Families are searching for more ways to be together, for more ways to make up for the shrinking time they have together on a daily basis. This search for being and spending time together is how it usually starts: the wonderful art of exploring the world together as a family.
Enter technology. Technology has allowed people living almost anywhere to be introduced to different places and different people. ‘Different’ does not seem so strange and foreboding anymore; experiencing something ‘different’ no longer seems like it would be an overwhelming thing to do with children. Rather, ‘different’ now seems inviting and interesting!
Combining the desire for more time together with the realisation of how varied and rich the world can be results in more families who want to explore – not just travel, but really explore the world. And as more families explore the world, more families must explore the world.
Bring on families!
It’s a great time to be exploring as a family – providers around the world are incredibly creative and offer some wonderful, really meaningful experiences for kids as well as for adults. In fact, exploring with kids along has much in common with exploring with only adults; but it’s true that adding kids to the mix does add some interesting hurdles to overcome… So, here are a few of the challenges we’ve come across, along with some ways to get around them.
WHO LIKES TO DO WHAT?
With families you suddenly have to play to the interests of parents and their children – and these interests can often be totally different. Then add grandparents… Now there are three generations, all in need of care and attention – yikes! Why in the world did we ever think this would be fun…?
Find out what a family’s interests really are. This means asking what interests each member of the family who will be exploring together. We promise you that with a little investigation you will discover a trove of wonderfully different interests among parents and especially among kids – you just need to ask! And often the interests uncovered will inspire you to be even more creative than usual.
Ask the unexpected. You can often uncover true interests by asking un-expected questions that result in really wonderful, unexpected responses. It’s much more fun to have kids and parents respond to “What do you hate doing?”, rather than to “What do you love to do?”; and it’s much more informative to ask them to imagine the topic they would choose if they were writing a book, than it is to just ask for a list of sights they would like to see. Recently we had three kids in a family all tell us that when they’re their parents’ age they’d like to be “flipping houses”. Wow, what great information to have! No-one else had mentioned anything related to this. As a result, our provider arranged for the family to explore several neighborhoods with a young architect to discuss the many possible uses of the local buildings being built or being torn down. It was a chance for the family to really get to know, in a more intimate way, the city they were visiting. We’re told the kids are still talking about this experience.
Guy Rubin with Imperial China does a most impressive job of understanding the interests of his guests. With this information he pairs guests with destinations and experiences at these destinations that are most likely to excite them and get them truly involved with China. He has moved way past suggesting experiences he and his staff “think” their guest families should have. This need to really understand his guests’ interests has led Guy to search for, arrange and create experiences all over the country that are deeper and more authentic.
GEE, WHO’S REALLY TIRED?
When working with families you might suddenly discover that the energy levels of the different generations on a trip vary quite a lot and present themselves in unexpected ways – kids and grandparents might be raring to go, while parents are totally pooped!
Don’t discount jet lag. This could be the root of many troubles! Lauren Scharf and Kim Keefe with Art of Travel recently worked with us to plan a family’s arrival in Japan so that they would be wowed by the country’s many treasures. There was so much to explore and we didn’t want anyone to miss anything! But we soon discovered that nothing was going to wow the parents until after they’d had some rest and a massage… They were so tired that they initially hated everything (and I mean everything)! When we finally addressed their jet lag head-on the parents enjoyed their spa time, the kids put their energy into exploring with a guide and being the first to make some pretty cool discoveries, and the rest of the trip was totally delightful for everyone.
Go with the flow, with creativity! For one of our families, Butterfield and Robinson was most gracious and creative, modifying their usual arrangements to allow a grandmother to travel comfortably in a van beside her husband and their grandson as the two of them biked a bit of Normandy. The parents? They didn’t leave the hotel!
BRING ON THE UNEXPECTED!
Sometimes when we approach providers about working with families they worry that all they could possibly offer the kids would be parks, hikes and visits to programmes created especially for kids. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with nature and themed programmes created especially for kids! But you’ll find that kids are interested in and open to much more, if you give them a chance.
Create the unexpected. Kids love the unexpected! We once had a wonderful artist help a teen boy look closely at the different sculptures encountered on what he thought would be a boring art tour with an eye towards deciding which of them might have potential as members of his fantasy basketball team. After some consideration, he actually selected quite a few!
Ask kids how they would rearrange things. Things like the people in a work of art, or the furniture in a room, or the buildings on a street. Put kids in charge and ask them to change things – nothing could be more fun! In the hands of a good guide, this is a very useful tool.
Annie O’Donoghue with Original Travel has created a delightful, much enjoyed scavenger hunt for the British Museum. One recent Children’s Concierge family who explored using Annie’s scavenger hunt discovered the Rosetta Stone right there at the British Museum in London. They were thrilled! Interestingly, it was actually the mother in this family who reported this experience as one of her all time favorites.
But perhaps the best advice we can offer anyone, anywhere working with kids and their parents is a very simple one: it really helps to like kids!
Having been a teacher and a school psychologist for over 30 years, Sandra Dee Hoffman now runs Children’s Concierge LLC – an education company based near Washington DC that helps families explore destinations around the world with their kids for the purpose of embellishing their education.