THE BLOG

Dilemma 2016: Where to take your family vacation

06/03/2016 03:44pm ET | Updated June 3, 2017
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I don't know about you, but in our family the idea of NOT taking a summer vacation is not an option. We all want and need that time together. To give it up (or default to something resort-style for our marquee vacation of the year) just doesn't feel right. Of course, understandably there are questions this year about the where and how of travel. I'm having a ton of conversations with parents and grandparents who want to go with their impulse to create great travel experiences for their families...but also want to play it smart. Here are some of inquiries I'm getting most frequently and my honest answers to them.

Is it safe to take my family outside the U.S.?
You bet. Even if headlines in Europe leave you feeling iffy about heading that direction, there are plenty of other family-friendly non-U.S. destinations where you'll feel perfectly comfortable and have a fantastic time. In Central America, think Costa Rica, Panama, Belize and Guatemala. Peru and the Galápagos are once-in-a-lifetime South American destinations that are extra popular this summer. Demand is also extremely high in Iceland right now. If you have time for a longer family vacation, we love Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as well as New Zealand's South Island. Any of these places give you the satisfaction of ditching the everyday in very friendly territory.

If I'm not comfortable leaving North America, does that make me a chicken?
No way. If that's your feeling, you have plenty of good company. Frankly, I'm happy to hear that question because I believe that experienced travelers overlook the U.S. and Canada too often. Apart from any reticence you may be feeling, the fact is that closer-to-home trips make good common sense for families. You can pull one of these vacations in a week or less--not a small achievement when it's so hard to find an opening on everybody's calendars. This summer is the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service. It's a fantastic time to get to Glacier in Montana or to go exploring in Bryce, Zion and Grand Canyon. Canada makes just as much logistical sense. A week with the family in Nova Scotia or the Canadian Rockies will leave you feeling like you've traveled a lot farther than you really have.

How can I try out a new destination without making myself nuts?
All of the destinations I've mentioned are popular with travelers and have terrific tourist infrastructures. You can add about 25 extra layers of peace of mind if you work with an established tour operator like my company, Classic Journeys. We put together what we call multi-sport trips specifically for the family market. A trip includes multiple guides--one for adults, another for younger travelers. We handle every ounce of the logistics and book terrific hotels that make sense for multi-generational groups. And we build in a nearly endless array of activities that can range from zip lining to mountain biking and sheep herding, depending on the destination. None of those activities entails any extra cost. (If you've ever been burned by a cruise or other trip that tacks on another fee every time you try something new, you know what an advantage our all-included philosophy has.)

Or should I just keep my family at home this year?
Only you can answer that, but here is the advice I give to the many potential travelers I talk to all of the time: Think about how fast your family is growing and changing. Remember how much you treasure the experiences you all share. Ask yourself how few chances you all have to be together and how much closer you feel long after you come back home and unpack your suitcases. If you react to those thoughts the way I imagine you will, you'll conclude that you don't want to be robbed of your family vacation. By all means, keep it simpler than you might have otherwise. Stay closer to home if that's what feels right. To me, a family vacation is a necessary luxury. Someday it may not be possible anymore, but while it is, nothing makes me happier!