Living / 12 February, 2020 / Tom Barber
Keeping a finger on the pulse of family travel trends is one of the most pleasurable things about running a tailor-made travel company that specialises in family holidays. Destinations go in and out of fashion, families decide to travel during different half terms and holidays, the desire for good old fashioned beachbound bucket and spade trips or more educational ones fluctuate. So, what exactly are the family travel trends we’re seeing emerge in a new year and a new decade? Here’s our inside track…
If there’s one single travel trend that’s taken flight of late, it’s a big rise in sabbaticals, and one of the main reasons is because it’s now easier than ever to take the children. In our recently published sabbatical guide, we talk much more about ‘how’ to take a sabbatical and ‘why’ to take a sabbatical than ‘where’ to take a sabbatical, and we’ve dealt with a lot of clients who could really, really do with a sabbatical, but who manage to come up with endless reasons why they can’t or won’t.
Most often, that reason is the children, and not being able to take them out of school for long chunks of time. A fair enough concern but, with respect, we disagree. As family sabbatical experts we have access to a number of professional tutors, one of whom a family can take with them to make sure children stay up to speed with their studies while they’re away.
A less showy way to go is the plethora of online courses that you can subscribe to, and which your children can then spend a couple of hours a day accessing from laptops to keep up with their academic studies. But the key thing is this: if you arrange your sabbatical well, visit interesting and intriguing places, and have memorable and meaningful experiences as a family, there’s simply no way that the trip won’t be more life-enhancing and mind-broadening for your children than one missed term at school. And that’s before we even talk about the wonderful opportunity that a family sabbatical provides for bonding between parents and children.
Which segues nicely onto voluntourism, because while taking a family sabbatical might be the ultimate dream for many, those memorable and meaningful experiences I mentioned earlier can still be arranged on a shorter trip.
Parents increasingly want their children to see and do more profound, thoughtful things on their holidays so that alongside the chance to relax, play and explore, the children learn about other ways of life and about giving back. As such, voluntourism is on the rise, and despite the rather clunky name, it is a very admirable trend.
Here’s how it works. Let’s say you go to Costa Rica, a fabulous family destination where the children will see wacky wildlife (deafening howler monkeys et al) and enjoy all manner of adventures from white water rafting to zip-lining through the rainforest canopy. So far, so fun, but why not add in a day (or more) spent with the staff of a coastal lodge helping clean up the beach or plant trees.
Similarly, in the Maldives, some of the more eco-minded lodges run marine conservation programmes where younger guests can help rehabilitate injured turtles or learn about reef conservation. There’s no better way for children to learn the importance of responsible tourism than having a hands-on experience.
Time for another segue, this time from responsible tourism to the next family travel trend we’re seeing and (without wishing to seem boastful) we’re setting: family travel by train.
Our clients are increasingly looking to reduce the environmental impact of their flights either by off-setting the carbon with tree-planting schemes or just by flying less. The good news is that we offer an industry gold standard carbon off-setting programme (planting 1.5 million trees a year to off-set our clients and staff flights and ground transport), but we’ve also created a portfolio of family-friendly train trips to Europe that negate the need for flights at all.
With our know-how it’s possible to get to some fabulous family-friendly corners of the continent – sometimes in one day, and sometimes two, but with an overnight stay in a fun city en route – and children today love trains every bit as much as we used to do in our youth (I don’t think I’m alone on that one, or maybe I am!?).
Spending time looking out of the train window, watching an unfamiliar world flying by, can have a very meditative effect on the children, but we also provide children aged 3-10 with fun packs from the brilliant party people Sharky & George filled with games, challenges and quizzes about the destination, for that added and all-important element of education while travelling.
One final family travel trend we’re seeing, and again one related to those above, is how the decision-making dynamic is changing when it comes to choosing what to do and where to go on family holidays.
With inspirational role models such as Greta Thunberg, our children’s generation will likely be the most ethical consumers in history, and we’re seeing many families make holiday choices based on the younger generation’s requests; be that for destinations you can reach by train (as above), or countries with better records on environmental issues. It’s all pretty admirable and involving the children in the conversation about where to go is a great way to bond and introduce them to some geographical gems they might not know about, as well as learning about other destinations from them.
Destinations for Decision-making children: Wherever they want to go! (Within reason…)
Tom Barber is a father of four, one of the Co-Founders of multi-award-winning tailor-made travel company Original Travel and Contributing Travel Editor for Esquire Magazine.