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All aboard… getting kids on board with travel plans

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Written by Kirstie Pelling

All aboard… getting kids on board with travel plans

Kirstie Profile SmallHave you ever tried to take a tween or teen on a day out they haven’t bought into? Uphill battle or what? If you are a savvy parent you’ll know it helps to get them involved and make sure their needs are addressed as well as yours. In this post, brought to you in association with Parkdean Holidays, we  highlight a new guide that aims to give a kids’ take on boredom-busting destinations and offer up some of our own tips on ways to get the kids on board when planning a day out, a family holiday or a trip of a lifetime. 

1 Use a guide you can believe in

I trust the opinion of guidebook writers, travel writers and experienced travellers above those of my mother and often turn to them when looking for travel inspiration for our next family trip. There is no shortage of travel inspiration these days, whether on TV, radio, in the weekend newspapers or on the thousands of websites and blogs that serve up travel stories. But the vast majority of these are written by adults for adults and miss one vital thing; a kids perspective.

Yet only kids really know what kids really want, which is why a new guide from Parkdean Holidays caught my eye. Their new online publication ‘The UK Our Way 2014’  is a guide to the best boredom-beating attractions as voted for by 1,269 kids.

The UK Our Way Parkdean Holidays

The UK Our Way- kids views on boredom busting destinations

In the guide, the kids’ favourite destinations have been grouped into categories like Fantastic Food, Beach Fun, Making Memories and Learning and Exploring to give some great suggestions for everything from the best beach on the South Coast to the tastiest fish and chips and ice cream anywhere in the UK. The whole thing has been specially designed and laid out with kids in mind, written for kids by kids, making it a great resource to get the kids involved in the planning.

2 Ask them what they want to do

Getting the kids involved in the planning is a great way to get them interested and committed to your travel plans. Sounds really obvious doesn’t it? But how many of us do it? Personally I am often guilty of consulting the kids and then conveniently forgetting to include their requests. But some of our worst times on holiday have come from a forced itinerary; it’s far better to do things that they will find fun or interesting. When they were toddlers I lost count of how many fun factories punctuated my holiday. And now they are older, many of their requests revolve around their stomachs. But I do find that a little consultation goes a long way to making a happy family outing. Although when you ask them what they want to do be prepared to be surprised. When Cameron wrote about his favourite thing to do on a sunny day his response was really not what I expected, as the video he made makes clear.

3 Ask their friends or yours for recommendations

If there’s a rollercoaster within driving distance then their friends have probably been there. And their friends are in and out of your house all day. Show an interest in what they have been up to and you may get some ideas. Or ask their parents. They’ll be in the same boat as you and might know the answer to your question about the best stand up paddle boarding river within easy reach of a curry house. You could also keep an eye out on their Facebook page, or ‘favourite’ good ideas on twitter.

4 Give responsibility for planning to them

It’s really hard. The first time. And then it gets easier. In fact in the long run you might find yourself absolved of all the tedious planning. Plus the day can turn out to be a nice surprise for you. But you need to buy into this properly. No tantrums if they take you to a theme park when you wanted to play golf.  On our longer trips a different person is put in charge of planning each day. Surprisingly, for a control freak, I’m always least enthused when it’s my turn to wear the captain’s hat.

5 Tune into their tech

Use their world to help you with yours. Use Google Maps to navigate you there, and website maps to plan, for example, your theme park visit. Get them to Google for info and brief you during the journey. They could also revise the day’s activities as you go using Trip Advisor reviews.

6 Theme the trip based on stuff they like

Have you ever considered theming a trip? Our themed journeys have been some of our most successful. Like the time we cycled across The Balkans in search of the Moomins on their anniversary year. Or our Titanic themed week in Belfast. It not only gives the journey a clear goal, it can spark off new enthusiasms. I’ve yet to find a place that can satiate their Minecraft obsession though. Although a War Hammer trip to Nottingham might soon be on the cards.

Studying the map of MoominWorld Finland

Cameron planning our attack upon MoominWorld Finland

7 Consider what has worked in the past

If it has worked in the past then don’t be afraid to copy it. Bear in mind though, that what was appealing when they are seven may not be so fascinating when they are eight.

8 Appeal to the child in everyone

There are some attractions that work whatever age you are. Who doesn’t like Disneyland? And I can’t imagine many big kids or small not enjoying the Warner Bros Harry Potter studio tour. It’s not only the obvious things that work. In Japan recently we drove past a cat café on our way to a castle and made the decision to divert. Even as we paid our fee, I had no idea of how charmed they would be by a roomful of cats.

Cat lounging n the Cat Cafe

The kids loved lounging with cats in the Japanese cat cafe

9 Set a high tech challenge

One sure fire way of keeping our kids engaged is to set them a challenge or a competition, with a prize. A photo competition is a good one. Or set your kids the challenge of making a video of their day out. They can even edit it on i-Movie if they have their own i-Pods. Here’s one Cameron and Hannah scripted, shot and edited while in Japan this summer. Amazing what kids will do when they are interested and committed.

10 Reward them for getting out of their comfort zone

When I bet Matthew £50 that he wouldn’t eat a cold clam that had been congealing in a soup I had no idea that he’d take me up on it. Obviously I don’t advise you put up a prize this big, not unless you have the funds to honour it. But sometimes an offer of sweets or some pocket money for engaging in something they might not naturally opt for can be an effective way of helping them to learn. Or offer a souvenir for the best question raised. And sometimes the rewards can come from outside. Cameron recently gained ‘enlightenment’ by crawling through a pillar the same size as The Great Buddha’s nostril at Todai-ji in Nara, Japan. Not sure whether that means he’ll get out of bed any earlier at weekends, but every little helps!

Crawling through the pillar in the Todai-ji Temple Nara

Crawling through the pillar in the Todai-ji Temple Nara

Now over to you

Do you have any suggestions for planning days out with your family? Let us know in the comments.

Microscooters on Morecambe Prom

Microscooter fun on Morecambe Prom. Their idea. And of course they loved it.

Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you in association with Parkdean Holidays. The views, experience and opinions remain, as ever, entirely my own. 

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 agree completely – it makes a huge difference to keep the kids in mind while planning a trip. I found there was an age where they were fine just being where ever we were. As they got older and formed more solid opinions of what they liked and disliked I had to make a more concerted effort to bring some focus to them on the trip. I found a great way to get them through a possibly busy day that may or may not be of interest to them was end the day with something they would pick. For example during our trip to Barcelona we had a full day exploring the city and because the aquarium is open late there we left that for the end of the day – had a great time and enjoyed dinner on the way home. Because they knew when they were doing “their thing” I think they actually relaxed and enjoyed the day from the beginning. Making sure good food on the agenda is always important and works.

    I also thank you for the ideas in this post – the videos the kiddos did were great. Something I can bring to my school this year as an option.

    Thanks again

  • I love these, although I must have skimmed it the first time because I’ve just included a link in a post where I said our family wasn’t much into Disneyland 🙂 . Whoops! But generally speaking we are on the same page.

    I have to say we still do most of the actual planning for our 3 and 6 yo, but we should probably get the 6yo more involved, and it’s good with the 3yo to just discuss possibilities and gauge reactions. We’ve used pictures and videos off the web to help out with that.

    The only proviso there is I’d say screen it first to see if it’s something you’ll actually be prepared to include – it’s tough on young kids to get them excited then end up dropping it from the plan for one reason or other. We’ve made that mistake before.

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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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