The following is a guest post from Brittany Neilsen, owner and travel adviser for Elliott and Rae, a travel company that creates personalized travel experiences based on your style, interests, and needs.

Travel is a deeply rewarding experience and one of the best ways to spend our most valuable asset – our leisure time. Visiting new places, whether it’s your first time or your twentieth, is very special when you see it through the eyes of a child.

Not only that, travel is an excellent way to expose your child or grandchild to other cultures, engage their natural curiosity, bring the education they receive in the classroom to life, and in the process, create compassionate young global citizens.

The best family friendly vacations combine entertainment with cultural learning and enrichment, all while keeping parents and kids happy and engaged. Traveling with kids can involve hard work and advance planning, but the reward is sure to be worth the effort.

Here are some ideas for creating a bucket-list trip for the entire family.

1.     Choose the right destination

Age-appropriate destinations.

Kids of different ages have different needs, making traveling with an “assortment” even more interesting. For example, younger children need time for breaks and maybe even a nap, so for them, the ideal destination and itinerary allow for a mix of active and relaxing time.

However, older children and teens may need an active itinerary with a mix of options to keep them interested and entertained. They typically crave more cultural exposure, so it’s great if your itineraries give them the chance to interact with locals.

To make it easy on you, choose places that offer kid-friendly accommodation, dining and activity options. If kids are picky eaters, choose a destination that offers enough variety in kid-friendly dining options. Of course we want to encourage our young travelers to try new things, including local cuisine, but dinner-table melt downs aren’t fun for anyone, so it’s nice if the menu includes some familiar choices.

Destinations that touch on a child’s special interest or hobby

Is your child or grandchild fascinated by the knights of the round table? Consider a trip to the UK and bring King Arthur to life. Maybe you have a kid who is interested in wildlife or is a budding scientist? Think about a trip to Costa Rica or Australia. Traveling with teens? A Galapagos tour might be ideal. Want something local, how about Yellowstone National Park? Got an athlete in the family? Consider an adventure program like an active adventure cruise in Alaska, surf lessons in Hawaii, hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru or cycling through France.

The possibilities are endless, and if you’re not sure where to go, kids’ hobbies and interests can give you a terrific way to narrow overwhelming options.

2.     Invest in the planning process

Now that a destination has been chosen, it’s time to think about activities and programs. Here are some things to bear in mind:

  • Top hotels typically offer excellent kids’ programs. A beach destination might offer sand sculpture building competitions, underwater safaris, treasure hunts and more, while wildlife programs might have ranger training, field excursions or natural photography lessons.
  • Get your kids involved in the planning process! Choose an age-appropriate book for the family to read together or for kids to read independently that sets the stage for the culture and history of your destination. Hit the Internet to find videos, movies, and TV shows that provide some cultural context. Challenge kids to learn a few basic phrases in the local language – Duolingo offers a great interactive app for language learning and practice.
  • Once you’re on-site, select guides who will highlight age-appropriate topics and sites while engaging your kids in cultural conversations.
  • Museums can be tricky for short attention spans, so plan ahead to make it entertaining and relevant to kids. ThatMuse offers scavenger hunts at the Louvre Museum in Paris and a treasure hunt in the British Museum in London.
  • Consider a citywide scavenger hunt – the “Mission” book series by Catherine Aragon includes interactive missions for kids that visit top attractions in cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Rome.

3.     Keep kids occupied during travel time

Long distance travel can be tough on everyone, and you definitely don’t want to start your trip with all your travelers feeling frazzled and unhappy. Set expectations about travel time and stay positive about that time – the journey to your final destination can and should be part of the fun, so help kids see it that way.

  • Load tablets and devices with music, movies and games and encourage kids to utilize the in-flight entertainment systems on long haul flights.
  • Choose bulkhead seats if possible – this gives you more space to spread out and your kids can stand and stretch more easily during the flight.
  • Keep the family hydrated – this helps fight jet lag and keep everyone healthy and happy. (Hint: While you can’t bring full water bottles through airport security, you can bring empty bottles to fill on the other side. That can help if the in-flight service is busy and slow to get to you.)
  • Put kids to bed at their normal time once you arrive at your destination – this will help fight jet lag. It can be tough if you fly overnight and arrive in the morning, but the excitement of travel can get you a long way to bedtime.

Can traveling with kids be a challenge? You bet, but then, who isn’t a little challenging when they’re in unfamiliar territory? Give them a little guidance, a little freedom to explore, a little control over their itinerary, along with plenty of direction, and most kids make terrific travel companions. Indulge their curiosity and fire up their intrepid spirits, and they may lead you into all sorts of wonderful, unexpected adventures.

If you’ve taken a trip with kids, we’d love to hear how you managed it. Where did you go? What did you do? Let us know in the comments, or post your story on the Gennev Facebook page.  

[bonus: travel may be good for building your brain by helping you create new pathways.
Read up on neuroplasticity and menopause.]