When Mark Vardy’s daughter, Jade, was five years old, he decided she was adventure-ready. Loading up their tandem bike with camping gear, he plunked his child on the back and they hit the road. Taking the Kettle Valley Railway, an abandoned railway bed-now cycling route-that winds through south central British Columbia, the pair travelled about 200 kilometers over the course of the week. “She’s an easy going and happy child,” says Vardy, recalling his decision to take on a lengthy adventure with a kindergartener. “But there’s no way I would have done it had she not been cool with the idea.”
Open-minded and brimming with imagination, kids and adventure travel go together like ice cream and hot summer days. They’re practically designed for adventure! And although planning a successful adventure holiday when you’ve got little ones in tow may seem daunting, it is well worth the effort. “Adventure travel shows kids that there’s a big, wide world out there,” says Sacha Mlynek, of Gap Adventures, a travel company specializing in group adventure travel. “It gives kids great opportunities to learn!
Take Time to Plan
Whether you’re taking the kids on a jungle walk, a camping trip, or sight-seeing in a country that may have different food or customs, the key to successful adventuring is lots of planning-and more of it the further you go off the beaten track. “It’s about being prepared enough so that you can deal with all the possible contingencies,” says Vardy, a single father who started camping with his daughter when she was two and half years old. “When you’re cycling, for example, you want to make sure you have lots of food, and that you have good equipment so you stay warm and dry.
The Pros and Cons
Jeff Friesen and his wife, Tetjana Ross, started travelling with their daughter, June, when she was only three months old. Now almost four, June has been to Morocco, Mexico, Cuba, Hungary and throughout western Europe with her parents, who often book extended stays in new cities. She most recently accompanied her parents on a lengthy hike between the five fishing villages of Cinque Terre, Italy.
“The best thing about travelling with kids is that they break down culture barriers, so making friends with the locals is easy,” explains Friesen, “whether they are conservative Muslims or aloof Parisians.” But, he acknowledges, navigating new cultures with a child can also be stressful because “the margin of error is tighter.” “For example, while losing a wallet would be a big problem on its own,” says Friesen, “losing a wallet with a crying, hungry kid in tow would quickly become a crisis.” While travelling, he also makes note of where the nearest English or French language doctor can be found in the place his family is visiting. “You can usually find that information in a guidebook, cross-referenced with a quick Google search.”
They Have a “Veto on the Velo”
For Vardy, the key to successful cycling adventuring with his daughter was in taking lots of breaks while they were on the trail. He was also careful to ensure that the pair travelled at a pace that suited the young rider. “I always say she has a veto on the velo,” he laughs.
Mlynek, who helps families plan adventure holidays to countries like Costa Rica, India, Morocco and Nepal, agrees that parents should know what their kids are capable of, and should plan daily itineraries accordingly. “You definitely want to schedule days that are short enough so that kids can participate actively in learning new things, but so that they don’t get too tired from long days of walking, or waking up early.” A long travel day, for example, wouldn’t have any other scheduled activities.
A World to Discover
For Vardy, the key to successful adventure travel is choosing an activity that will be suitable for everyone involved. “It’s got to be fun for both the kid and the adult,” he says, “because if not, why would you do it in the first place? It could be hell!” He and his daughter have since taken on more ambitious cycling adventures, including a four week, 1,431 kilometer tour through Europe when Jade was 10. He says his daughter, now 14, has benefitted from her early travel adventures. “I think it’s definitely built her self-esteem and her self-reliance,” he says. “[Adventure travel] lets kids discover the world for themselves, instead of somebody else’s idea about what it is.”
- How to Become a Cultural Tourist
- What You Need to Know Before You Travel Abroad
- 20 Tips for Safe Holiday Travel
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to sign up for our Travel newsletter on readersdigest.ca and have our latest articles delivered right to your inbox.