Not every car trip with the kids has to end at an amusement park. There are great places to visit from coast to coast and it just takes a little group planning to create a vacation the whole family can learn from and enjoy. Keith Bellows, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler and Melina Bellows, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Kids, were invited to appear on “Today” to share some advice on planning a trip with the kids. Here are their hints and some picks for great “off-the-beaten-path” vacation destinations for families:
What makes a particular vacation good for a child?
The first thing I think of is what kind of place do you like? The parents will say one thing and the kids will say another. You really have to plan a trip that plays to all members of your family. And it doesn’t really have to be entirely around the kids, it should give parents something back in return. You can take the kids to Orlando, but you want the kids to come away with something behind the faux travel opportunity. You can take them to a cultural center so they can learn something new. You want them to come away with more than just having a boardwalk and ice cream experience. Take into account the kinds of interests they have, then maybe you can go somewhere that appeals to their self interests.
What are some tips in choosing a location?
What kids will remember is what surprises them about a place. You need an authentic place that will make an indelible impression on them. Choose a location with a tie-in, for example if there was a ever a movie shot at a particular location. If you watch the movie before you go, kids will absolutely love it. You really have to think about what they will be doing during the day. You don’t want to take them to the beach if you’re going to be stranded on the beach with nothing to do. Many places also offer discounts for kids as well as activities for kids. Both of these are important when choosing a location. Lastly, kids want to maintain the family experience while on vacation. That means that although you’re in a different destination they still want the comforts of home, like the ability to eat a home-cooked meal and the like. This should come into account when choosing accommodations.
Without putting the focus on theme parks, what are some ideas to get the kids interested in a vacation?
Find what their hot buttons are and get them involved in planning the trip. Get them online to put them in a position to tell you what they want to do. This is really important because increasingly the trends are moving toward cultural and historical vacations. If you can get your kids involved in that it's ideal, so they realize they’re not just going there and parking there for a week, but they're actually having an experience. For example: Try going to a battlefield if your child is studying the Revolutionary War. One of the important things to remember is that travel is the greatest learning tool we have — teaching kids independence and growth. Parents can really get together with their kids and create new levels of communication and learning. It's a great way to get to know each other.
Some destinations that are worth the trip:
Cholame Hills, CA - work family guest ranch
This trip won the 2004 National Environmental Stewardship Award for its environmental practices and educational value. This outing allows a family to live on an actual farm. The authentic farm sits on 12,000 acres of land and is home to a fourth generation farm family. Families can immerse themselves in a farm family lifestyle while sharing some of the best home-cooked meals around. Families can get involved in feeding livestock and everyday farming activities. The farm also offers up horseback riding for kids as well as adults.
Even during the summer ski slopes are open for business. Mountain resorts do all they can to lure people in the off season, and many convert into warm-weather havens offering plenty of affordable activities, including hiking, mountain biking, rollerblading, etc. Stowe is extremely child-oriented. They offer a Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory tour (recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top 10 tour experiences in the country). Enjoy a round of “golf in miniature” at the Stowe Golf Park, or take Stowe’s famous gondola to Vermont’s tallest peak. Stowe also offers up an exhilarating 2,300-foot alpine slide on one of its slopes.
Big Sur, CA
Road-tripping with your kids is a great way to spend a vacation. It's a great way to see the country. Mixing it up can make this vacation memorable. For example, renting a convertible with your family and driving through the Big Sur is quite an experience. The Big Sur has a ton of activities to offer families such as: tubing down the Big Sur river, exploring tide pools along the Big Sur beaches or BBQ-ing in one of Big Sur’s beautiful state parks. Summer also brings the largest mammals on earth — the blue whales to these parts. Whale watching is a huge attraction to this area.
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park
This national park encompasses 800 square miles. It's a great way for children to experience nature first hand. Some 100 species of native trees find homes in the Smokies — more than any other national park. The park is home to more than 200 species of birds, 66 types of mammals, 50 native fish species and 39 varieties of reptiles. It truly is a natural treasure. It's a great opportunity to take your kids camping. It has both educational and recreational value. The Smokies offer kids fun activities such hiking, bird watching, fishing and horseback riding.
Milwaukee, WI - Summer Fest
There are great summer festivals throughout the U.S. that offer up music, games and activities for kids. Milwaukee’s Summer Fest offers live music, great food and an array of activities for adults and kids. Kids can take part in what's called the “game riot,” which is a huge video game party. This offers kids the opportunity to play new and unreleased titles before they hit the stores. Kids can also take part in the mad science show. It's interactive and educational — helping kids learn about various scientific topics. The festival also lets kid star in their very own Hollywood film, with an exciting live and interactive stage show called, "Movie Magic."
Keith Bellows is editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler and Melina Bellows is editor-in-chief of National Geographic Kids. For more travel tips, you can visit their Web sites at: and