Family Travel That Keeps Everyone Happy
After almost 30 years of planning family trips to Asia and Southeast Asia for others, Myths and Mountains president Toni Neubauer took her own “intergenerational” trip to Nepal and Vietnam. With her daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren in tow, she joined the 36% of Americans who are making multi-generation journeys this year, a style of travel greatly on the increase. There are as many reasons for traveling as a family as there are places to visit, but families who hit the road — or the sea or skies — together have one thing in common: They want to get to know each other better.
“It was wonderful having a month with my family and watching their interactions with each other. There was so much love between them. It was an absolute joy!” says Toni.
WHEN GRANNY IS THE GUIDE
For all of its rewards, traveling with a group ranging in age from six to 70 had challenges. Fortunately for Toni’s family, Granny is in the travel business. She knows the countries intimately, is acquainted with experienced guides, and has planned many trips for other families. She is aware of what works for others and what doesn’t. Plus, as a former educator, she is adept at creating learning experiences that children of different ages enjoy.
“I’ve planned trips to Asia for families as large as 11 adults and children. And I’ve designed a trip to Mustang for a couple with a two-year-old,” says Toni. “I always want everything to go as planned, but inevitably there are surprises. So I admit I was nervous about this trip, and I was as prepared as I could be for whatever happened.”
8 TIPS FOR DESIGNING FAMILY AND INTERGENERATIONAL TRAVEL
People who choose to go off the main routes are more likely to be travelers than tourists. That means that although they want to see important sites, they also want the experience of being in a culture that’s different from their own. So while Toni’s family trip included important temples, there were also activities that immersed the family in the culture and integrated them with the people of Nepal. Their trip included visits to an elephant breeding center, a demonstration of Tibetan bowl healing, a meeting with the Patan Kumari, Nepal’s living goddess, and a homestay.
Here are Toni’s tips for making your family travels a great success.
- Be flexible. The itinerary may say fly Pokhara to Jomsom but the weather — and the airline — say “not today.” Or one family member may not feel well enough to take the temple tour. Of course, every day isn’t going to please every person in the family, but knowing ahead of time what the options are gives everyone a sense of autonomy. “Always have a Plan B,” advises Toni. If 6-year-old Ella tires easily in the heat, one of the adults can stay at the hotel with her for an afternoon nap and a swim in the pool. If an approaching monsoon threatens to flood a town on the itinerary, have a back-up destination. (To make major changes in plans like this, it’s essential to have a tour operator that can make arrangements for your family. You may be willing to take chances when you’re traveling with a spouse or a friend, but when you’re responsible for a family, having someone to negotiate the logistics is a safety net.)
- Work with the prevailing weather conditions. Unfortunately children’s school schedules don’t always align with a country’s seasons. Summer, for instance, is the hottest time to go to Nepal and Vietnam. But, if that’s the only time you can go, plan accordingly. For instance, Toni took the family to Chitwan National Park, the “heart of the jungle,” at the beginning of trip when it was likely to be cooler than at the end of the month. Include cooling activities — bathing elephants was on Toni’s itinerary. “It’s more likely they will bathe you!” says Toni. And pace yourself so you can stop several times to sit, talk with the local people and other travelers, and have a cool drink. Visit sights like temples early in the day. Not only will it be cooler, but also that is when the local people go, and you can experience the real traditions.
- Have a mission. Plan your itinerary with purpose. Toni, who founded READ Global, a nonprofit global organization that has built 91 libraries, close to 60 of them in Nepal, included Jhuwani, because Jonah, 14, had donated his birthday money to help build the library there. The visit allowed him to see what his generosity had created. And the other children learned more about what Granny and READ Global, about which they had heard so much, actually did.
- Do your research beforehand. Have an idea of what you want, so that most days involve a goal of some kind. It can be as simple as getting to a temple in time to hear the monks chanting or as uniquely special as meeting the virgin goddess Kumari and her family. Having a tour company that can open doors enables your family to have real-life experiences that go far beyond sightseeing. During one particularly hot and long travel day, the entire family was kept in good spirits dreaming of the massage they all would have when they reached their destination that day.
- Be active. Include activities that engage the body and the mind. Toni, her daughter, Melissa; and grandkids, Leah, 12; Jonah, 14; and Hannah, 16, went paragliding around the Annapurna range over Phewa Tal Lake in Pokhara. The family climbed the eastern stairway to Swayambhunath at dawn, when the temple is livelier and less touristy, rather than being dropped at the car park. They rode an oxcart into a village, allowing time to talk with the people at the market and have lunch.
- If you book a homestay with a farming family, you might get lucky and see a goat being born, as Toni’s family did. Visit crafts people who are busy with their work and may let the children have a hand in the process. There are so many options, one has only to exercise creativity. Spend ample time in one place. The logistics of moving multiple suitcases and accumulated souvenirs for a family of four or seven or more can be your worst nightmare. Spending several days in one place, especially if you’re on a two-week visit, simplifies your life and gives you more meaningful time sharing experiences together instead of being in transit. And just like at home, whenever possible, avoid long car trips.
- Stay healthy. For grandparents, this means start out healthy. Nepal, Vietnam and other less traveled destinations are not easy for people with disabilities to navigate. It’s hot, the sidewalks, where they exist, are uneven, and cleanliness is not a given. “Physical ability is more important than age when it comes to traveling in places like Nepal,” says Toni. If anyone does have a health issue, be sure your guide is aware of it and can communicate what precautions are needed to those you encounter along the way. For example, Ella is allergic to peanuts, so the family’s guide had to know how to be very precise when ordering food. Know what to do to prevent health problems. Touring in hot weather is especially tricky: have extra bottles of water, sunscreen, and hats. It’s common sense, but travelers who head off to Asia in the summer may not be prepared for just how hot it can be.
- Keep the connection alive on the return. Toni’s grandchildren had the opportunity to meet Nepalese children, including those who made school trips to the READ Global library. They were invited to homes and are working on plans to stay in touch and Skype each other. Introducing children to a world they’ve never known broadens their minds and touches their hearts. Yes, things will go wrong, but how the family, especially the adults, cope with travel challenges are also life lessons children will carry with them for years to come. As Toni says, “We have so few chances in our helter-skelter lives to spend quality time together. Travel is a golden opportunity for families to get to know each other on an equal footing, stripped of age differences and pretense.”