Ciao Bambino’s tagline is Inspiring Families to Explore the World, and we take this challenge very seriously, as we understand that great family vacations aren’t just about fun. Travel experiences change lives and transform developing minds in unbelievable, lasting ways. We are a founding member of the Family Travel Association, a new organization within the industry whose mission is to get as many families as possible thinking about all the ways they can travel with their children. I just got back from our annual conference and it got me mulling over incredible experiences that are examples of powerful travel opportunities for families.
Travel is our best chance of turning our children into global ambassadors who embrace our world as a diverse place and want to accept, explore and protect our way of life, our cultural history and our natural resources. You don’t need to go far with children for travel to have an impact. That said, there are some experiences that really stand out as exceptional when it comes to promoting growth and change.
10 Family Travel Experiences That Change Lives
A visit to the Galapagos Islands is a vacation and science lesson wrapped into one. Charles Darwin was fascinated with these islands and used them as the foundation for his theories around evolution. We toured the Galapagos with the ultimate educational operator, Lindblad Expeditions, who partners with National Geographic to offer best-in-class knowledge to their guests through a variety of mediums. The result is the ultimate hands-on classroom for children and their parents. The opportunity to get close to and appreciate wildlife is unique in the world.
The Galapagos is on many bucket lists, but we loved experiencing the wonder as a family. There is nothing better than witnessing your children engaged in profound concepts at an early age that you know will shape their thinking forever.
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Dude Ranch Vacation
Once you’ve tried a dude ranch vacation as a family, you’ll want to do it over and over again. The connection that happens in this immersive environment, filled with activities you don’t or can’t do at home, promotes freedom and a carefree joy for life (and one another) that is second to none.
Favorites we’ve experienced recently include Flathead Lake Lodge, Red Horse Mountain Ranch, Paws Up and Nine Quarter Circle Ranch. Even if you don’t like to ride horses, dude ranches are unbelievable fun — it’s like summer camp for the entire family without being homesick, because your family is with you! Connecting with one another in a world dominated by virtual time is more challenging than ever, and dude ranches promote authentic experiences that allow families to spend truly meaningful time together. Understanding that this type of connection exists and that immeasurable bliss can be had without electronics is a lesson we need our kids to internalize ASAP.
Kids Sea Camp
I’m on the Board of Advisors of the Family Travel Association with Margo Peyton, the founder and owner of Kids Sea Camp. We haven’t done one of her trips yet, but I watched a presentation of Margo’s mission; her passion for what these diving vacations teach families brought tears to my eyes. Kids Sea Camp offers underwater-focused vacations around the world. Through their programming, they create conservation leaders in children, who get introduced to our oceans in such a deep way that it is practically impossible for this experience not to inspire kids to appreciate and understand the importance of preserving our planet.
Despite the diversity of our visits to cities in North America and Europe, our family trip to China is the one that created major culture shock for our son. It gave him pause in terms of understanding that our planet is a big place and our Western way of life is but a speck in the global scheme of things.
Since it’s a world leader with a dominant presence, many people have notions of what China will be like. We recently covered The Experiment in International Living’s China program on the CB! blog, and the teen on that trip had a life-changing adventure that helped her understand the impact of preconceptions on our views of the world — an important lesson for families to learn together.
Costa Rica has evolved into an ideal first soft adventure travel destination for families with kids of all ages. It’s easily accessible from North America and the country has done a remarkable job of keeping its natural assets pristine despite (or maybe because of) its growth in popularity. We went to a top ecolodge called Lapa Rios last year, and this adventure gave each one of us a firsthand view of true sustainable practices and the immense diversity of our dwindling rainforest ecosystem.
In addition, kids who travel in Costa Rica can stretch their limits in terms of physical challenges like ziplines and surf lessons. These kinds of exhilarating adventures that start with fear and end with accomplishment are game-changers for kids and positively impact confidence.
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Few cities bring history to life better than Rome. Between the Forum, the Colosseum and the Pantheon, families routinely tell us that they’ve had the best history lesson in the world together in this city. When you tour Rome with an outstanding kid-friendly guide, kids get excited about learning through travel. For many children, it is their first real flavor for how fun it is to see relics from our past, and it just may be the source of their lifelong travel bug.
U.S. National Parks
The U.S. National Park Service just passed their centennial celebration and in the celebratory process, reminded us how wonderful they are for families. Kids’ programming is extensive, including Junior Ranger programs that introduce kids to nature in an interactive way. In 2016, the Park Service has been running a clever Find Your Park program to get our 4th graders into the parks. Talk about a way to seed the future with nature-loving folks. Icons like Yosemite and Yellowstone are perennial family favorites and inspire a lifetime of trips to these gems across the country.
The beauty of exploring Kenya as a family is that you can pair both traditional safari adventures and striking cultural encounters with the Maasai Mara. We took our son for the first time when he was 8, and can’t wait to go back now that he will see it through a more mature lens.
Visiting Africa educates families about the essence of life. Although zoos perform an important conservation function, there is nothing that replaces seeing wild animals in their native habitat and understanding the wonder of a complex ecosystem while standing in it. Pair this with visits to Maasai villages and schools for a radical lesson in “the rest of the world doesn’t live like we do,” and even more importantly, what can we learn from them to improve our way of life.
My son was named by Maasai warriors in a ceremony and planted a tree at Olonana Tented Safari Camp during our magical Abercrombie & Kent-crafted experience. This memory is truly one we will cherish forever — and the thought of my son bringing his children to visit his tree? Pure parental joy.
A big topic for parents today is how we can help our children (and ourselves) truly unplug and disconnect. River rafting is an ideal way to do this, as cell phone use of any kind is futile. Families interact with incredible guides who are passionate about their craft. My family did a fantastic trip down the Main Fork of the Salmon River with Middle Fork Expeditions a few years ago, and we still talk about how deeply we connected with nature, one another and other families. These trips have an element of risk and that in and of itself creates lasting memories — there will inevitably be stories (hopefully with happy endings) that you tell forever of the adrenaline-producing moments navigating the rapids and nights sleeping under the stars together.
We’re about to embark on a journey to Antarctica with Lindblad Expeditions, and there is no doubt that this adventure will be life-changing for all of us. The thrill of venturing to the literal end of the earth is something we are still trying to get our arms around. We’ve traveled with Lindblad before and we know we are in for the education of a lifetime. Stay tuned for the full trip report!
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy and Kristi Marcelle.