Not long ago, most families with young children planning a foreign holiday would not contemplate venturing much further afield than Spain or France, where a gite or beach resort provided a base for the whole one or two weeks. Daily trips to the seaside and occasional forays into the interior would occupy the lazy days, and nothing wrong with that. Such holidays can be great fun.
These days, however, families are becoming much more adventurous, travelling to previously unimaginable far-flung destinations with children of all ages in tow. They know that, with the right organisational knowledge behind them, such exotic family holidays can and do work out extremely well. Not only do they provide excitement, adventure and novelty, these trips are also truly educational, exposing children (and parents) to different cultures and climates, and exotic natural habitats full of strange and colourful creatures.
Those parents who worry about the inability of young children to tolerate long haul travel need not fear: children are much more adaptable than you think. Provide enough crayons, toys and games to keep them amused and the flight should go smoothly without (too many) tantrums.
From the age of five or six, children can be taught to snorkel, thereby opening up a whole new world of corals and colourful creatures. Guided nature walks on rainforest trails are an endless source of fascination, revealing species both great and small that make the forest their home. Cultural sites such as Sigiriya, the ancient rock fortress in Sri Lanka, can provide much stimulus for young minds as they climb the stairs to the summit.
Where diseases like malaria were once a serious concern, we now have children’s Malarone and highly effective vaccinations against many other pathogens.( In any case, there are wonderful long haul family destinations which are malaria-free such as South Africa and the Seychelles.) Distances have shrunk with faster aircraft and the advent of new direct flights: BA has recently introduced non-stop routes for Costa Rica and the Seychelles, two excellent choices for a family-friendly vacation.
The secret of a successful exotic family holiday is in the itinerary design. It should not be too rushed: ideally there should be at least three nights in each location, preferably more when by the sea. There should not be too many locations: three is a good number. Travelling between locations should take as little time as possible. Swimming pools in the majority of hotels are de rigeur for those with young children: they provide hours of pleasure and relief from the heat. There should be a good mix of culture, nature and marine so that there’s something for every family member to enjoy. Use wherever possible suites that can fit a family of four or more, or at least rooms must be adjacent or inter-connecting. Most importantly, the locations need to be chosen wisely – each should be attractive in its own right, but when combined into a tour, the overall experience of the tour should be greater than the sum of its parts.