Tell us about our next three vacations!
July 31, 2012 1:54 PM   Subscribe

You can take three trips. Where do you go?

My wife and I want to have kids in a couple of years, and we're trying to decide where we want to go visit before we give up (fancy, travel heavy) vacations for a little while.

Budget is somewhat of a concern, but more so is time - I want to minimize unpaid time off. Assume each trip will be about a week long. That can be stretched a little if it will really make or break the trip.

I have been to several Eastern European countries and Greece. My wife has been on a cruise to the Caribbean. That is the extent of our international travel. We are open to awesome locations both here (in the US) and abroad.

We like beautiful natural locations and history and relaxing. We don't need it to be totally white-washed and sterile and luxurious, but aren't up for really roughing it either. Examples we're considering: roadtrip around some southwestern/western US national parks, eco spa in Costa Rica, tour of castles and countryside in the UK/Scotland.

So where would you go? What are must-sees? Things that are best done by childless people?

Thank you for your suggestions!
posted by ohsnapdragon to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
My list is:
- Russia
- China
- Israel
posted by DWRoelands at 1:55 PM on July 31, 2012

Biking around Scandinavia and the Benelux countries may be a little too white-washed for your tastes, but damn if it isn't hella fun.
posted by griphus at 1:57 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely do one of your three trips to South America! I've done Ecuador/Galapagos (1 week for each) and Costa Rica and both were fantastic.
posted by yellowbinder at 2:00 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Probably NZ and Australia, because of the long flight alone. How time zone changes affect a kid are difficult to predict. I have two kids and have done a lot of traveling before and after them. It is different after, but curiosity and an ability to roll with the punches should always be the first things you pack.
posted by cocoagirl at 2:05 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Iceland, Switzerland, Hawaii.
posted by PaulaSchultz at 2:11 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Focus on the relaxing aspect, and decide which of the locations would best promote that. I travel a lot with my child - just had to have his passport renewed at age 9 - and he's up for anything...but the one thing our trips are not, is relaxing. I wish I'd fit in a few more lounge-on-the-beach-type trips in before he was born.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:12 PM on July 31, 2012

My personal A-#1 dream trip would be Antarctica, but that blows both your budget and time concerns, as it's usually 10-14 days and can easily run $20-25K for a couple.
posted by easily confused at 2:12 PM on July 31, 2012

Best answer: Go and see the Norwegian fjords near Bergen. They blew me away completely - majestic, overawing, natural perfection would be understatements. I don't have words for how breathtaking they are.

Go to the Cinqe Terre region of Italy (ridiculously gorgeous), and if you haven't already, the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, which are my personal next stop.

Other things on my list are the Lai Krathong festival in Thailand and visiting the sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica.
posted by everydayanewday at 2:26 PM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you're up for France, take 10 days and go from Paris to Dijon to Nice/Cote D'Azure. Get a Francerail pass and it's pretty affordable. I'd go in the autumn, it's cool, the tourists are fewer and rates are better.

Do a California road trip. Start in LA, go up 101, hit Solvang/Buelton and eat pea soup and look at windmills, check out the old mission. Stop at San Luis Obisbo and stay at the Madonna Inn, it's pink on the outside and every single room has a different theme. Hit Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero for Cioppino and Olallieberry Pie (a dump that won the James Beard award!) Go to Santa Cruz, play in the ocean, walk around the funky downtown, ride the rides at the boardwalk. Castroville for fried artichokes! Then onto San Francisco. Have a meal at Woey Loy Goey. This was our Honeymoon Trip and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Check out the Great Smoky Mountains. Go to Gatlinburg. Stay in a Cabin or at the Holiday Inn Vacation Club, a time-share that's dirt cheap and wonderful. For days when you're wanting to check out the great outdoors, the Smoky Mountain park is rightthere. Hike, check out old frontier settlements, picnic, pet horses. If you're in the mood for funnel cake and thrill rides, Dollywood. (C'mon, you know you want to go at least once in your life.) Or just relax by the pool. It's all good.

Have a great time!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:30 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Considering your time and budgetary constraints. I'd aim for ten days in Italy, a week in California, and five or six days lazing about at the scenic, relaxing destination of your choice. I'd love to go to Asia, personally, but considering the cost of travel, the long flight, and the inevitable jet lag, I'd think you'd need at least two weeks to make it worthwhile.
posted by breakin' the law at 2:45 PM on July 31, 2012

Wow, I totally agree with New Zealand, because otherwise you're unlikely to get there until a long time from now. However, as noted, this trip requires 2 weeks. Going for one week from the USA is not worth it.

Given your various constraints I would probably go with Costa Rica, Italy, and then either Ecuador or Ghana. I think those are some of the best locations in each region of the world that are reasonably reachable from where you are.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:59 PM on July 31, 2012

posted by elizardbits at 3:00 PM on July 31, 2012

New York City!
posted by raisingsand at 3:27 PM on July 31, 2012

Italy, Thailand, Turkey.
posted by toerinishuman at 3:38 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

My preferences are the Lake District UK, SW Ireland, SW France, Tuscany and NW USA. I think the destinations are manageable in a week or ten days. I also think when and how you do your trip is equally important--Avoid the high/peak seasons, Bank Holiday weekends and pick a central location where day trips will meet your needs. Enjoy and explore where you are rather than continually be moving and planning for the next destination. have a wonderful time(s). I would definitely avoid Europe during high/peak season, you maybe forced into that period when you have children--avoid it while you can
posted by rmhsinc at 3:47 PM on July 31, 2012

Hike the length of Hadrian's Wall.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 3:55 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Ring of Kerry in the Republic of Ireland is really beautiful and Giant's Causeway up in Northern Ireland is quite breathtaking. There's also no shortage of history on the island if you'd like to visit a castle or two.
posted by ODiV at 4:05 PM on July 31, 2012

Ruthless Bunny nailed it-- I had one of the most pleasant vacations of my lifetime in Knoxville and Pigeon Forge, TN. In Pigeon Forge, we drove past the road that ends in Dollywood (without realizing) every time we headed to our cabin which, as close as it was to a few other places, was also invisible from close by. The Smokey Mountains are astonishing, the passage through them is a wonderful drive, and you can even hike a bit of Appalachian Trail on the state border mid-park (TN/SC). In all honesty, though, pick a week when the UT Volunteers are playing "away" the weekend you go, if you go in the fall. It'll be easier to get a cabin that way. You might've heard that religion is big in the Southeast. That's all true, but if football weren't religion, it would be bigger than religion.

Other North American vacations: I'd like to follow Lewis & Clark through Montana. If possible, starting in Philadelphia, as Meriwhether Lewis did.

I want to cruise up the Georgia Strait (okay, that's Canada-- between Vancouver Island and continental British Columbia), perhaps up to Alaska. Alternately, the Canadian and American San Juan Islands are fan-frikken-tastic places to take life at your chose pace.

I'd love to visit the many islands of Atlantic Canada, and maybe even the Labrador coast (summer only, plz)-- The Maritimes, Prince Edward Is., Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia all. There may be more that I don't know about, but that's why I want to visit. Apparently they do not have Payday Bars in Nova Scotia. Bring those to barter with the natives.

Also, second thread today I'm suggesting it: Take a week on a rented barge in France or England. Both countries are slashed and dashed with canals that helped industrialize the country when coal could arrive by longboat. Now you can enjoy a nice pace of life visit towns that're barely on the map, and so on.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:14 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hawaii, France, and Italy.

Or just Hawaii, Hawaii, and more Hawaii.
posted by discopolo at 4:35 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

European Alps. They are stunning.

South East Asia. A little culture shock is good for a person.

Number three is a toss up between a relaxing beach vacation or a trip to England. Having kids is stressful, so going to a beach and having a romantic week would be a nice second honeymoon. England has always been a place I've wanted to go, so that's on my list too. If there is a place you've always wanted to see, do it now.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:44 PM on July 31, 2012

Give you and your wife's existing travel, I would say:

Europe: Paris and London

SE Asia or Mororcco, because you should visit somewhere not Westernised

NZ/AUS or somewhere in South America if you can get the travel time, for scenery and beaches.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:51 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Interlaken, Switzerland--Snowy mountains, a cogwheel train, the inside of a glacier. All set to the music of softly clamoring bells, hanging around the necks of happily grazing sheep. Even James Bond couldn't resist its charm.

The Bavarian Alps. Stay away from touristy tramps through the castles lining Romantic Road, and head up to the summit of the Tegelberg instead. There's ~120 km of hiking trails, with 360 degrees of breath-catching views, even a panoramic restaurant.

The takeoff point for the cable car is definitely touristy, but still beats the crowds swarming through Fussen, and once you're at the top you're in heaven. I spent almost an entire afternoon just happily watching the paragliders jumping off into nothingness. The B&B we stayed in had, I swear, the best food in Germany, including fresh fish from the same cold mountain lakes the paragliders were soaring over. Email me for info.

The Amalfi Coast--gorgeous natural scenery from olive trees growing along the mountainsides to postcard-blue skies and sparkling seas. For history buffs, there's the ruins of Tiberius' estate on the isle of Capri, and you're not far from Pompeii, either. I would stay in Sorrento or Positano (not much to do in Positano proper but dip your toes in the Mediterranean, but it is a great starting point for a lot of day tours).
posted by misha at 4:53 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chile - It's beautiful and really inexpensive. It has an amazing array of climates and terrains.

Too many people skip Latin America and instead visit every church and castle in Europe.
posted by 26.2 at 5:43 PM on July 31, 2012

Ireland. It's easy to get to, affordable, gorgeous, and has a little something for everyone. Good hikes, amazing scenery, dramatic coastline, the best pubs I've ever been to. Fly into Dublin, rent a car, and take a week to cruise around. I'd specifically recommend Dingle. A summer washing dishes in Ireland in university was my first, and still best, travel experience.
posted by fso at 6:50 PM on July 31, 2012

Best answer: So amazingly, your three vacation examples happen to be three of our last four vacations (the fourth being a California road trip). We're the outdoorsy, natural attraction type of vacationers, and we tend to travel to places that cost under 5k for 8-9 days.

I would highly recommend them all, but of the three, Costa Rica is very much the standout as one to do without kids. This is mostly because the roads and drivers there are crazy scary. Also, Costa Rica is being heavily influenced by the vastly increased tourism, so I really feel it is worth it to go sooner rather than later (we went in 2008 and it's probably changed a lot since then).

However, if you do go to Costa Rica, do yourself a favor and get off the beaten track a little bit (the beaten track being the package deal of Arenal/Manuel Antonio). Rent a car, make your own itinerary, and stay in smaller independent lodges. You will gain so much more this way, and you will meet/interact with some great people. Costa Rica is very affordable, especially if you time it around the busy season. Don't just do the Eco spa, travel to at least two spots because the variety between the inland and the coasts is huge.

A Scotland trip and a Southwest trip are definitely doable with kids, but obviously the experiences will be different so they are both worth doing now. Scotland was the only package trip I've ever done, and I actually recommend this as a way to go if you are interested in saving money, as we flew into Edinburgh and out of Glasgow, which would have been so expensive otherwise. It was one of those drive yourself tours though, so you could choose your own itinerary. It's not like we were on the guided tour experience. Scotland was also a cool trip because most people never make it there. The people are also awesome.

The southwest trip was cool (actually, we've done two), but in some ways it's a little more expected/obvious. It was also more expensive I think. Our last trip was out of Vegas and we hiked The Wave (google it, you need a permit) and then hit up parks like Zion and Bryce etc. when you go will totally dictate your experience. Take advantage of not having kids and go in the off season when school is in session, and be sure to hike the lesser known trails through the parks. I'm glad we went but being in nature with a ton of other tourists was a definite drawback.

I am pregnant now, and the only trip left on our pre kid to do list was Iceland. Other spots that interest me are Peru and Prague. I will absolutely be repeating Scotland.
posted by smalls at 7:01 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you particularly want to see UK castles, go for Wales, which has lots, including many of the best, all quite close together. If you're doing that you might as well have a quick look at London.
posted by Segundus at 2:23 AM on August 1, 2012

Someone brought up going in the off-season, which is a really good point: you probably want to think as much, if not more, about the structure of your trip as where you actually go.

I like to do big trips abroad in the spring or fall. The prices are lower, the tourist crowds less onerous, and the weather ideal for wandering around.

Also, my favorite vacations involve a lot of time aimlessly walking around cities or driving around country roads, stopping at whatever thing happens to catch my attention, for however long I'd like. A kid would probably get cranky and bored doing this. Wherever you go, make sure you leave ample time for wandering and spontaneity.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:27 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm going to give you five that have the most beauty concentrated into the smallest area. Best bang for your (time and money) buck.

* Lauterbrunnen Valley Switzerland (same as Interlaken above) - Amazingly, stunningly beautiful. Not crowded at all when I went (September). Can be as relaxing or as much an outdoor adventure as you'd like. Go in the fall.
* Maui or Kauai, Hawaii (Oahu is busy and crowded). Kauai is the most beautiful and least crowded of the Hawaiian islands. The North Shore and Na Pali coast are jaw-droppingly beautiful. A helicopter ride will be some of the best $400 you've ever spent. Any time of year is good.
* Paris and London - not relaxing or naturally beautiful, but you get your history fix, and the cities themselves make up for any lack of natural beauty.
* San Francisco/Yosemite - Fun, funky unique city and one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
* Road trip the desert Southwest from Las Vegas to Zion, to North Rim Grand Canyon to Antelope Canyon to Monument Valley, Moab and back West to Bryce Canyon, with lots of stops in between. This doesn't qualify as relaxing, but it does include some of the most stunning vistas you'll see. Lots of Native American history to be had if you're interested.
posted by cnc at 2:33 PM on August 1, 2012

Domestic: rent a car and drive from Pensacola all along the Gulf Coast (before it's gone). Hit Port St Joe and scallop. Stop at Weeki Watchee and see the mermaids for kitsch and swim with manatees for exhilaration. Eat stone crab. Parasail if you want.

Pacific NW. Drive from San Fransisco to Seattle. Eat all the seafood, marvel at how beautiful the landscape can be.

Fly over the Great Salt Lake once to see it from the air. You will be amazed.

Non-domestic: Extend your drive of the Pacific NW to Vancouver.

The Dordogne. This place will blow your mind. The food is maybe the best in the Western tradition. Lascaux. The towns clinging to sides of cliffs. This is a truly beautiful place.

Someone else said the Cinque Terre. I think that's a pre-children trip because of the romance element (maybe you'll have a kid soon after?). I would also say northern Italy, the Lakes region.

Paris, of course. You could do Paris and the Benelux countries in one trip.
posted by syncope at 4:36 PM on August 1, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, we have a lot to think about as we now want to go, well, everywhere. Perhaps I'll remember to come back and update in a couple of years.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 1:13 PM on August 2, 2012

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