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How to take your family on the road

Travelling with children can bring many benefits, though relaxed and carefree parents are seldom among them.

We look at ways for everyone to enjoy a road trip en famille

“Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings.”
Hodding Carter
It’s something of a truism that travelling with children can give them vital experience of the world and broaden their horizons. But really travelling with children – rather than simply holidaying in a single destination – can seem overwhelming. Where to start?

From our experience, driving journeys are a great gateway to more adventurous family travel. Road trips are accessible and generally straightforward – load up your car and off you go. Travelling by car offers plenty of comfort and flexibility while minimising hassle.

As one father of four put it recently, six years after joining our first family-friendly journey, “Our road trip was the start of us taking more adventurous family holidays. Since then we’ve been to Sri Lanka, Ladakh and even camping in Kazakhstan as a family…” Take a family road trip, and before you know it, you too might be snowmobiling on an Icelandic glacier with your four-year old.

The following are our tips for happy family road trips:

© Sean Meng

Take your time
Pacing is key to making the trip enjoyable for all concerned. The ideal is slow enough that you don’t need to rush, fast enough to keep things fresh and interesting. Keep driving times down to a few hours each day, broken up with decent stops every 90 minutes or so, with shorter breaks as needed. Make sure to leave enough time to enjoy and explore your destination and – very importantly – leave enough time for everyone to nap and rest.

© JaQ Lai

Be selective
It pays to pick your route carefully. We run family-friendly trips in Yunnan and southern Laos (this journey is coming soon) because both offer a good range of activities, attractions and experiences in a relatively compact geographical area.

For example, on our Adventures in Yunnan journey it’s possible to visit a Tibetan monastery, play at a village kindergarten, traipse through cornfields and along cobbled streets, watch endangered monkeys munch on moss, try your hand at batik or Yunnanese cooking, watch a spectacular open-air show and visit a vast dinosaur graveyard, all on a ten-day trip.

If you can, aim for a range of driving experiences too – expressways are great for getting from A to B, but country lanes offer a much better experience of your destination and more opportunities for impromptu stops.

© Sean Meng

On-board entertainment
Classic keep-the-kids-busy game “I spy” isn’t well suited to car journeys (anything you spy will shortly be left far behind you), but there are some great alternatives that will help to keep your kids engaged in what is going on outside the car. Spot tractors (one point per tractor, two points for one that’s moving), marmots or water buffalo – or whatever you fancy. Audiobooks are also a great way to speed the passing of a long journey – or you can embrace your teen’s music taste and let them play DJ.

© Sean Meng

Bring back-up
Should you bring smartphones, tablets and laptops or leave them at home? Whatever your opinions on screen time, packing for the journey will certainly be easier if your kids can bring their devices with them. The ideal, however, was perhaps voiced by a mum who joined our family photography journey with Ron Yue:

“I didn’t think we’d need the devices, but then the children said “Can we pack this, and that and all that?”, and I did…[but the laptop and iPad] didn’t come out from the beginning to the end of the trip. No one even asked… they were so occupied, every single minute, they were happy exploring, looking at things…I was so happy!”

© JaQ Lai

© JaQ Lai

Give them a camera
You might not have a professional photographer in tow to give them tips, but it’s still fun to give your children the task of documenting your family holiday. You’ll end up with an eclectic collection of holiday snaps, to say the very least!

Most of the beautiful photographs that illustrate this article were taken by participants in our family travel photography journey.

Spin your destination
Enthuse your children about a destination (though it’s important to refrain from overselling it, unless you wish to be reminded of it for several years to come). Look for quirky stories and interesting facts about the places you visit – for example at the dinosaur graveyard we have visited in Yunnan, all the skeletons have been discovered facing the same direction – debates as to the reason for this can go on for hours.

© Sarah Li

© Sarah Li

Finally, it’s all an adventure
Things may wrong. You might get lost, find the place you’re going to closed, or get a flat tyre. No matter how thorough your travel plans, life occasionally fails to consult them. The key is to smile, accept the way things are, and see it all as part of your adventure. Convey this philosophy to your kids before and during your travels, and you will make their experience all the more enjoyable and enlightening – and help them prepare for adventures to come!

© Jane Yong

© Jane Yong

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If the above has inspired you to take your kids on the road but you like the idea of someone else doing the legwork and dealing with logistics, please take a look at our Adventures in Yunnan and Family Adventures: Travel Photography in Yunnan journeys.

These journeys have been specially designed with shorter drives, frequent breaks, several two night stays (with non-driving days in between), and an extra-wide range of fun activities.

04_Shaxi_village

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