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Don’t Compromise on Family Travel, Adventure Awaits

Adventure Awaits Why Compromise on Family Travel
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Don’t Compromise on Family Travel

Kirstie Profile SmallWhen was the last time you booked a holiday right out of your comfort zone? Was it BC? Before Children? All parents can count the ways kids raise the stakes when it comes to holiday choices and many of us choose familiar places and routines to lessen the impact of letting our toddlers or teens loose in the world. But in this post, brought to you in association with American Express®, we say there’s another way; embrace kids and adventure and you might find your comfort zone is bigger than you think. Adventure awaits… 

Riding Camels in Dubai Desert Safari

Riding Camels in Dubai Desert Safari

Family travel beyond the comfort zone

Some parents (even Mums and Dads who were adventurous pre-kids) use their infant’s bucket and spade to dig themselves deep into their comfort zone. And some even add a moat around it for good measure. Just in case the tide tries to wash away the sand. And they find themselves on that same spot on that same beach for life but missing out on new places and adventures.

It’s more common than you might think. New research* by American Express has found that parents are discounting holiday opportunities due to concerns about catering for all ages and suggests 89 per cent of UK parents surveyed are replicating tried and tested holidays rather than opting for new travel experiences. A staggering 89 per cent. That means your friends, your families, or perhaps even you. Yes you, you adventurous open minded person. I’m not talking about super nervous parents, even us adventurous minded types can be tempted into choosing the easiest option.

Researchers questioned 2,000 UK parents about their habits and almost three quarters (72%) of those surveyed admitted they would likely be going on a different holiday this Easter if they didn’t have children. Roughly a third (37%) surveyed also revealed that they no longer feel able to enjoy relaxing meals at their preferred restaurant when on holiday with their children while a quarter (24%) surveyed no longer feel able to explore the local cultural sites.

Landscape of Family Travel and Adventure Choices

There are more family travel and adventure choices than you might think

Are you compromising on family travel?

I can understand why parents may be more reluctant to try new experiences than BC. Going to tried and tested places where it feels easy and safe and familiar is less hassle and requires less energy. You are on holiday after all. But I believe it is less fun. Because new experiences and places help you grow as a family, they bond you and shape you together and create amazing memories. I should know, I’ve spent 15 years deliberately choosing new experiences with mine.

Playing on the beach on Stewart Island, New Zealand

Exploring Stewart Island, New Zealand when the kids were toddlers

An Olympian adventure in the Baltics

To show families they needn’t compromise on the destination and type of holiday they choose, American Express has teamed up with Olympian, family man and adventurer James Cracknell. He travelled between Helsinki and Tallinn with his wife and three young children. The Cracknell gang’s challenge was to remind people they can enjoy adventure and one off experiences even when the babies have started to land in their laps. Here they are on their mini adventure.

Our adventure in the Baltics

We also travelled in the Baltics with our three kids. We did it by bike when they were 4, 8 and 9. And it was one of the best adventures of our lives. As we weren’t sure Baltic roads and small kids were the perfect match, we tackled it on a tandem and triplet. Like this.

Moving beyond the comfort zone

The three Baltic countries we chose (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) were definitely on the edge of our comfort zone. Finding accommodation in rural Latvia at the end of each day was like attempting a cryptic crossword in another language. The clues were all there, but it took a little time and energy to solve them. In the end we rested our heads in an assortment of buildings including a music school, a former secret nuclear bunker and the grounds of an old sanatorium.

We enjoyed role play in a former prison with an engaging pretend Commander and had a rollercoaster education in both stark and elegant soviet influenced architecture. We were welcomed into small villages by dogs and kids and rode out with horse-flies and butterflies on our tails. The beaches of Lithuania were beacons of joy as families partied through the summer whilst the deserted tracks of the extraordinary Curonian Spit were alight with tiny flowers. And Estonia was a teen paradise of free and widespread Wi-Fi, delicious and affordable food and coastal rhythms dictated by the tide that gave a new energy to our rotating feet.

In short we had a blast. It wasn’t as easy as lying on a beach but it was much more enriching. I have often found that when we are thrown into a new place where everyone feels out of their depth, all family members rise to the challenge. You become more than a family, you become a family team.

Lake Otepaa Estonia

Taking a break at Lake Otepaa, Estonia

Breaking out of the comfort zone

Of course we’re not suggesting you cycle across the Baltics with your kids. You’d need to be mad to do that. But if you are interested in venturing further with your family but not sure where to start, here’s some suggestions we found helped us turn holidays into adventures without breaking the bank, the kids or our sanity.

1 Thing big, start small, build skills

Think big, start small and build your travel skills and confidence one step at a time. The travel deep end can be great fun but maybe not be the place to start if you’re not an experienced traveller yourself and you’ve got your hands full of kids. Start with a weekend where you don’t recognise what’s on your plate and work up to that expedition to Antarctica.

2 Stretch one muscle at a time

There are lots of ways to add challenge, interest and adventure to a holiday. By choosing a place with a very different climate or culture or language. By visiting a different continent or environment, staying in the mountains, deserts or crazy cities instead of beachside. By choosing to travel in a different way – by train, tuk-tuk or tandem instead of car or plane. By doing activities you’ve never done before. But be careful not to add too much adventure by doing them all at once.

3 Check the risks

It’s easy to overestimate and underestimate the risks of travel into personal unknowns and the best way to counteract that is with good, authoritative information. Read up on your destination and the activities you have in mind. Don’t believe everything you read in the sensationalist media. Consult authoritative FCO travel advice. Read up on health risks and the precautions you can take. Research travel and activity providers and ask them questions. Speak to friends who have been there and done that. Chat with travellers in travel forums about their experience. Ask questions. And  then make your mind up. Your perceptions of risk will change as your travel experience grows and as your kids do too.

Cycling on Scilly. On the rocks at Old Town Bay, St Mary's

Family cycling on Isles of Scilly

4 Have back up plans

I’m not a great believer in Murphy’s law (if it can go wrong it probably will) but I do think it’s worth investing some time and money in escape plans. So get yourself good health and travel insurance so you know that if something does go wrong you have confidence you are covered. Check and double check that the insurance covers you and the kids both for the places you are going and the activities you have in mind. We have been surprised to find some policies can exclude cover for things as simple as cycling so it’s important to check the small print especially if you are planning on activities which insurers may perceive as being risky.

5 Get expert help where you need it

Get help. Sometimes a guide on the ground is worth a thousand guidebooks or forums on your phone. One way of managing risks you are unfamiliar or unsure of is to let others manage them for you. There are many great adventure holiday companies, activity providers and independent guides who have the skills, knowledge and experience to enable you to visit the most amazing places and do the most incredible things safely by organising them for you or accompanying you on them. Of course there is a cost to this but in can be worth for peace of mind and for the skills and experience you can gain. Do check credentials and experience before handing over your money though.

Bike Touring in Tallinn

Our arrival in Tallinn, after 1000 miles of cycling across Europe

Adventure awaits

Family holidays are precious times. The memories we make in them can last a lifetime, for parents and kids. So why not make some incredible new ones this year? Adventure awaits. She’s calling. Are you listening?

Canoeing with Toddlers in Sweden

Canoeing with toddlers in Sweden

Further information from American Express

Have family, will travel

American Express helps smooth the path for family holidays. A family holiday needn’t be a compromise – long haul, multi-destination or city trips can all be manageable and fulfilling options for every age group.  For help with making your choice, check out our mini travel guides to Long Haul Destinations, A to B Family Adventures and Emerging City Breaks, which have been designed to help you to get even more out of your trip, whoever you are travelling with and wherever it is that you’re going.

What’s more, if you’re an American Express Cardmember you have access to:

  • Over-the-phone advice to get connected with an approved English speaking doctor or lawyer almost anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, with Global Assist® [1]
  • Discounts or complimentary wine or treats when dining at any of 400 specially selected restaurants – each one has been specially handpicked by locals [2]
  • The opportunity to redeem Membership Rewards® points on eligible car hire with Europcar, Hertz and Sixt [3]

For family travel tips and to find out how American Express could help you on your way, visit

[1] Exclusions apply. American Express Services Europe Ltd. Part of our Global Assist Service. Not available with the Costco TrueEarnings Card or Harrods Card.
[2] Terms and Conditions apply. More information and full Terms and Conditions can be found at
[3] Only applicable to Cards enrolled in the Membership Rewards program. Terms and Conditions of Membership Rewards apply and can be found at Points are not earned on American Express Travellers Cheques, Foreign Exchange and other Account Charges including Membership Rewards fees and annual Card fees.

Family Adventure Project Team Cycling in Japan on Shimanami Kaid

Family cycling in Japan

Disclosure Statement: This post is brought to you in association with American Express who provided the research and product information to share with you. The opinion and experience of adventuring around the Baltics on a triplet pulling a trailer was all entirely our own. After all, who else would?

Research Footnote: *Research by American Express from 4 March to 8 March 2016 of a survey size of 2000 parents with children aged from 0 – 18 years of age.

Promoter: American Express Services Europe Limited has its registered office at Belgrave House, 76 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9AX, United Kingdom. It is registered in England and Wales with Company Number 1833139 and authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • Great post. I was never super into “adventure” travel (I’ve dove in the Great Barrier Reef, hiked a glacier in New Zealand, parasailed in Fiji, so I’m not immune but just not too out there). I think if you can trial out camping with a little one, that’s a good start to getting more adventurous/out of your comfort zone with littles.

  • Love this. Great post. We started our easy with the kids but are getting more and more adventurous. We are better parents when traveling and definitely starting to push everyone out of their comfort zones! Thanks for the read 🙂

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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