There are so many adventures out there, just waiting for your family to jump in and experience them, writes Tracey Spicer.
Few words are more evocative than “adventure”. But it has myriad meanings. To one person, it might mean jumping out of a plane; to another, trekking the Himalayas.
“An unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity” is its dictionary definition.
“Typically hazardous?” parents may well ask, clutching their little ones. So, where do kids fit in?
“When I travelled with my family through Nepal, at the age of seven, we were very much perceived as curiosities,” says Paddy Scott, marketing manager for My Adventure Store. “Nowadays, mums and dads are searching for hands-on options that allow for time together while getting off the beaten track.”
Far from being “seen and not heard”, these days kids are yahooing as they whizz along zip-lines, ride bucking broncos and abseil deep canyons. No longer niche, family adventure travel is one of the trends of 2013.
But it’s a conundrum: How can we be responsible parents and take our kids on a true adventure?
“Our family business is growing faster than any other sector, with a 49 per cent increase on 2012,” says Darrell Wade, co-founder and chief executive of Intrepid. “Parents want to expose kids to something different to home.”
With cheap flights and a strong exchange rate, parents are increasingly taking their kids out of school to introduce them to the university of the world.
Much of the demand comes from former “singletons” who’ve settled down and had kids but still crave adventure. This is why companies such as G Adventures have expanded traditional singles’ and couples’ trips to include families.
“Our trip styles include active exploration, cultural immersion, embracing the unexpected, escaping the well-trod path and, most importantly, creating true, lifelong connections with the people and places we visit,” says John Warner, vice president of global sales at G Adventures.
Internationally, Intrepid’s most popular family destination is Vietnam, while Myanmar is booming after opening to tourism (though playing catch-up, with some infrastructure lagging).
Second spot, for all adventure travellers, is Morocco – the location of our favourite family holiday (see Mama Holiday).
At home, Uluru is still hot, with Harley rides and Aboriginal dot painting classes popular while still being able to enjoy the comforts of resort accommodation.
Sometimes, roughing it is where the big memories are made. The Gibb River Road stretches 660 kilometres across the Kimberley. “With its waterfalls, gorges and rivers, it’s a great place to camp, recreate and reconnect with family values,” says Glen Chidlow, chief executive of Australia’s North West tourism.
Young adventurer, 10-year-old Ella Deale agrees, citing mud crabbing at remote Cape Leveque as her top trip.
“Up to her waist in mangrove mud, making bush tucker, hand-feeding barramundi and learning spear-making with the local Aboriginal people, it was fantastic,” Ella’s mum, Laureen, says.
She highly recommends this trip to other families who want to teach kids about our indigenous heritage. “But make sure you do your research first,” she warns. “You’ve got to have the right vehicle … It was a bit like a car-parts graveyard in there!”
City slickers are seeking animal encounters, such as llama trekking in Christchurch, Queensland’s “Harvey and the Humpbacks” tours, and “the Big Five” in sub-Saharan Africa.
&Beyond’s new program WILDchild has rangers teaching kids to shoot a bow and arrow, build a fire the Masai way, and track animals (or parents, if they’ve had one too many G&Ts).
Hawaii’s main island, Oahu, is known for its commercialism, but it’s one of several places in the world where you can swim with wild dolphins. (Just watch out for the brown patches: dolphins are notorious poo-shooters.)
In Mauritius, we snorkelled with a school of fish I wasn’t familiar with, until a French boy on the boat screamed: “Maman, je vois les barracudas!” We walked on water, like cartoons, to get back on board.
Heart-thumping, jaw-dropping, spine-tingling adventures are so ubiquitous, you can even get them on cruise ships.
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas have zip-lines, surf simulators and rock climbing walls.
A zip-line is a flying fox on steroids: step into a harness, clip it onto a wire strung between two high points, and let go for the ride of your life.
The Quantum of the Seas, to be launched next year, features RipCord by iFLY: wind tunnel technology in a glass flight chamber that mimics skydiving.
New Zealand remains the spiritual home of adventure tourism, with bungee jumping, white- and black-water rafting, and jet boating. Nowadays, visitors are combining adventure with fantasy, courtesy of The Hobbit. One teenage fan bought a solid gold ring, took a helicopter ride over Mount Doom and threw the ring into the volcano.
For those into fitness instead of fantasy, check out Tree Top Challenge at Mount Tamborine in the Gold Coast hinterland, where the kids do commando training with ropes, wires, flying foxes and suspension bridges. Not a bad way to tire them out!
Always choose age-appropriate activities and research operators’ safety records. And beware: If you buy a family travel insurance policy, you’re not covered if you split up for part of the trip.
WorldNomads.com‘s travel safety specialist, Phil Sylvester, says: “You have to look at it in insurance terms: if mum or dad wants to go off hiking for three days and leave everyone else by the pool, that’s exposing the insurer to double the risk and they’re entitled to some additional premium to cover that.” (See Did you know?)
Another trap is hiring a motorbike in Asia. If you’re not properly licensed to ride a bike in Australia, you won’t be covered if you make a claim overseas.
According to insurers, the riskiest activity is skiing, with the greatest number, and severity, of injuries. Generally, rock climbing isn’t covered but bungee jumping is.
One way of throwing caution to the wind is to allow your kids to choose the destination. A survey by The Adventure Company in Britain found 49 per cent of families share the decision on where to go, while a brave 2 per cent leave it to the children.
“Ever since our kids were about 13 or 14, they’ve picked where we go,” Wade says. “Ten years ago we went to Burma because my eldest daughter is a temple junkie. All three kids now rate is as their favourite trip.”
Family adventure travel allows you to see the wonders of the world through the eyes of a child. As we did, when our son kissed a monkey.
Scott has some advice: “If you’re hesitant, start small with a less-demanding itinerary on an organised tour, that assures safety and fun, and work your way up to adventures further afield.”
After all, in the words of the author Helen Keller: “Security … does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”