From setting daily photo competitions to packing more to help local community projects, Peter Moore reveals 5 ways you can make your family trips more lively, satisfying and fun in the New Year
18th century architecture will not hold the same fascination with kids as it does with you. And nor will most museums, with perhaps the exception of the Chocolate Museum and the Fries Museum, both situated in Bruges, incidentally.
Chuck in an activity, however, and all of a sudden it’s a lot more fun. Our visit to the Troppen Museum in Amsterdam was transformed from "Pretty Good" to "Awesome" when my daughter was dragged off to the makeshift favela set up in the museum, to join a Brazilian dance troupe and band. Making a drum in a dusty workshop in the medina in Fez became a fun lesson in Moroccan art, music and how to tan leather.
Similarly, any city tour will be transformed if it is done by bike. Most cities have companies offering family-friendly bike tours. Or, if you’re feeling brave, simply hire some bikes and head off on your own. It’s bound to be more exciting than being dragged from one historical monument to another by foot.
With each child getting the same baggage allowance as an adult passenger, the temptation may be to pack another pair of shoes or an extra outfit or two on the off-chance that it may be hotter/colder/wetter than expected. With a little bit of research, however, you could use that extra space to take along everyday items that will make a real difference to the lives of those living in the country you are visiting.
Simply use a small amount of space in your luggage to pack supplies needed by community projects around the world. That could be medicine for basic first aid kits, pens and exercise books for school children, or basic office supplies needed for the day-to-day running of a conservation project.
Before you jet off, drop by the Pack for Purpose website with your kids, choose the community project you want to help in the country you are visiting, and check the list of items they urgently need. You’ll be given instructions on how to deliver the items and maybe the chance to drop by the project and see your donations at work.
It’s the staple of every family photo album since photography was first invented – the photo of a bunch of bored kids slouched in front of yet another statue or famous building. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Put your kids behind the camera and the whole experience is transformed.
There’s no extra cost involved. If they’ve got a device, they’ve got a camera. Sibling rivalry helps too. Set little competitions on each day on a particular theme – food, markets, animals or people, for example. It will get them looking closer at the sights around them.
Concerned that there won’t be any photos of the family? I guarantee that mum and dad – and brothers and sisters as well – will unwittingly become subjects. The results will be more fun and relaxed as well.
As kids get older, particularly when they reach the difficult teenage years, it can be difficult to convince them that a holiday with all the family will be fun. Their interests have changed. You’ve got to present your big family adventure in a way that meets them.
Take a recent trip I did to Morocco with my 13-year-old daughter. She likes staying in nice hotels so I let her choose a riad on an online booking site. Shopping? She'll was able to haggle to her heart's content in the medina. And with a camel trip in the Sahara, I hope she realised that rides in the real world are so much more exciting and engaging than ones where you have to queue for hours and are over in a matter of minutes.
When I ask my daughter about the highlights of the trips we’ve done together, they invariable involve animals. Feeding reindeer in Swedish Lapland. Visiting the donkey sanctuary in Lincolnshire. Getting within a few feet of lemurs on the loose in Amsterdam. Holding a koala at Australia Zoo. Similarly, her ‘bucket’ list is really just a roll call of wildlife hotspots around the world.
So, if you find yourself in a fix planning your next family adventure, find something with animals. A really wonderful bonus is that it also makes them wildlife warriors and engaged fighters for the environment and endangered species when they get back home. The plight of a threatened species becomes a lot more personal when you’ve visited the African savannah and stared a rhino in the face.