They grow up so fast. Everyone knows the sentiment, but few parents actually grasp it – until it happens. When our children are babies, as parents we control the family schedule. We can travel when and where we want. Once school begins, an academic calendar, and everything from athletic team competitions to dances and driving lessons dictate day-to-day life and family getaways. Then comes college. Our kids move out, and vacation is no longer just vacation; it’s an opportunity to be under one roof again.
Although scheduling the “when,” in between midterms and internships, is a challenge, finding the “where” can be the toughest assignment. There’s never enough time to travel everywhere with your kids, but if you refuse to stop even when they head off to college, you can make a good dent in the list and great memories. Just like traveling with a teenager is different than traveling with a kindergartener, choosing the right destination for your college-age brood can make the difference between a fun family vacation and a fabulous one.
Destinations that Excite College-Age Kids (And Their Parents)
The BridgeClimb jumpsuit isn’t high fashion, but no one will care once they start climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You’re cabled to the structure from the first step to the last, and the view gets more exciting with each of the 1,332 stairs. Keep a lookout for ferry boats cruising the harbor below. Save a day to hop on the one that takes locals and visitors alike to Manly Beach, a sandy stretch that some argue gives the famed Bondi Beach a run for its money. For a fun lay of the land, take a spin past some of Sydney’s iconic sites with Bonza Bike Tours.
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Volcanoes, hot springs and massive glaciers are just a few of the reasons everyone wants to go to Iceland. If your college kid likes being outside and seeing some of the best scenery nature has to offer, this destination is a given. Float in the Blue Lagoon, go whale watching, chase waterfalls or go caving. Self-drive tours around Iceland are popular, but if you’re hesitant to take on the Ring Road alone, our easy book-and-go Iceland vacation packages can simplify the planning logistics.
The Galapagos Islands are one of the few places in the world where animals have little or no fear of people. North Seymour is home to frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies and a strong number of sea lions. You might also spot a rarely seen red-footed booby. In the Punta Espinoza area of Isabela Island, snorkelers can look forward to swimming with green sea turtles, sea lions, penguins and marine iguanas. An assortment of colorful fish call Champion Islet home, but playful sea lions that like to play tug-of-war with GoPros tend to steal the show. Sites within the limits of the National Park require visitors be accompanied by a licensed Naturalist Guide at all times; our Family Vacation Advisor team can facilitate this as part of our full trip planning service.
Pedal through Ecuador’s Chocó-Andean Cloud Forest on the Sky Bike, which spins through the treetops. The 10-minute trip rolls two bikers at a time along a cable that stretches for more than 650 feet across a lush gorge. Or kick back and enjoy the ride in a four-seat open-air gondola before hiking to a remote waterfall and swimming hole. The shuttle ride from central Quito to Mashpi Lodge, inside the forest, takes three to four hours, but once you arrive wildlife sighting possibilities include three-toed sloths, howler monkeys, colorful toucans, frogs, snakes and an amazing 400 species of birds. Comfy beds, hot showers, WIFI and turndown service (complete with chocolate) in Mashpi’s 24 rooms sweeten the deal.
Northern Lights in Alaska
There are plenty of places to see the Northern Lights around the world, but Fairbanks, Alaska, is a go-to destination because of its location under the Auroral Oval, an area over the North and South Poles where aurora activity is concentrated. The aurora season runs August 21 through April 21st. If families spend three nights actively searching the night sky, they have a 90% chance of the aurora. The Fairbanks Aurora Tracker provides real-time data to predict northern lights viewing possibilities for half a dozen locations in the region.
The warm, blue waves at Ka’anapali Beach know how to make a first impression, but the true reason to visit this stretch of Maui’s coast lies below the water’s surface. Year after year, December through May, humpback whales pay their own visit to paradise. (Whales don’t always pay attention to the calendar, so if you’re visiting a bit earlier or later, it’s worth checking to see if tour boats are operating.) It’s possible to see whales breach from the shore, but Trilogy offers whale watching tours that depart directly from the beach.
When the whales aren’t in town, the college-age set will jump at the chance to soar above Ka’anapali Beach with UFO Parasail. At Puu Kekaa, or Black Rock, snorkeling steps from the sand typically comes with a buddy: Green sea turtles, known as honu in Hawaiian, are regulars here.
Yosemite National Park
With waterfalls, wildlife and landmarks the likes of Half Dome and El Capitan, it’s hard not to be wowed by Yosemite National Park. Go camping in one of the park’s more than a dozen campgrounds, and don’t worry about getting wet when hiking the Mist Trail. Traffic can be heavy in the summer; bikes come in handy when exploring Yosemite’s nearly 1,200 square miles.
Located in the far north of Canada’s Manitoba province, Churchill has a population of about 900 people, but it’s the thousand or so polar bears that most visitors come to see. It’s always bear season in these parts. Guided activities like Tundra Buggy rides along trails in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area ensure protection and increase your odds of spotting a polar bear. In the summer months, the lumbering giants are also sometimes seen along shore by whale watching tours that cruise the Churchill River Estuary in search of beluga whales.
There are historical reminders in Berlin at every turn, from remnants of the Berlin Wall to the famous border crossing, Checkpoint Charlie. Street art flourishes in spots like East Side Gallery, painted on the longest surviving section of the Berlin Wall, and Graffiti Alley, a colorful dedication to the city’s talented street artists. (The alley is located next to the main entrance to the Hackescher Markt.) It’s also where you’ll find the entrance to the Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind. During World War II, he protected Jewish workers from deportation by bribing Gestapo officers, and housed a family in a hidden room behind a cupboard in his workshop.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Dana Rebmann except where noted.