Where next for mind-broadening global family travel?
July 5, 2016 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Our family has taken and vastly enjoyed a couple of international trips (#1=Amsterdam/Brussels/Paris, #2=Hong Kong) during our boys' Spring Break school vacation windows, but we are really flailing and struggling to decide where to target for our next window of opportunity in late March 2017. Location(s) must alter the global perspective of 13- and 10-year-old boys! Boundary conditions: date range March 24~April 3, reasonably accessible from US west coast, safe, delicious food, can get by with English and/or limited French. Bonus points inside...

I grew up in the rural midwest US, but was fortunate enough to have my family move overseas for a year when I was 10 years old (to the fringe of the suburbs of Manchester, England in 1981). This was an invaluable experience for me, and I have since been lucky enough to travel to other locations around the world, for work and otherwise. Barring major life upheavals, our family has no plans to actually relocate overseas, so my wife and I have sought to give our kids the next best experience. AirBNB has been great for us, making us feel temporarily "part of" our destinations vs. the hotel experience. I know that sounds like their ad copy, but it rings true for us.

Things we loved during our 2013 European trip: cycling bakfiets around Vondelpark in Amsterdam, discovering the Tunfun underground playground, train travel, pannekoeken, French bakeries, Liege waffles, Tour Eiffel and Notre Dame, etc.

Things we loved in Hong Kong 2015: kids learning to navigate the MTR, wandering the streets, night markets, Din Tai Fung, noodle bars, hiking the Dragon's Back on the SE side of the island, HK Disneyland and Ocean Park.

Bonus points for our family: good beer (double bonus!!), airfare <=$1500/pp from PDX, accessible via Delta Airlines/partners, moderately outdoorsy activities available, and constant reminders that we are somewhere truly new and different in the world!
posted by rodeoclown to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Costa Rica rainforest. (The food is maybe not the selling point, but there's good food available. Actually the best Mexican meal of my life, the one that showed me that it was a serious cuisine, was in Costa Rica.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:29 AM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I see "boys 10 and 13" and instantly think of Australia, where you can immerse yourself in all kinds of weird, huge, and dangerous animals and insects. And beaches I've heard.
posted by rhizome at 11:38 AM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you don't mind a bit of cold, Iceland is a place that's easy to visit and navigate but also vastly different in a lot of ways. Reykjavik isn't too different from another city, but taking a road trip around the Ring Road or to the West Fjords can be eye opening. If you stay in guesthouses, you'll likely meet people of all ages living very rural but pleasant lives running their farms. March would also be perfect time to see the aurora. It's quiet humbling to be surrounded by so much nature.
posted by monologish at 11:45 AM on July 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Mexico City. Yeah, yeah, people dump on Mexico or only go to the beach, but they are missing out on a special place. Mexico City is a cultural center, a financial center, a government center, a place with tremendous history and fantastic food.

A plus for kids is that it sets the US into its context as part of the Americas.
posted by 26.2 at 11:47 AM on July 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

Ecuador. If you can manage it, go to at least two of the three regions: Coast, Mountains, Amazon. For the coast, the obvious (but possibly outside your price range choice) is the Galapagos. If you can't do Galapagos, I would just do mountain (Quito and Cuenca) and Amazon. The non-Galapagos coast isn't the best the country has to offer, IMO. If you can only do one, go to the mountainous region. The Galapagos is great, but if you're looking for cultural/world-view expansion, then it's a bit too tourist-y to serve the purpose, I think.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:02 PM on July 5, 2016

New Zealand is what pops in my mind.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:09 PM on July 5, 2016

Brazil fits the bill, and it has never been cheaper to travel there.
posted by lecorbeau at 12:12 PM on July 5, 2016

Thailand Thailand Thailand. It is an absolutely amazing destination in terms of being so culturally different from the US, and yet quite easy to travel around while ALSO being a great value for your dollar.

There's so much to do: ancient ruins, visiting temples kayaking/other kinds of boating, snorkeling, hiking to waterfalls, beautiful temples, huge markets to wander around in ... and the food is an adventure in and of itself, much like Hong Kong.

I went to Thailand (twice) before the advent of airbnb, but I imagine there are lots of options.

Two caveats: that time is Thailand's "summer" when it's pretty hot and dry - that has its obvious benefits, but if anyone is not great with heat it could be uncomfortable. The other thing is that's a long way to go for just a week in terms of jetlag, though if you guys did ok with Hong Kong then you'll be fine.

I would also second Mexico City, especially if you want something a little closer. Lots to do there and in the surrounding areas. I went alone and never felt unsafe.
posted by lunasol at 12:30 PM on July 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

March is a great time to experience some amazing parts of East coast Australia. I would suggest flying into Brisbane from LA, [Virgin is a Delta partner - booking this far ahead you are sure to get great deals, or keep an eye out for them in the next few months] hiring a car and driving down through rainforests and the mountain remains of old volcanoes [climb Mount Warning!], maybe rent a place in Mullumbimby and experience the hippy culture, fresh food, local types, family friendly markets, the ocean waves and beachside walks of Byron Bay. I once rented a place called Bliss Cottage in Byron and there were brush turkeys running around the yard, a bit of bush between us and the ocean for easy morning walks to the town centre. The surfing is great, something fun for everyone to learn and practise - especially along the beautiful beaches of Broken Head etc.

The Gold Coast has a bunch of glitzy attractions which I avoided but might be great for family fun. Brisbane has a great cultural centre and is fun to explore.
posted by honey-barbara at 12:33 PM on July 5, 2016

I loved traveling with my family in Ireland, Peru, South Africa, and Russia. In all these places, we mostly traveled on our own, and did some amount of exploring if not full-out hiking.

Ireland: maybe the weather will be too similar to Portland, but it's charming and historic, with ancient ruins and castles every which way. The food is different, the beer is great, and there's no language barrier, beyond the accent and some Irish signs.

Peru: you can get by in most places with English (my brother and I were really tempted by the sign in English for a room for rent in Cuzco) and patching together Spanish from French, and you can hire a guide for a relatively reasonable price. It's a diverse country with fantastic food.

South Africa: A-OK with English, good food, diverse country, from cities with literal layers of history to plenty of places to explore and adventure.

Russia: English is common enough, but again you could benefit from a local tour guide, though you can get around here easily enough on your own if you do some pre-planning to understand common road and guidance signs. I'd suggest St. Petersburg and the like over Moscow, unless you want to see both for the sake of comparison (beautiful, historic vs. bleak, modern big city).

I can ramble on with personal experiences in any of the above.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:45 PM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Iceland is a great suggestion. But if 10 days there seems too long, consider IcelandAir's stopover program that lets you stay there up to 7 days before heading off to another destination in Scandinavia or Europe. They even have Stopover Buddies to show you around. IcelandAir flies out of Portland.

But somewhere in Central or South America feels like it would be a good contrast to both of your previous trips. Brazil would be great. Lots to explore in Rio de Janeiro with maybe some day trips out.

Or, now that you're allowed to, what about heading to Cuba? Explore the beauty and decay of Havana, then contrast with some beach time. The boys are old enough that it would be a great way to incorporate a discussion of political-historical issues (whatever your own views of things is) – giving them an enrichment that is a little deeper than just the cultural or geographical.
posted by Kabanos at 12:50 PM on July 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

Japan! It's safe, beautiful, and very very different. You could hike the old post trail from Magome to Tsumago (an afternoon's easy walk) or hike Mt. Fuji (I definitely saw older kids and teens hiking; anyone in moderately good shape can manage). Tons of great food. Lots of tradition, lots of cool new tech, Studio Ghibli, ninja museums, onsen...Easy to navigate in English. Stay in a ryokan, a capsule hotel, a manga cafe, take the night bus and Shinkansen...

I'm from CA and live in Sydney and frankly, don't find it that "different".

I also really loved Italy, but was there quite some time ago now.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:32 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd go with Croatia - its got crazy beautiful and unusual landscapes (Plitvice is stunning!!), really sweet people, and Roman stuff scattered around. and isnt the biggest tourist trap, either
posted by speakeasy at 3:03 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Namibia. Plane tickets are expensive, but you would be able to camp for parts of it. In Etosha national park, there are affordable government lodges within the park itself, and you can do self drive safari tours. Just awesome African country with landscapes out of this world. Safe and a lot of people speak English.

My travel "qualifications": based in London, have also lived for several years in Southeast Asia and the Northeast US, traveled extensively in Europe (west and east), Japan, China, North Africa. Namibia has been my favour destination so far
posted by moiraine at 3:26 PM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

With three boys (currently 6, 7 & 10) the places we've enjoyed most – Peru (Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca), Brazilian Amazon (Manaus then lodge upriver in the jungle), and Costa Rica (Arenal, Pacific Coast). Or skiing, always skiing.
posted by zeikka at 3:40 PM on July 5, 2016

Is your family sporty at all? Slickrock Resort in Belize has tours where you spend part of the time doing mainland jungle/eco tour type trips (Mayan ruins, cave tubing, wildlife spotting at an eco resort), and the second part on a barrier reef island learning sporty activities like kayak surfing (the boys will loooooove it), wind surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, marine ecology, and a good bit about conservation (wind turbines, composting, that sort of thing). You can also do kite surfing and scuba diving, which cost a little extra. It's all inclusive, including beer (but, it's Belikin beer, so ymmv on that!).

I don't work there, but I really loved my 2 weeks on the island.
posted by bluesky78987 at 3:54 PM on July 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding jrobin276 on Japan as a good pick. In addition to what they mentioned, there are tons of other asks here about Japan travel that are full of ideas. And, bonus points for the ridiculous explosion of good craft beer in Japan these days.

Indonesia is one of my favorite travel destinations and covers most of what you want (except the good beer). Jogjyakarta is full of history, culture, the arts and music. Nearby world heritage sites Borobudur and Prambanan give you some epic Buddhist and Hindu religious architecture to round out the Islam practiced in Java. Mountain hikes, beaches, etc. a short hop away on Bali or Lombok. Cheap and easy to get around.
posted by Gotanda at 4:59 PM on July 5, 2016

If you want to completely blow everyone's mind and basically go to another planet, just take the plunge and go to India.
posted by jasondigitized at 7:20 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was going to say India, too. Would be memories for a lifetime. Safe, cheap, good with English, and oh so different.
posted by AwkwardPause at 8:24 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am not sure about airfares, but Oman might fit the bill. I did a hiking trip in Oman and was very impressed with the friendliness of the people, the feeling of safety and the amazing outdoor activities. In Oman you can do a combination of hiking (not for nothing is Oman called the Grand Canyon of the Middle East), rafting, canyoning, visiting Omani cities. Muscat itself has a variety of boat tours, and there are a number of resort-type hotels at pretty reasonable prices for when you might just want a little R&R with the kids. With all the global fearmongering about Islam going on at the moment, it might help balance the perspective.
posted by frumiousb at 8:37 PM on July 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow--thanks so much, everyone! This was my first AskMeFi question, nine years in, and I'm really grateful for your thoughtful and experienced suggestions... hearing "I've been here, and this was my experience" from this community is infinitely more valuable to me than random web results and search-engine-optimized crapola.

There is much to unpack (and more-specifically search) here, so I'm electing to not flag one as a "best answer"--you're all winners!*

Some suggestions square with things we've vaguely considered (New Zealand, Costa Rica) and/or previous places that at least one adult (Mrs. Clown or I) has visited... and some are way outside our awareness (Belize, Namibia... and Oman wouldn't have occurred to me in a million years!) India definitely would be a spiritual boot-to-the-head, too... we are ignorant and would have to find out more about how that might play on the scale of "gee whiz" to "unforgettably heartbreaking". (My sister has been, I haven't.)

Again: thanks for your time, thoughts and replies!!

*Grand prize = heartfelt appreciation; MSRP = $0.00
posted by rodeoclown at 6:27 PM on July 6, 2016

If you want, you can go from Gee Whiz to Unforgettably Heartbreaking in one trip. We went to South Africa and Zimbabwe one summer, where the former was similar to different to our life experiences in the US, while the latter was wonderful to see, and heartbreaking to experience. For example, we bought some simple rubber sandals to go on a guided river-rafting trip, and after hiking up from the river, a young boy wanted to trade my little sister her sandals for a carved wooden animal, something that would have been sold in a shop in South Africa.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:47 AM on July 8, 2016

Response by poster: Hmmm... that is some potential serendipity there--my sister is currently doing some charity work in Zimbabwe, helping to coach entrepreneurs (in an economy on the brink of collapse!) Depending on how her experience goes, that could be a real possibility as well--thanks for that thought and story, it could be right in the center of that Venn diagram of travel/culture/activity/nature/perspective...
posted by rodeoclown at 7:19 PM on July 8, 2016

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