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.
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.
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.
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!
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?