After countless travels and nearly a decade of professional contribution in the adventure travel industry, this past October I finally I decided to put my travel expertise to a true test and plan a trip with my 12-year-old daughter, Gabs. Here are my best tips for traveling with children.
Other than a few side trips to Canada to visit extended family, this was Gabs’ first time out of the country. We decided on Costa Rica, which is a safe start for overseas adventure travel. It has an extremely successful tourism industry that is supported by both the local government and local people. In fact, it is a world leader in ecotourism, and proudly – and accurately – markets itself as such.
The Costa Rica government itself is incredibly stable. Since it was just my twelve-year-old daughter and myself – two crazy Montana gals doing a little mother-daughter bonding via adventure travel – I thought we’d keep it comfortable. Of course, we were also looking for great weather, sand, surf and wildlife adventures.
Costa Rica was the answer.
Ready to dive into traveling with children on your own? I highly recommend it, and here’s a little helpful advice of what worked for us.
Plan Your Itinerary Together
Armed with a bit of personal knowledge on the region and a map, Gabs and I set out to plan our itinerary together. We had 9-days to fill. The trick was to plan an itinerary that balanced both our personalities. I tend to seek out excursions to get my heart pumping, and Gabs has a true love of the water.
We made a list of a few wants, and wishes, and came up with a great trip to fit us both. We decided to split our time in Costa Rica between adventures in the region’s remote jungles – hiking, tree climbing, horseback riding, and waterfall rappels – with a number of days at the beach to enjoy at leisure, snorkeling and splashing around in the Caribbean; Gabs is part fish after all.
Our last day we combined Gabs’ love of the water with my need for adrenaline: whitewater rafting on the Pacuare.
Planning the trip together was not only a lot of fun, it also ensured that this was OUR itinerary.
Prepare for Your Trip Together
As our departure date neared, Gabs and I were on the Internet checking out our accommodations, looking at the weather, searching YouTube for great Costa Rica clips … anything we could find to grow our excitement and anticipation for our trip.
We went shopping for few of those travel necessities: bug spray, headlamps, flip-flops, Mad Libs, biodegradable soaps and all those fantastic teeny-tiny travel toiletries.
While we shopped, we did our best to limit our conversation to Spanish-speaking only to prepare for our time in Latin America, and I’ll admit, these shopping trips were fairly quiet. Both Gabs and I could work on our Spanish.
We boarded the plane with a wish-list of animals we were hoping to see. Toucans topped Gabs’ list and I was dying to see some howlers. I’m happy to report we saw dozens of both. This time preparing together was a perfect prelude to our trip.
Be playful – you’ll appreciate it, and so will your child. Gabs and I had handstand contests on the beach. We climbed vines in the jungle, dodged bullet-ants and tried to see how long we could hold our breath in the ocean. Your child is not too old for playtime, and neither are you.
When it rained, we hunkered in and took out a deck of cards, made use of a rickety ping-pong table, or simple ran steadfast into the thick of the storm. Costa Rica transforms in the rain. By the end of the day, we were delightfully spent. And I don’t know about Gabs, but I never slept so well.
Let it Go
When your child pulls out her iPod to listen to Lady Gaga at the electricity-free eco-lodge set in the middle of a remote jungle reserve during the most peaceful and pristine evening you’ve probably ever experienced… let it go. And remember, you once had that same relationship with Madonna and your Walkman.
Gabs and I both came equipped with a handful of pens and a journal. Daily journaling was one of the items on our itinerary where I didn’t allow any flexibility; each night before we called it a day, was pen-to-paper time. Some nights it was nothing more than a list of wildlife we saw that afternoon.
One day I even let Gabs get away with the entry “Mom is making me write in my journal again. The day was fun. I am tired. Good-night.” This was then followed with a series of doodles of a roller-skating iguana. They are hilarious. And to be honest, a few of my entries were equally uninspired. In the months following our trip, we’ve taken the time to flip back through our Costa Rica journals and relive a few of our favorite moments – roller-skating iguanas and all.
Pictures are wonderful, and may be worth a 1,000 words — both Gabs and I took hundreds of shots –- but they don’t capture all the details. Like how coconut milk straight out of the shell tastes. How much it tickles to have a banana spider crawl up your arm. How loud a howler monkey roars at sunrise. Not to mention, the journal earned Gabs a little extra credit with her Social Studies teacher.
Traveling With Children
Yes, we give them a hard time. But the truth is our Costa Rica trip was a true joy and a huge part of its success had to do with my excellent travel-mate. It was thrilling to explore Costa Rica with her – watch her try new foods, meet new people, and find comfort outside of her comfort-zone.
I would love to take Gabs on another mother-daughter adventure. That is, if she’ll have me.
Beth Conway is the Marketing Director at Adventure Life; an award-winning adventure travel operator that specializes in Latin America and expedition voyages around the world. Beth’s travels have taken her from the glaciers of Alaska to the icebergs of Antarctica,with more than a few stops in between.
Life experiences and countless travels make her a specialist in adventure travel in the Americas, while her three kids require she knows a thing or two about family travel. Next on her horizon is a sea-kayaking trip through the remote Amazon basin.