In honor of 2018 (and the 18 summers we get to spend with our kids with us at home before they “adult” into life), I’ve put together a family travel bucket list of places and experiences you must-see/do before your kids leave home.
Family vacations offer the chance to bond together, experience the world, and get away from the stress of hectic schedules back home. Add in the family adventure of traveling to places like Africa and Asia with your kids, and it’s memories in the making.
Here are our favorite family vacation 2018 trips for your family travel bucket list.
1) African Family Safari
Bumping across the savannah in the wild African bush, you stumble upon a pride of lions, you stop for a look, a giraffe saunters by your jeep as if in slow motion…something from a movie?
No, a true scene from last time we were on a family safari. Unlike many family travel experiences, an African safari usually exceeds all expectations. You immerse yourself in nature through the wildlife of South Africa, and you also get to see it in action…an elephant mother trumpeting at her wobbly newborn to stay back, lions challenging one another, elephants chasing zebra from a watering hole, a lion stealing a meal right from the mouth of a lioness.
A family safari to Africa is definitely number one on our family travel bucket list (even though we’ve been before) and always will be. When people ask us what our number one place to travel with kids is, South Africa always comes up first for everyone in our family! It’s just that amazing!
Watch a video of a family-friendly safari in Africa
2) The Grand Canyon with Kids
I understand that Africa is far, and not everyone can hop over a continent away, so here’s one that may be more accessible. And when I say visit the Grand Canyon, I’m not just talking about taking a gander from the top with your kids and moving on like Clark in Vacation, I’m talking about hiking in…at least part way. It’s a fascinating experience watching the layers of time unravel in a stream of colors as you descend into one of the world’s largest canyons. And though it’s big, grand even, don’t be too intimidated. For its size, the hike is relatively moderate.
You and your family can become part of the solution while you travel, all while having an amazing experience in the wild. A family vacation at a wildlife conservation center transforms what it means to explore the wild.
We had the opportunity to visit a wildlife conservation center in Costa Rica, but our favorite experience was working at Elephant’s World in Thailand. It proved to be an absolutely incredible place for a family adventure vacation. The elephant sanctuary’s mission is to “work for elephants” instead of “elephants working for us”. The amazing team takes in injured and elderly elephants and cares for them. Volunteers help plant trees and vegetables on the plantation, prepare food, and even feed and bathe the elephants. It’s absolutely mind-blowing fun and a good lesson for the whole family about how to incorporate eco-tourism into your lives.
4) Alaska with Kids
Often referred to as the last frontier in the United States, Alaska offers adventure activities that are perfect for families like wildlife viewing opportunities. Depending on the time of year you visit (early summer or early fall are the shoulder seasons) you can take an RV down the Kenai Peninsula to Seward Bay and Homer. From here, you can kayak within view of ice-capped mountains or hop a train north to Denali National Park…just watch out for the bears!
The Incan civilization once controlled a territory that covered most of the northern part of South America. But when the Spanish arrived, the civilizations clashed and the empire eventually became non-existent. Visiting the ruins, the most famous of which is Machu Picchu, is magical. But if you’re planning to go, get going now! Every year, Machu Picchu limits the number of visitors, and there is talk that the ruins may be closed to the public or restrict access over the next five years.
Get started with your family travel bucket list with a journey in Cusco, an amazing city with cobbled streets and colorful markets. Next, take a magical train ride through mud hut villages at the base of the Andes (or a 3- to 7- day trek) that takes you to the base of Machu Picchu. This spot marks a lost world that wasn’t rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in the late 1800s.
Want to visit Peru with your family? It’s definitely a family adventure trip the kids will never forget for your family travel bucket list.
6) Amazon Rainforest
After exploring the ruins of Macchu Picchu and Peru, you slide in a side trip to visit one the most diverse rainforests in the world⸺the Amazon! Talk about disappearing…the Amazon is quickly shrinking, so the time to go is now.
Reaching the Amazon with your family is only about an hour by plane from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. From here, you can hop a motorized canoe upstream to stay at a luxury lodge immersed in the lush jungle. Morning hikes wind through canopy observation touch platforms where guests can see life in the trees. Meanwhile, hikes to canoes take you through oxbow lakes with insights into the forest floor and river life. But wherever you explore, keep an eye out for monkeys, crocodiles, capybara, and other exotic wildlife.
Ready to discover Peru’s Amazon rainforest on your family travel bucketlist?
7) Grey Whale Expedition
Just south of California, the Baja peninsula boasts odd landscapes that inspired Dr. Seuss picture books. In the winter months, grey whales come to mate and give birth. In fact, one of the longest migrations in the world takes them from their feeding grounds in Alaska to Scammon’s Lagoon and Magdalena Bay in Baja.
Baja is one of the only places in the world where these animals seem to initiate the contact with humans and aren’t shy about approaching small boats and encroaching into touching distance. Of course, this is an eco-friendly animal encounter with regulations on how many boats can enter the lagoon and in which areas. This allows the whales plenty of room to swim away if they don’t want contact. For those that do, these “friendlies” will come up and guests are allowed to touch them. Put that on your family travel bucket list!
Check out this Baja Mexico Whale Encounter
8) Live Like the Royal Family
Staying in a real castle can ignite kids’ passion and history for all these castles. Fortunately, Ireland has plenty of castles that you can stay in overnight to live like royalty for a night. Ireland even offers a range of castles from budget hostels to small private castles that you can rent exclusively for your family. There are also luxury castles with lots of rooms to explore like Dromoland and Ashford Castles. The luxury castles also feature rolling estates with plenty of family activities like horseback riding, archery, and falconry. The latter enhances your experience of feeling like “Landed Gentry” during your family travel bucket list.
History is synonymous with Washington DC and immerses kids and adults alike in our country’s rich history. The Smithsonian Institution features a conglomeration of 19 museums with something for everyone in the family. Subjects range from Native American history to the Air and Space Museum. Visitors can also tour the Capitol building as well as the White House, but if you want to do so, reach out to your representative months ahead of time for special passes.
Seamus exploring Washington, D.C. on our family travel bucket list.
Below the ocean’s surface lies a whole different world; one with odd and unique shapes and colorful creatures reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ storybooks. Scuba diving as a family allows an up-close experience to explore this alien world. Kids get certified as early as age 10, making scuba diving a popular family pastime.
The warm waters and colorful sea life of the Sea of Cortez and the Caribbean both make ideal places for your dive certification. They both have amazing and unique sea life and are fairly close to the U.S. and Canada. Both of our boys got certified when they were 10-years old. Nathan even took an online course and checked out a dive near our city and Seamus through Kids Sea Camp, a fun week-long scuba camp for families!
When most Americans think of Vietnam, they usually think of the war we fought there. However, there is so much more to this amazing country just waiting to be explored for a family travel bucket list. And the locals just love to show American families their land and history.
In the north, colorful Vietnamese markets with a French colonial atmosphere await in Hanoi. The markets can be found along with the UNSECO World Heritage Site Halong Bay, with its famous limestone formations and remote villages. To the south, the Vietnamese share their perspective of the “American War” at historical sites like the Cu Chi Tunnels and around Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). Nearby, rural scenes along the Mekong Delta entice travelers to stay awhile. And since you’ve come this far, you won’t want to miss Angkor Wat in Cambodia!
Our TWK Vietnam Family Adventure Tour this summer includes all of our favorite stops and carefully curated destination and activity list.
12) A Great Train Journey
Although train travel transports us from destination A to B, it also beckons back to an era where the actual travel was half the adventure. And there are lots of reasons it is our favorite mode of travel for families. Half of the adventure lies in no carseats or seatbelts where kids can wander at will. Bathrooms, a dining car, and plenty of curiosity make train travel it fun for kids.
In the U.S., Amtrak runs passenger service across the country on a fairly limited (and pricier scale) than other countries where trains are a popular mode of public transportation. Not to mention foreign train travel is also much more accessible with better pricing and schedules. Some favorite train journeys for our family include Beijing to Hanoi (3-day ride), London to Paris (via the Chunnel) and the train from Cusco to Machu Picchu with the Andes backdrop.
13) Roman Empire Family Experience
History pages pop to life on a family trip to Italy, and your family’s stomachs will thank you too. Pizza, pasta, and gelato are inherently kid-favorites and always on demand in Italy. Of course, iconic sites like the Coliseum and the Roman Forum will impress the kids, but it’s getting off the path and wandering through tiny cobbled streets that they will never forget. And with our foodie-focused culture, Italy is a prime tourist destination that families love with plenty of family fun like Gladiator School and Gelato Making Classes.
Watch a video about a Family Vacation to Rome with Kids
Most kids love to swim in the ocean, and it’s even better when there are fish and creatures to look at. But one group of tiny animals makes for one of the most unique ocean experiences you’ll ever have. Although it appears the water is aglow with nighttime magic, the bioluminescence is actually caused by microscopic animals reacting to movement. This means that each movement you make in the water makes the animals around you glow.
There are lots of places in the world in which to experience the wonder of bioluminescence including seasionally San Diego. However, one of our favorite places to experience bioluminescence as a family in the bays around the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico. It’s a must for a family travel bucket list.
Volunteering with your children not only encourages empathy and a passion to help make the world a better place, it also creates family bonding time. Volunteering is the perfect way to get from work and school life, social schedules, electronics, and social media. This is why its so important to us to always include a service day and volunteer time on our TWK Tours family trips. We typically volunteer through Re:Help Organization, a non-profit established by our kids, where we collect and donate school supplies for kids in need. If you’d like to incorporate travel to a foreign land with your volunteer work, there are plenty of organizations for that as well from one day within a trip visiting a local school to five days building a house in Mexico to a long-term volunteer post.
Your family will become part of American culture while staying on a real ranch. Ranches with cowboy appeal are scattered across the American west, and offer amazing family vacations. Spend your days riding horseback and add in activities like leatherworking, archery, fishing, and woodworking, and spend evenings around the campfire. Before you know it, it all becomes something akin to family summer camp.
17) Family Sleep Over on the River
Boats are a great way to explore and have a family adventure together, but sleeping out on the water takes it to a whole new level. Family boat charters in the Caribbean and along the North American coast offer a unique experience. If you are willing to go a bit further abroad, one of our favorites is Fiji…the islands are easier, and cheaper, to get to than ever (there is a direct flight from Los Angeles daily) and they offer much in cultural immersion and vistas that will take your breath away. Take a small ship cruise to visit islands with deserted beaches for a “Castaway” experience and then on to the remote islands where visitors can immerse in traditional culture visiting tiny villages. We also had an amazing experience staying at a floating hotel in Thailand, one we now include on our TWK Thailand Family Adventure Tour.
18) Family of Arabia: Camel Trekking Family Adventure
While there are a handful of places you can ride on a camel, nothing beats the family adventure of a long camel trek in the Sahara. Sauntering through the desert landscapes, you feel like Laurence of Arabia. The vistas are incredible, bizarre dune scapes, and tented cities leap from the Star Wars or Indiana Jones sagas. We explored the Erg Chebbi desert in Morocco by camelback and has an amazing family adventure together.
So, there it is…our top 18 family travel bucket list adventure experiences! Where will you go this year? And how can we help you get you there?