Family Vacation Trends for 2013
Building homes, repairing trails and rehabilitating sick animals are some of the activities available on volunteer vacations-a category growing in popularity among family travelers with children over the age of 5. "This kind of trip gives kids unforgettable experiences and gives parents a sense of being good role models," says Aaron Smith, CEO of GoVoluntouring, which estimates that 2.5 million people volunteer globally every year.
In most cases, families cover airfare and pay a fee (anywhere from $400 to $1,800, depending on the destination and length of stay) for room and board; they spend their family vacations doing volunteer work. A number of groups now provide families with these types of experiences, including GlobeAware.org and Global Volunteers. Another good option: Volunteer Abroad Opportunities, which aggregates "voluntourism" trips from a number of organizations. The National Park Service, Sierra Club and American Hiking Society offer opportunities, too.
Farms are fun and engaging destinations for families with young kids-they're approachable yet eclectic. In addition to half- and full-day interactive tours of a particular property, a growing number of farms offer overnight accommodations from which families can work the land or interact with animals.
One popular spot for overnight farm stays is Full House Farm in Sebastopol, Calif. Here, overnight guests have access to the property's organic gardens and receive eggs from the farm's chicken coop. Full House guests also can choose from a number of farm tours, some of which include the opportunity to brush horses and feed goats.
Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No-it's your family, at the top of an observation wheel. These attractions are super-sized Ferris wheels, complete with enclosed and air-conditioned carriages that feel like flying luxury suites.
Two new wheels opened in 2012: one in Pensacola Beach, Fla. and the other in Seattle. On the docket for 2013 and early 2014: Las Vegas' High Roller, which, at 550 feet, will eclipse the Singapore Flyer as the biggest wheel in the world; the 500-foot-tall SkyVue, also in Las Vegas; and the 425-foot-tall Orlando Eye, in Orlando, Fla. Most of the new wheels are slated to be part of larger family-friendly entertainment centers, offering restaurants, stores and video arcades.
All-inclusive hotel packages are a great option for busy families, but in 2013, more and more families will be taking the do-it-yourself approach, planning and organizing vacations on their own. This means renting furnished homes, apartments or condos through web-based services such as AirBnB, VRBO or onefinestay.
This kind of travel offers families greater freedom and flexibility. My wife and I have learned firsthand that playing travel agent also usually helps keep costs down. Some of our strategies to save money include building daily itineraries around what's available on Groupon and leveraging discounts through membership in AAA or the North American Reciprocal Museums program. We also shop for food at local farmers' markets and prepare meals ourselves; this strategy helps make sure our two little picky eaters eat well on the road.
The rise of social networking has empowered travelers of all kinds to turn to friends for advice on where to go and what to see. For family travelers, "friendsourcing" means apps that facilitate knowledge-sharing among parents with similar vacationing philosophies and styles.
Traverie, a fun app that debuted in November 2012, pulls information from friends' Facebook pages to create magazine-style synopses that enable parents to divine how family-friendly certain destinations are. Another popular app, Trippy, helps create detailed travel itineraries using Facebook to cull advice from fellow moms and dads who have been with their kids where you hope to go. Still more apps worth investigating: JetPac and Wenzani.
Sadly, not all of the family-related travel trends for 2013 are positive: A growing number of kid-free policies is one I wish I didn't have to report. The reality, however, is that Malaysia Air and AirAsia made headlines this past year for designating kid-free sections on some of their planes.
While domestic airlines have shied away from embracing this trend publicly, several have enacted fees for certain seats or advance seat assignment, a move that some families have seen as a direct attack. Bottom line: Be sure to investigate your prospective airline's policies before you book.
Matt Villano, the father of two young girls, writes the family travel blog for Parenting.com, and has covered travel in general for more than a decade.