Family holidays can still be an adventure!
Just because you’ve got kids in tow, doesn’t mean you can’t stray off the beaten track. Adventure Travel manager Tim Cox and his partner took their three young children to Vietnam, where they travelled to a remote village near Mai Chau to experience local tribespeople who come down from the hills each Sunday to trade at the local market.
Think beyond Fiji and the Gold Coast
Adventure Travel manager Tim Cox is an avid traveller - and he’d like to think that having children hasn’t slowed him down. Now a father to three, Tim’s a big fan of travelling with his kids in tow – he says experiencing new cultures and getting off the beaten track broadens children’s horizons and creates life-long family memories. Family trips don’t need to be restricted to a resort in Fiji, or a trip to the Gold Coast, he says.
Over the years, Tim has visited around 40 different countries – including some unlikely spots like North Korea, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East. While becoming a father hasn’t dampened his desire to see the world, his philosophy for travelling with children is “keep it simple, and pace yourselves”. “You may be keen to cram in as much as you can, but children get tired and run out of steam. Often it’s a case of having an adventure in the morning, then having a quieter afternoon, perhaps by the pool.”
South East Asia with Children
Tim and his partner Kylie took their twins Percy and Edward, aged 7, and daughter Lotus, aged 4, to Vietnam last year. While the south East Asian country has grown popular in recent years, the couple was determined to show their kids another side of Vietnam as well as the popular cities and towns like Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An & Hanoi. They travelled four or so hours by car from Hanoi to get to the small rural town of Mai Chau, set in an idyllic valley hemmed in by hills in Hoa Binh Province in the northwest region. “We wanted the children to see lush green paddy fields and see a life lived away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi,” says Tim. And in Mai Chau, Tim’s contacts and knowledge after 20 years in the travel industry paid off. “I knew there was a traditional market on Sundays, so we timed our visit around that. I was keen for the children to experience the local tribespeople who come down from the hills to the market in their traditional dress and then to explore the market and take a walk through the villages”
Learn the art of compromise
Another family adventure was a trip to the authentic Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City, “along with all the sights and smells” of freshly slaughtered meat, dried shrimp and exotic seafoods. “We definitely got a mixed reaction,” laughs Tim. “The kids spent most of the time holding their noses and asking when we were leaving!” Tim says one of the secrets to a successful family holiday is compromise. “When you travel with children, you have to remember – they’re just kids.” One particular day in Vietnam his family was travelling by taxi when the kids spotted a playground out the window and asked to stop. “I was adamant we stick to our plans and was saying ‘no, it’s midday, it’s 30 degrees, we’re in Vietnam let’s have an adventure,” says Tim. In the end however, the kids won – and him and Kylie spent time in the midday heat watching their kids play on the swings.
Find the right balance, and plan ahead
Tim says in recent years he and his partner Kylie have figured out the right pace for travelling with kids – they often plan an adventure in the morning, followed by a quiet afternoon. “In Mai Chau the guide thought I was mad asking for accommodation that had access to a pool, but in the afternoons it was often all the kids wanted to do,” he says. And although Tim has travelled extensively as an independent traveller, small group tours can work well with kids, he says. Such as the Cam Island Bicycle Tour, a day tour they joined in order to see a slice of Hoi An that is still somewhat undiscovered by every day tourists. After a short ferry ride from central Hoi An, Tim and family arrived on quaint Cam Kim Island and stepped into local life, complete with a charming old world-ish town, lush countryside and wandering water buffaloes. “The kids loved this tour, with lots of activities to keep them busy.” During the tour they leant to make rice papers, rode in a basket boat with local fishermen and the boys gave weaving a go. “It was great to see the kids chatting to locals and experiencing things they would never see in New Zealand. Rice paper rolls have become a firm favourite for dinner in our house.”
If you’re looking for a family friendly tour Tim recommends planning in advance, chat to your travel agent or the tour company and ask what activities are family friendly, once you’ve decided book it in advance. Tim says although travelling by the seat of your pants can work without children, when you’ve got young ones in tow it often ends in tears, and meltdowns.
“And having airport transfers pre-arranged is essential,” he says. “No one wants to be getting off a plane with exhausted kids and trying to find a way to get to their accommodation.” He and Kylie also booked a driver and guide for the whole time in Mai Chau so they could explore the surrounding villages as they pleased, and they pre arranged things like a cooking class.
As the manager at Adventure Travel for the past five years, Tim has booked a number of adventurous family holidays to places such as Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka and India. A stand-out memory was organising the itinerary for a Wellington couple who took their 8 year old daughter and 10 year old son away for a year-long adventure around the world. “The parents left their jobs and took off; the family went through South East Asia, India, Sri Lanka, China and Bhutan then off to Europe, Jamaica, the States and more. Some of it was booked with small group tours, some tailor made and other parts of the trip booked independently.” Tim says although travelling with children can be hard work at times, he has no doubt the kids will look back later and think of the trip as a life-changing event “our children regularly talk about what we did and they keep asking when we are going back” he says. And while not everyone can plan a year-long trip, Tim encourages all families to put themselves outside their comfort zone and plan their next adventure somewhere new.
TIM’S TIPS FOR TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN
1. Pace yourself, don’t try to fit too many destinations in & stay a good few days in each place
2. Compromise – the kids may just want a quiet day playing in the pool!
3. Balance the adventure against a bit of downtime.
4. Even if you wing it on your own, you probably don’t want to with kids. Book more in, in advance, not just hotels but airport transfers, a driver and activities.
5. Be brave and get out of your comfort zone.
6. Even if you’re on a budget look carefully at the accommodation and try to make sure you aren’t always all sharing a room. Everyone needs their own space at least some of the time. Ask about properties with separate but connecting rooms.
7. Get the kids used to washing their hands - a lot!
8. Encourage children to try new foods, but make sure there is back up like plain rice or bread.
9. Take a good medical kit, stay up to date with vaccines and plan them ahead; do your homework in advance about good hospitals in case you need one
10. Have fun – remember it will be hard going at times, but you are creating lifelong memories.