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Fun and education don't have to be mutually exclusive while traveling abroad with kids. When choosing a vacation location, there are lots of options for parents who want to turn a family vacation into an educational experience.
Butterfield & Robinson, a luxury adventure travel company based in Toronto specializes in upscale, family-friendly biking and walking trips all around the world, from France to Burma.
Education is naturally included in all of Butterfield's luxury travel trips. "We place a high value on cultural immersion, like meeting the winemaker or the cheese guy," says Kathy Stewart, media director at Butterfield & Robinson.
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In particular Stewart recommends the Loire Valley Family Biking trip, which takes kids and parents on bikes through France's countryside, stopping at castles, abbeys and Leonardo Da Vinci's home. The parents love the trip for the luxury chateaux and great food, Stewart says, while the kids enjoy fencing lessons with a "national fencing master" and scavenger hunts through the castles. "The price of the Loire Family Trip is from $5,695 USD per person," Stewart says.
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For the more adventurous families, Stewart recommends the Galapagos Islands to watch sea lions or explore volcanic tunnels. There's also a bike trip to Morocco that tours through exotic Berber villages, and includes stops for the kids, such as donkey riding or kite surfing lessons.
Finding the right balance between fun and education is important. Butterfield's trip to Normandy offers an opportunity for kids to learn about the rich history of WWII in the morning, and then go sand sailing on the beaches in the afternoon. "We try to mix it up so it's not all educational, it's experiential," she says.
Families should tailor the trip to meet their interests, Stewart says. If it's not a private trip, make sure kids have the option of opting in or out of experiences. If it's a private trip, build in specific requests to suit individual needs. For example, Stewart says, if a child is studying French it's possible to include vocabulary lessons while visiting a French castle.
Hiring a travel guide is key. "Often people take for granted the amount of work that goes into making the perfect trip," says Dan Austin, director at Austin-Lehman Adventures, a family adventure travel company, based in Billings, Mont. With a travel guide, "all the stress is removed from that one week in our lives. Everybody - not just the kids, Mom and Dad too - are just free to be themselves and enjoy more."
The right travel guide will know an educational experience when they see one. "A good guide will take advantage of opportunities that present themselves," Austin says. For example, hikers in Yellowstone might happen upon a wolf, and a good travel guide would use that opportunity to talk about the Yellowstone habitat.
Don't forget to take group size into account. Too many in the group can make the trip seem impersonal or unwieldy. But too small a group can mean missing out on opportunities for kids to make new friends that can last a lifetime, Austin says.
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