Soft Adventure And Camping Family Vacations
Soft Adventure And Camping Family Vacations
Dorothy Jordon (Family Travel Expert) gives expert video advice on: How can I add an element of soft adventure to my family vacation?; What kind of camping trips are good for families?; What should my family consider when planning a camping trip? and more...
What is a 'soft adventure' family vacation?
An adventure vacation, whether it's soft or hard, is a vacation where you challenge yourselves - physically or mentally. It is where you do something that is out of the ordinary. A family vacation is the same thing - I actually have a book that I wrote called Great Adventure Vacations With Your Kids, and another one called Great Nature Vacations With Your Kids. The difference between the two are pretty easy to discern. Even though a lot of the same destinations and the same ideas are written in them like River Rafting on the nature trip, you're exploring the world around you with your eyes and seeing things. On the adventure trip, you are physically doing things.
What are some popular destinations for soft adventure family vacations?
You can have a soft adventure anywhere - our first rafting trip was in the west, in Idaho. Our rafting trips in the last few years have been in West Virginia. In fact, I had this bonding experience with my boys, before I sent them off to college. I took them rafting for five days - just the two of us - and it was wonderful. I have a friend who says her only adventures are culinary - so that is also an adventure. I have a friend who absolutely loves hot air ballooning. I think hot air ballooning is boring, because you're not doing anything. I like when you're doing something. I love to raft - maybe I'll be a river rat in my next life. I also like to hike. I like to do things. To me, that is what it's all about - doing things.
What is an appropriate age to take the kids on soft adventure vacations?
There is this myth that when you have a young child, you can't take an adventure vacation - that is a myth. There are resorts that were built for families to take adventure vacations, for example a place like Keystone in Colorado. They have a childrens center, but an adult can go rafting in the morning, or go play tennis, or go hiking, or go llama trekking. All of these things are available, and you can do them in what I call 'play and stay' places. If you are on a river for 5 days, it's not going to be easy to take your two year old. But there is sometimes a group that will take your two year old for the day while you raft and meet up with you after. There are lots of different things going on out there for families, but you have to decide what it is that you want. The world is changing. Let me give you a perfect example - a biking vacation. When I started writing about family bike vacations, almost every single family bike vacation was a camping vacation. I remember interviewing the head of Backroads, which is a super company, and asking him why - and he would say that the Inns and the places that they generally stay at are not appropriate for families. He subsequently became a father, and now if you look at his brochure, you have many different options for families - not just camping. For some people you know camping under the stars means how many stars the hotel has. You have to take that all into consideration.
What is a 'family camp'?
Family camp is not very different from a traditional camp. In fact, it is often held at traditional camps. They are all over the country, often run by YMCAs and by universities, and they're very much like a regular camp. You'll have activities - a nine o'clock activity, or a ten o'clock activity. Perhaps you'll have a baseball game at ten o'clock, and you'll go fishing at eleven, and then you'll have lake time where you go swimming, or perhaps you'll have some water skiing. All of the things that you would like your child to do at camp, you can choose to do either with them or without them, because they offer the opportunity for you to spend time together and time apart. Although the preponderance of them seem to be in California, they really are all over. You can call your local YMCA and ask about a family camp, or you can go online and search for family camp. The Tyler Place that I spoke of earlier has often been described as a family camp - I would describe it as upscale family camp, but there are definitely activities for the kids.
What are some popular family camps in the United States?
There are so many family camps that it's hard to remember all of them. There's a UC Berkeley that runs the Tuolumne camp, and the University of California at Santa Barbara also has a fabulous family camp. Cornell has a family camp in the east. In Missouri, there's Trout Lake YMCA Family Camp. In fact, YMCA is definitely a good source for family camps. There is also a family camp in Texas, and there's Pokano Environmental Center here in Pennsylvania. Wherever you go, there are probably family camps.
What are some popular wildlife excursions my family should visit?
There are so many wonderful places that you can go with your kids to experience wildlife - many more places are open today to families than there used to be. You now have tour operators that are taking you to the Galapagos, or as far away as Africa. But you can do things much closer to home. For example, there is Safari West outside of Sonoma, where you can actually be with the elephants. One day I stayed at the Animal Kingdom, and I woke up at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and I opened my window, and there was a giraffe! It was just fabulous. Busch Gardens also has a lot of wonderful animals that you can see. The wildlife parks have unbelieveable things. Sometimes they don't have to be something that is so contained - you can just go hiking and see animals. But you need to know what it is that you're going to see. I took my son on a cruise down the west coast of Costa Rica one year, and every morning we went hiking, and every morning we saw the most unbelievable things. We went during rainy season, which everybody says to avoid. Rainy season is the best time to go, because it doesn't really rain very much. Every once in a while when the rain ends, the birds go out and find a limb, and they spread their wings to dry themselves - it's the most fantastic thing you will ever see.
What kind of camping trips are good for families?
It depends what kind of a camper you are - if you have camped before, then you already know how to do that. I was not a camper. I wasn't raised camping, and the only time I've really gone camping is when we've gone rafting, and I absolutely love it. I can't tell you how much I really like it. Camping trips work for families, but you need to make sure that you make the reservations in advance. You need to know what is happening in today's campgrounds - you may be pitching your tent next to an RV. You want to make sure that if camping is done to get you out into the wilderness, that you make sure that your campground actually allows you to see the wilderness and not simply the concrete.
What should my family consider when planning a camping trip?
You need to plan how far you're going to go, what kind of tents you're going to have, and whether you're going to have an RV. In fact, if you do bring an RV, bring a pup tent to make sure that you let your kids sleep outside. You can sleep inside or take turns doing that. RV's are very expensive - it's something that people are not always so aware of. It's not a budget vacation to take an RV and especially with the cost of gas these days, it's something that you definitely need to consider. You definitely need to have reservations at campgrounds. Whether you're going to a national park or a state park. NPS (National Parks Service) has a reservation service online that is very easy to use. I don't know if Woodalls Directory is online - it is probably the best description of campgrounds that I have seen. Rand McNally has good campground information as well. Make sure that you book the kind of campground that you want, and there are even some campgrounds that are out in the wilderness. There are campgrounds that have full-fledged childrens programs and activities up the Kazoo. essentially, ou really need to decide what it is that you're looking for and then make your reservations - it is imperative that you do that. The bargains of the century are always in the state parks. People think that the national parks are well-priced - and they are - but the biggest bargains are in the state parks. Very often, the state parks do lotteries, where you send in your information and can get a lottery, and you can rent a cabin for as little as a hundred dollars a week.
What are some popular campgrounds for families to visit?
There are campgrounds on beaches, such as Myrtle beach, which has a lot of campgrounds. Virginia beach also has campgrounds. All over Florida, for example, actually driving all up and down the east coast you will see lots of different campgrounds. There are also campgrounds inland - you could go to Branson Missourri and camp, so you don't necessarily have to stay at a hotel. Wherever you go you can camp. If you go to Europe, there is free camping. You can camp on a persons lawn in lots of countries, and they can't make you leave.
What is the best way to make camping reservations?
Camping reservations are fairly easy, because if you're going to a national park, you can make them online. You can often make the reservations at major campgrounds like KOA of America. Campgrounds of America has a website where you can make them there. In fact, if you use the same campground operator - some of them are nationwide - you can often make them all at the same time. You can also make changes from one place to another while you are there. But it is imperative to make the reservations, and not to just talk about it.