10 Unexpected Family Travel Ideas

10 Unexpected Family Travel Ideas

From camping on Bolivian salt flats to island stargazing, these ideas will motivate families to pack up and head out By: Chelsee Lowe
A customized trip to the salt flats of Bolivia with Jacada Travel includes a driver and a chef.  // © 2014 Jacada Travel
A customized trip to the salt flats of Bolivia with Jacada Travel includes a driver and a chef.  // © 2014 Jacada Travel

In today’s hyperconnected and information-rich world, it’s hard to call many destinations or travel experiences “undiscovered.” Chances are that clients (or their young children) have spied a few of the below ideas while scrolling through their Instagram feed or perusing viral videos on YouTube. Of course, looking at photos of a teenager riding an ostrich is completely different than holding the feathers yourself. Following are 10 under-the-radar experiences we think will inspire parents and kids to hit the road.

Covering more than 4,000 square miles, southwestern Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, home to pink flamingos, furry Andean foxes and a rocky “island” spiked with giant cacti. Though it’s perhaps best known as the place to take impressive perspective photos, Salar de Uyuni is worthy of more than just a day trip, according to tour operator Jacada Travel.

Great for families traveling with kids of all ages, Jacada’s customized salt-flat trip includes at least two nights in an Airstream trailer, in addition to a private guide and a chef. Using the camper as a home base, families can hike and bike in the eerie, expansive flats surrounding them. At night, there’s spectacular stargazing.


Yes, we know — Disneyland is as far from unexpected as you can get. But the Happiest Place on Earth has a few surprises up its sleeve, including guided tours that take guests to hidden nooks of the park closed to everyday guests.

For families visiting the park for more than one day, spending an afternoon on the Discover the Magic tour can be a great way for Disney buffs to interact with the park in new ways. On this particular adventure, participants go treasure hunting through Fantasy Land, Tomorrow Land and more, following clues that lead them to a special character greeting, a surprise edible treat and, of course, Disney collectibles to take back home. Disney public relations manager Tyler Slater, who once led this tour personally, recommends it for families with children between the ages of 3 and 12. For older park guests, especially those with a keen interest in Walt Disney himself, there’s the Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps tour, a highlight of which is getting to visit Disney’s private apartment on Main Street, U.S.A.


Get ready to take selfies with the Cat in the Hat and Sam while eating green eggs and ham. Familiar faces from books and films come to life during Carnival Cruise Lines’ character breakfast, a must-do when sailing on ships with the brand’s new Seuss at Sea program. The party occurs on the first sea day of every participating cruise.

“The character breakfast offers an entire themed menu, and real green eggs and ham is only the beginning,” says Mark Tamis, senior vice president of guest operations for Carnival Cruise Lines. “At just $5 per person, it is the best value you’ll find for a character breakfast on land or at sea. It’s a truly exceptional experience.”


Set on 17 acres of land that were once part of a coconut plantation, Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort Fiji pays respects to its stunning surroundings through a number of environment preservation projects, including some one-of-a-kind, hands-on opportunities for teens. Of special note are the activities and excursions led by Johnny Singh, the resort’s full-time marine biologist.

For those ready to dive right into the water, Singh’s coral restoration project involves replanting broken coral fragments. Broken by natural processes such as storms and strong winds, coral fragments have a low survival rate when they fall on the sand. Singh and his crew help by growing the fragments in a “coral farm” — mesh grids in the ocean that can be closely monitored — before transferring them to coral formation crevices. Parents and children can plant coral when the grids are up on land, or they can do so while snorkeling or free diving when the grids are underwater.


If families are willing to look beyond the 50th state’s sandy beaches and lush rainforests, point them in the direction of the Mauna Kea Observatories, situated on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Because of the site’s high altitude and isolated location in the Pacific Ocean, the observatory is considered by many to be the best stargazing location on Earth. It’s also one of the only places in the world where travelers can go from sea level to 14,000 feet in elevation in a matter of two hours.

Stopping to acclimatize at the visitor information station at 9,200 feet above sea level is highly recommended, and it’s open 365 days a year. Here, travelers will find public telescopes available from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., as well as a solar telescope for use during daylight hours. And every night, there’s a free stargazing program, great for budding astronomers keen on spotting globular clusters, supernova remnants and more. Keep in mind that temperatures often drop to near-freezing — but stargazing in the snow in Hawaii makes the experience that much more unique. On the weekends, summit tours are offered, but guests must be 16 or older.


The spacelike glowworms of New Zealand get a lot of attention, but their Caribbean cousins are just as fascinating to see up close. Jamaica’s Luminous Lagoon, which stretches from Falmouth to the town of Rock, is full of bioluminescent dinoflagellates, a type of marine plankton that glows in the warm, shallow waters. Travel consultant Danielle Stephens of Harmon Travel in Boise, Idaho, often sends families to this spot. She recommends that parents and children take a boat ride out into the waves at night, available from Glistening Waters Restaurant and Marina in Falmouth.

“If you’re feeling adventurous, make sure to bring your swimwear so you can dip in the water as it glows around you,” Stephens says. “Kids have a blast splashing around here.”


Ideal for the active set, Backroads’ one-of-a-kind Stockholm to Copenhagen Family Bike Tour gets groups pedaling past the likes of Danish fjords and Tullgarn Castle outside of Stockholm. In addition to sightseeing, the adventure company encourages travelers to sample local fare after burning all those calories. Snacking on fresh-baked cinnamon buns and smoked salmon just like the locals do will fuel the group for whatever bends in the road come next.

“No one else is doing this trip — not a single competitor,” says Alison Isles, global family trips manager for Backroads. “It combines two beautiful and historic bike-friendly cities, and each day we travel by boat, ferry, bike or shuttle to ride in stunning rural landscapes and seascapes. We also fish and learn about Vikings, monarchies, Nordic cuisine and sustainability.”


South Africa
Tauck Bridges’ family offerings are widely known, but travel agents might direct clients’ attention to the brand-new South Africa: Epic Family Adventure, created in partnership with BBC Earth. Once families have jumped the biggest hurdle of an African vacation — the getting-there part — parents and children will be privy to up-close encounters with native species, tech-filled game drives and more.

On the 10-day tour, even the more standard trip stops are kicked up a notch thanks to gadgets and gizmos courtesy of BBC Earth. While on safari in Krueger National Park, for example, travelers will try out the gear used by wildlife cameramen, such as night-vision goggles and infrared cameras, helping them see and hear things the average guest might not. Other distinct trip moments include a chance to see endemic penguins at Boulders Beach and a visit to an ostrich farm — travelers can even try their hand at riding the birds.


South Carolina
Photography excursions in and around scenic Charleston, S.C., may be fitting if you’re raising a tech fanatic, a social media junkie or an aspiring artist — or if mom and dad are tired of getting schooled in the art of iPhone shooting. Offered by Destination Hotel’s Wild Dunes Resort, the Budding Photographers Package is designed for children ages 8 to 16 and involves easy lessons in composition and exposure, all while exploring the grounds of the property on South Carolina’s Isle of Palms. Parents are welcome to join in the action, too.

If the kids are already shutterbugs, families might swap the on-resort option for the Discover Charleston Package, which takes groups to the oldest city in the state for a guided four-hour photography tour full of historic attractions, seascapes and massive live oaks. Both excursions are led and customized by professional photographers, who tailor the itinerary depending on the skill levels of participants.


For futbol fans, a vacation that incorporates professional soccer matches and stadium tours is the ultimate experience, but getting tickets to the matches isn’t always easy. Enter Artisans of Leisure, a luxury travel company that has experience in making the nearly impossible possible. Earlier this year, the company organized a private family tour of Spain that involved seats at the Copa del Rey championship soccer match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona at Mestalla Stadium in Valencia. The family also toured Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in downtown Madrid and Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Though Artisans of Leisure’s online sample itineraries don’t highlight the above options, games and more can be added to nearly any Spain trip. If the season isn’t underway, attending team practices is an option. If it’s just the younger travelers that are into soccer, parents can balance out the sports activities with vineyard tours, museum visits and culinary activities, including paella-making lessons and tapas tastings — all of which children are likely to enjoy just as much as their parents.