Ready, Set, Go Wild
By Alison Ashton
When Terry Stroman plans her family's summer vacation, she never hears a chorus of
"Been there, done that" from her sons, ages 11 and 13. That's because the
Stroman clan is hooked on taking outdoor-adventure trips - a growing travel trend during
the last ten years, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (202-408-8422;
www.tia.org). So far, the Stromans have visited Yellowstone National Park, the jungles of
Belize, and Utah's Desolation Canyon. Next summer, the family is planning a five-day,
multisport-adventure trip to Colorado.
Adventure travel covers a huge range of activities, from cushy inn-to-inn cycling trips
to hard-core, high-altitude treks. "Soft" adventure, with activities that offer
excitement without too much exertion or danger, is big with families, according to Dave
Wiggins, a vice-president of GORP Travel, Inc. (877-440-4677; http://gorptravel.gorp.com).
"Camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and canoeing are among the most popular
ways to experience the great outdoors as a family," says Wiggins.
What to Consider Before You Go
- The age of your kids. Most trips have a minimum age for kids, which is determined
by the type of activities involved. Generally speaking, adventure travel is a better
choice for families with older kids-ages seven and up. For trips that involve rafting,
some companies require that youngsters be at least ten years old.
- The type of activities. For first-time adventurers, Wiggins recommends a ranch-
or lodge-based trip that offers plenty of activities for families with young children or a
variety of ages. Some adventure-travel groups offer half- and full-day activities, another
good option for families new to the experience.
- Family-focused or family-friendly? Be sure you understand how the kids will fit
in. Family-focused trips are designed with young adventurers in mind, down to the range of
activities, level of difficulty, and quality of food. But don't automatically disregard
trips that aren't marketed especially for parents and children. The Stromans' trip to
Belize wasn't specifically for families, but the kids loved it nonetheless.
- Will other kids be on the trip? Meeting another family with kids the same gender
and age as yours can be the difference between a good trip and a great one.
- The roughing-it factor. Some families enjoy the camping experience; others prefer
the comforts of a condo or a lodge. Ask specific questions about the accommodations.
- What do the fees cover? Trips like these can be expensive, but moms agree that
you get lots of fun for the money. Stroman says her trips' all-inclusive rates provided
convenience and comfort. Make sure you understand what the fees cover (lodging,
activities, equipment, meals, transportation) and ask about discounts for kids. If you're
flexible, you can trim costs, perhaps by scaling down accommodations (for example, taking
a one- instead of a two-bedroom condo) or by opting for more self-guided activities.
- Don't forget tips. Tips for the guidesfor example, $50 to $100 per guide on
a rafting tripgenerally aren't included in the price. The outfitter can offer
guidance on appropriate tipping.
- Kid-friendly guides. Make sure that the trip operator has plenty of experience
working with kids, says Wiggins.
- Gear up. Although outfitters typically provide most of the equipment, ask for a
suggested packing list. Don't forget such items as hats and high-SPF sunscreen. If you
need serious gear, such as outdoor sleeping bags or tents, you can rent the equipment
affordably from a sporting-goods store.
- Consider less expensive options. If an adventure vacation organized by an
outfitter doesn't fit in your budget, check out alternatives closer to home. Rangers at
county, state, and national parks often lead kid-oriented nature hikes and other programs.
Check with local sporting-goods stores for affordable day and weekend adventures in your
area or visit outdoor outfitters such as REI (www.rei.com) and Adventure 16
(www.adventure16.com) for gear and travel tips.
Top Family Adventure-Tour Outfitters
- GORP Travel, Inc. (877-440-4677; http://gorptravel.gorp.com): Offers
family-focused lodge- and ranch-based vacations, rafting excursions, and other adventures.
As with all outfitters, fees vary based on the trip.
- Backroads (800-462-2848; www.backroads.com): offers family trips to destinations
in North America, Latin America, and Europe. Choose from walking, biking, and multisport
adventures. Sample adventure: A six-day camping trip in Washington's Puget Sound is $948
per adult. Kids' discounts range from 75 percent off for tykes 2 and under to 10 percent
off for kids 11 to 16.
- Kids Go Too Travel (800-638-3215; www.kidsgotootravel.com): Customizes adventures
in Colorado and Wyoming with activities ranging from covered-wagon trips and rafting to
horseback riding, gold-mine visits, and dinosaur-fossil digs.
- The World Outside (800-488-8483; www.theworldoutside.com): Families are welcome
on any trip, but the company also offers special family multisport adventures in the Grand
Tetons/Yellowstone National Park, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and Colorado's Four
- Thomson Family Adventures (800-262-6255; www.familyadventures.com): Trips to
Africa, Nepal, Turkey, Costa Rica, Australia, Egypt, the Galápagos Islands, and Ecuador
will appeal to families with a taste for the exotic. Thomson's 13-day "Affordable
Tanzania Safari" offers tremendous value for the money. Cost: $2,990 per adult,
including round-trip airfare from the East Coast, with a $500 discount for kids 11 and
- Wilderness Inquiry (800-728-0719; www.wildernessinquiry.org): Offers very
affordable family canoeing, hiking, swimming, and fishing trips in the summer;
cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and dogsledding in the winter.
Alison Ashton is a San Diegobased freelance writer and the
coauthor of Romantic Days and Nights in San Diego (Globe Pequot Press).
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