multigen groups,” says Pringle. “Now we’ve got adults and older adults and children all on one trip, and a guided vacation takes the guesswork out of the whole process. All the coordination and legwork is taken care of: You don’t have to figure out how to get five cars to go to the same place, or how to find accommodations for the whole group, or what restaurant can fit your group size. And most importantly, families know there will be activities and excursions that are enjoyable for everyone, along with tour directors who can help guide them to other family-friendly highlights during free time.”

Experiences for the Whole Family
Ease of planning is an excellent perk, but what about the experience itself? After all, the main reason for travel is to experience new and exciting things together and create unforgettable memories. Some travel brands have gone the extra mile with family vacation planning and created experiences specifically designed for families traveling together.

“In 2009, we saw a need for great travel experiences for families—experiences that would allow families to enjoy themselves without having to constantly plan every element themselves,” says Melissa DaSilva, president of Trafalgar. Thus, Trafalgar’s Family Experiences were born. DaSilva is quick to point out that families are welcome and common on all Trafalgar guided vacations, but that Family Experiences, by their very nature, have some distinctive elements. “It’s important to understand that these are geared to families, not just the children,” she says. “They don’t cater just to the kids but are designed to appeal to all ages in the family.”

That said, they do include elements that are especially appealing to families with children. “They often include more hands-on experiences,” says DaSilva. “Instead of seeing a demonstration, for example, families might get to make pizza themselves or put on costumes to become a gladiator in the Roman Colosseum.” Family Experiences feature unique opportunities (think stays in castles with a moat, song and dance with a son of the Lakota and Iroquois Nations, and making—and eating—real Italian pizza as just a start), itineraries that entertain and inform travelers of all ages, and travel directors with deep knowledge of their destinations to offer suggestions for free time and to ensure the kids remain fully engaged.  

In addition to a variety of active elements, such as horseback riding in Montana or zip lining in Costa Rica—which help kids burn energy and are fun for participants of all ages, DaSilva says, “We build a little magic into all our family itineraries. In Ireland, for example, we’ve launched Shamrocks and Leprechauns, a trip where everyone gets to meet a gentleman who is the last leprechaun whisperer. He regales the group with tales and the kids just eat it up while the parents get the chance to listen to a true Irish storyteller. There’s even a fairy walk and they get to see ‘fairy houses’—it brings the whole experience to life.”

Making Connections
Which kind of guided vacation a travel advisor recommends can depend on a variety of factors, from the destination choice to the number and age of children to the family make-up.

Zesut says she tends “to go towards the family-oriented ones, especially when there are younger children from about 5 to 10 years old because these trips are great at creating experiences that work for both adults and younger children with shorter attention spans.”

Pringle notes that in the case of a single parent or only child, a family-oriented guided vacation can really help enhance the social experience for both parents and kids. “It’s a great opportunity for kids to meet other kids and for parents to have the added flexibility that comes with that,” she says.

Trafalgar’s DaSilva can also speak from personal experience. “My girls and I did the Wild West Cowboys and Buffaloes Trafalgar Family Experience without my husband because he had to work,” she says. “If I had tried to drive through the national parks myself, I would have been stressed, constantly referring to my map and the kids wouldn’t have gotten as much out of it. Because I was able to focus on them, I got to connect with my girls in a real way and truly be with them, instead of just being the planner and organizer. Plus, they made friends with other kinds on the trip, which made it even more fun for them.”

Those opportunities are a key motivator for larger families as well. “Kids develop friendships and camaraderie on guided vacations that can last a lifetime,” says Carr. “They can pal around together and give parents a little bit of a break to do their own thing too.”

More Benefits and Bonuses  
In addition to the ease of planning and the ability to relax and enjoy while vacationing, guided vacations solve several other potential tricky issues for families. “More and more people are starting to understand the value that’s packed into guided vacations,” says Carr. “An a la carte budget can quickly get out of control, especially once you add in things like park passes, museum passes, special experiences, etc. With a guided vacation, you get one package price at the beginning and you know everything is included.”

A guided vacation can also be a lifesaver for those who have waited a little too long to plan their vacation. Zesut has been working with a family who wanted to go to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, but didn’t plan far enough in advance to be able to stay in the parks, which was really important to them. “With Trafalgar’s Wild West Cowboys and Buffaloes, they were able to stay in the parks in unique accommodations plus access tours that they wouldn’t be able to arrange on their own,” she says. “It was the perfect price point and experiences for this active family.”

DaSilva notes that a popular option for larger multigen groups is a Costsaver guided vacation. “We’ve built a structure where all the essentials are included and taken care of so there’s ease of accommodation, planned transportation and a knowledgeable travel director, but groups can tailor their own experience a little more. If you’ve got a family of 25 people, they might be more interested in going off and doing their own thing, and this brand provides structure but also the flexibility to do that.”

With all the different options for family guided vacations, Zesut says she has been recommending them more to her family travelers. “It’s a newer thing for many people and they don’t always know it’s even an option until I explain it,” she says. “But when I start explaining all the different activities in combination with the price point and the fact that they can enjoy more unique experiences than on their own, they understand the many benefits of guided vacations for their family.” 

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