The Afar Guide to
Family Travel

The Best Form of Education

Travel is the best form of education: we stand by that statement. Giving children the opportunity to experience the world firsthand—particularly at a young age—will provide them with a foundation of understanding and learning that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. After all, if a formal education is meant to enable children to successfully navigate the world around them, nothing does this better than travel. Exploring with children presents parents with not only the opportunity to spend valuable time together as a family. It will open up the world to your kids in more ways than they could ever imagine.

Sand, Surf, and Sunshine
A beach vacation can be as transformational as it is recreational. Besides the timeless joys of waves and sand castles, many banner beaches offer opportunities to paddle, people watch, and view coastal critters in their natural habitat.
Where the Wild Things Are
Kids of all ages love animals. Zoos and aquariums are great, of course, but once the family is ready for more, here's where to spot the colorful birds of Costa Rica and the large beasts of Africa. Get ready, get set... now go out and find 'em!
10 Questions to Ask Before Booking Your Next Family Trip
Instead of focusing solely on the usual bucket-list destinations, consider which places and activities might benefit your kids and enrich their lives. Here are a few questions I ask myself when evaluating trip ideas.
What kind of trip will bring the family closer together? Given our busy work and school schedules, try to make it a priority to spend vacations in each other’s company. The hotel kids' clubs might be a nice reprieve for parents of preschoolers, but when the children get older, allow them to help plan your holidays. It’s one way to ensure they’ll be excited to spend time with you.
Which destinations will strengthen our connections to wildlife and nature? Love for animals is a common denominator among kids the world over. Going to a zoo or aquarium is a great start, and you can take it even further by hiking in a state or national park, exploring a rain forest, or snorkeling in the Caribbean.
What activities will spark their curiosity? Travel is a great way to release a child’s natural sense of curiosity. Sometimes it’s as simple as trying new foods. You might not think your child will like sushi, love astronomy, or want to see a musical—but they’ll never know unless you let them try.
Where can we expose our kids to new cultures and perspectives? Travel is the gateway to understanding the world—and all that’s in it. Just remember that gaining new insights and appreciation for different cultures doesn’t necessarily require leaving the country. Want to learn a little about Chinese traditions? Head to a Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown.
Where can we learn new life skills? Surfing in Hawaii. Horseback riding in the American West. Making origami art in Japan. Taking pictures of elephants in Kenya. Family vacations are a great way to try new things, and you never know what might spark an interest in a new hobby.
What activities will enhance the kids’ education? Before you finalize plans for your next family vacation, take a look at your child’s curriculum for some trip ideas. Will they be taking American history? Learning about volcanoes in science class? Studying Greek mythology? How about a language course? Not only will your trip be more interesting for the kids, it will reinforce what they’re learning in school.
How can the trip promote self-discovery? Traveling can be just as much an inward journey as an external one. Sometimes traveling allows children to explore their interests with peer pressure. Perhaps they’ll learn new forms of self-expression or become more self-confident. Kids (and their parents) can also learn a lot about themselves by visiting a house of worship different from their own.
Will we meet new people? Chances are, when you travel as a family you’ll cross paths with like-minded people who enjoy the same places and activities as you do. So don’t be surprised if you return from your next family vacation with lasting friendships with some of the people you met while traveling.
Is the itinerary/destination safe? Don’t feel comfortable planning everything yourself and making your own arrangements? Not sure if a place is child-friendly? Tour operators are a great way to ensure everything is safe, and handled for you. And remember that everyone has their own threshold, so make sure to respect it.
Will the kids have fun? Warning: The term "family friendly" can be limiting. If you’re planning a holiday that includes children, do you consider only the options that are kid appropriate? Conversely, if you’re on a trip sans little ones, do you instinctively avoid doing anything with this label? The truth is, unless you absolutely refuse to be in the company of anyone under the age of 18, family-friendly activities can be the highlight of anyone’s vacation, whether you have children or not.
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Rainer Jenss, Family Travel Curator

Before putting his professional expertise and personal passion to the test to travel around the world for a year with his family, Rainer Jenss was a vice president and thirteen-year veteran of the National Geographic Society. During the yearlong journey, Rainer reported for National Geographic Traveler's award-winning Intelligent Travel Blog, posting a weekly column about the experience. This “Jenss Family Travel Blog” was recognized as one of the Top 25 Family Travel Blogs by in 2011 and 2012.

Rainer's writing has also appeared in Global Traveler magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, The Chicago Tribune, The Hook magazine, and He is also director of Scholastic's Smart Family Travel initiative.