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Family Travel

How to choose the right guided expedition for you and your kids

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Children snorkel with wild dolphins in the Red Sea.

Having grown up in an era when “vacation” meant piling in the family station wagon every summer, some of today’s parents are putting their own annual family trip in the hands of the pros to save time and expose their children to more diverse experiences. But parents aren’t completely off the hook. Here’s what you need to know.

Find an outfitter who knows kids. Families with teens will be happy on any trip as long as there are aspects of it that appeal to all members, which can be tricky. When Penny Putnam was looking for a trip that would engage her and her husband, both history buffs, and their then-13-year-old son, who “needed action,” she found a tour in Turkey with Wildland Adventures that combined snorkeling over sunken coastal ruins and visiting architectural landmarks.

Select a trip with kids the same age as yours. “Grouping kids of similar ages, combined with a new setting and some creative guidance by expert guides, is usually all it takes for a magic formula,” says Peter Grubb, who, as the founder of ROW Adventures, has brought his two children, now teenagers, on many guided trips.

Examine the itinerary. “If there are infants and small kids, consider basing yourself in one place. Children over six can handle moving from place to place and need more supervised activities with friends and siblings,” suggests Kathy Stewart, public relations and media director at Butterfield & Robinson. Children of elementary-school age enjoy trips that are specifically designed for families, the best of which strike a balance between collective activities, kid-only fun, and grown-up time.

Make planning a family affair. Get kids primed by reading books, watching movies, or even making meals that are relevant to where you’re going. And make sure everyone understands that compromise is an essential part of travel. “You can’t please everyone,” says Carol Austin of Austin-Lehman Adventures. “But by taking all things into consideration, you can get pretty close.”

Consider a private departure. Large groups, especially multigenerational families, might like the more personalized pace of a private departure. “The best companies build plenty of flexibility into every itinerary with a variety of activities for the kids and adults,” says Alison Iles, the family trips manager at Backroads.

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