What are kid friendly destinations?

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Playing on the beach in Ireland

One of my fellow family travel bloggers posted a question on their Facebook page a while back asking where people thought of when they thought of kid friendly destinations. My initial response was Costa Rica, mostly because we were in the midst of planning a trip there. But then I realized that every place is kid friendly if you want it to be. I can’t think of any destination (apart from war zones!) that is not kid friendly.

So what makes a place child friendly for you? Do you need to have facilities dedicated to children or do you only need a place where the people are open, loving and accommodating to children? Do you only think of destinations with ready made children’s activities like Disneyland or family focused resorts as being child friendly?

For me there will always be positives and negatives of visiting a destination with my child. I tend to think of destinations as in how easy or difficult they will be with a child, rather than if it is family friendly. Some places have amazing facilities set up for children, but with that comes a price. Often the price is financial, but it can also be that by choosing an easy “family friendly” vacation, hotel or destination, you are closing yourself off from the culture and place that you have gone to visit.

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Exploring ruins in Belchite Spain

Other places have almost no facilities dedicated to children, which makes them a bit more difficult to travel in with children, but they actually end up being amazing places to visit with kids. Perhaps the water is not safe to drink which makes it challenging especially during bath time, but what you see and get to experience is also unlike anything you would find at your home. And this often leads to magical inspiration for your children. My son learned about composting and gardening from a quick visit to Mexico and about animal welfare issues in India.

In developing countries there may not always be adequate facilities for children, but in our experience, the people in those countries will go above and beyond to try to help you in any way they can. Restaurants have steamed veggies for our child on request, built a makeshift baby-bed out of mattresses and several hotels have had toys ready for our child upon arrival without even asking. We have had this experience in Asia, the Middle East and in Latin America. Children also open so many doors that would otherwise remain closed, which makes your travels more interesting.

Instead of looking for a destination that fits the needs of a family, we choose the destination and build in child friendly activities that keep everyone in happy. Families are everywhere, so inherently every place is family friendly to some degree. You just have to discover what it is that the local population does for fun. You have to let your child get out, get dirty and play with local children on perhaps somewhat scary and unsafe play equipment!

Sometimes building in the fun comes in the form of visiting a playground after a visit to a major tourist site (such as, Sagrada Familia which was boring after 5 minutes to a toddler) like we did in Barcelona. Or perhaps it is staying in a hotel that is a bit off the beaten path, but provides endless entertainment opportunities for our child such as the Bel Air Animal Park hotel we stayed at in Mexico.

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Hiking in the Swiss Alps

In thinking more about what we look for while traveling to make sure that our preschooler is having fun (which in turn means we all have fun), we came up with 7 essential requirements for child friendly trips.

1. Adventure: This is easy since you can create your own adventure any where you are. We even go on geocache hunts in our own neighborhood for fun and adventure! This is more a state of mind than a place or an activity, but it is essential!

2. Animals: Luckily animals are everywhere. In developing countries there are lots of stray animals and often wild animals to keep my child’s interest. Otherwise, there are usually zoos or animal parks of some sort. Worst case, check the ground where you walk and investigate all that you see there.

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Feeding goats on a farm outside London

3. Outdoors: Children like to be outside. They like to be loud and run around. Fitting in time for them to just be kids on any itinerary will make the trip much smoother for everyone. I have not been anywhere that we couldn’t find at least one fun outdoor activity for our family. Keep your eyes open for playgrounds, parks, outdoor markets, fountains, beaches or creating your own urban hikes if you must. Our favorite is to eat outdoors whenever possible – watching the world go by is fun for everyone in our family.

4. Public Transportation: I have yet to meet a child who isn’t excited to explore local transportation options. Take a ride on local buses, rickshaws, subways, trains, horse carts or bicycle taxis!

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Being doted on by a restaurant owner in Istanbul

5. Water: Fountains, water play areas, beaches, snow, streams, lakes or even rainy destinations with puddles to jump in have provided endless fun for our child even while doing ‘boring’ site seeing.

6. People: Cultures where people are open and loving towards children and families or at least not hostile makes a world of difference for us while traveling.

7. Other children: There is nothing better than watching your child play with another child, especially when they have no common language. Fun is fun, no matter what language you speak and children are the best at reminding us this.

What do you require when booking a destination with your family?

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15 Responses to “What are kid friendly destinations?”

  1. kristine Says:

    I agree! We took our 3 year old and 5 year old to Detroit for a month long artist residency I was part of this past August. Everyone looked at us like we were crazy to take our kids downtown Detroit for the summer. It turned out to be amazing for the kids. There were many things dedicated to kids, like the children’s science museum, and the waterfront park. And also, the kids really loved walking around and exploring the city like we did.
    We are headed to Joshua Tree in 3 days for a week long stay there. I’ll be following your past posts on where to hike and what to do very closely.
    Thanks!

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  2. Betsy Says:

    You’re so right that anywhere can be kid friendly. I think the biggest mistake travelers make with kids is unrealistic expectations. Kids get tired and hungry, so replicating a semblance of their routine was always high on my list.

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  3. Natasha Amar Says:

    Introducing your children to off-the-beaten-path treasures can start at an early age and teach them a lot about how the world works outside their and your comfort zones. This is invaluable education in my opinion and one that parents should not shy away from.
    Natasha Amar recently posted…Top Things to Do in Mykonos for Two DaysMy Profile

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  4. Megan | Traveling Nine to Fiver Says:

    I think that is such a great perspective for both you and your kids. You’ll get to keep exploring and they can have amazing memories.
    Megan | Traveling Nine to Fiver recently posted…My Favorite Black Friday Weekend SalesMy Profile

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  5. Carolann - One Modern Couple Says:

    I think there is a great point here that applies to all forms of travel: there is a lot to be said for your state of mind while travelling. For anyone, with kids or not, finding your own adventure and finding ways to enjoy each destination is a lot about how you look at things and how open you are to new experiences.
    Carolann – One Modern Couple recently posted…Best Couples Spa & Resort in the Philippines – Mandala Spa & Resort VillasMy Profile

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  6. Meg Jerrard Says:

    Fabulous list of tips – I love your approach to choosing a destination and then building the children friendly activities in. I haven’t traveled with kids before, though do spend a lot of time with my nephews, and while yes I’m sure many destinations can provde to be a little more tricky than other, like you mentioned with maybe unsuitable water, I’ve found that kids can generally find things to do in any setting, and are always so imaginitive with ways to keep themselves amused.
    Meg Jerrard recently posted…3 World Beating Wildlife BreaksMy Profile

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  7. Nancy Says:

    I love your list! As a frequent family traveller, I have learnt that animals, adventure and the outdoors are key ingredients in a successful vacation. I noticed your photo in the Swiss Alps, one of our favourite family destinations. We have been hiking in the Alps for years and appreciate the family-friendly hiking trails, gorgeous scenery, alpine playgrounds, and cheese fondue :)
    Nancy recently posted…Fairmont Pacific Rim Gold Floor ReviewMy Profile

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    • kkowen Says:

      I first went to the Swiss alps as a backpacker in 2000. I returned coincidentally to the same region 13 years later with my family for a wedding. It was AMAZING!! My son loved the playgrounds on the trains, the snowy mountains, everything.

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  8. Vicky and Buddy Says:

    I would imagine all it takes is some research and any place could be kid friendly. You just have to know what to look for, and your 7 tips all make sense.
    Vicky and Buddy recently posted…Zabb-E-Lee: The Best Thai Cooking Class In Chiang MaiMy Profile

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  9. Jen Joslin Says:

    I love your outlook that anywhere can be child-friendly. You’re right, families are everywhere and there is fun and adventure to be had wherever you go!
    Jen Joslin recently posted…Working in Asia: Burlesque DancingMy Profile

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  10. Mia Says:

    I always admire parents that take their children to places that aren’t just aimed at families and children. It could be because my mom took us all over the place and we found plenty to do in every destination we visited. I feel like that’s the kind of parents my husband I will be one day. Instead of Disney World every year, we’ll end up in Europe or Southeast Asia! Great post!
    Mia recently posted…Make Time for the Markets of MadridMy Profile

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  11. Alli Says:

    I really admire your dedication to showing your children the world and teaching them about different cultures, foods, languages, etc. It’s really an incredible thing and something I aspire to do one day myself. I’m sure it can’t be easy but the rewards must be so worth it!
    Alli recently posted…Be The Person Your Dog Thinks You AreMy Profile

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    • kkowen Says:

      It really is worth it. My son loves learning Spanish because of a trip to Spain, he learned about composting in Mexico and is obsessed with all things Indian after a trip to India. The goes on. He is so Worldly and knowledgable for a 5 year old!!

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