Bonding experiences, trip and breaks for outdoor lads and dads
Want to spend more time with your son? Looking for ideas? In this post, the latest in our series of 100 outdoor adventures to have with your kids before they grow up, we’ve 10 suggestions for lad and dad bonding in nature. Because while Pizza Hut is fun and gaming or shopping together is easy, tackling a challenge in the outdoors develops much deeper bonds and creates lasting memories. It’s hard not to appreciate your partner in crime when you are building a den, sleeping under the stars or conquering the world together. So consider getting out of your depth on one of these father and son bonding adventures, trips and breaks…
Why get to know your son?
As many parents discover, the years fly faster as adulthood approaches. And while neglected work may prick your conscience, that’s nothing compared to how you will feel if you let the time with your kids slip through your fingers. We made a conscious effort not to let this happen; Stuart took the boys camping and canoeing when they were little, and we managed to squeeze in a year long adventure to New Zealand, Samoa and the US when they were toddlers. As I was heavily pregnant by the end of the trip it fell to Stuart to take them off on daily adventures and he continued long after we returned home. I have listed a variety of father son bonding adventures, trips and breaks below, based on his experiences with the kids and my own research. I am sure you will find something similar in your area. So standby for impromptu action ideas or carefully planned bonding suggestions…:
10 Father-son bonding experiences, expeditions, trips and breaks
1 Eat worms in the wild
If you have a decent budget, and a yearning to travel together and be hunter gatherers then bushcraft expert Ben McNutt is your man. He runs a series of week long expeditions in exotic locations where you are taught to fed for yourselves. These include a tropical island in Panama and the desert of Namibia, where you track, trap and hunt every day. On a smaller, more affordable scale, Bear Grylls Survival Academy allows parents and kids the space to test themselves on their nature skills in a safe, controlled environment that still feels wild. So if taking your kids onto a mountain is a big step then you might prefer this half way experience. You can choose Bear retreats in the highlands, moorlands, water, wilderness or woodland. The TV adventurer won’t be there himself, in case you were wondering, but his franchises follow his methodology and provide similar experiences. You are likely to be taught to make shelter, forage for food and be at one with the natural world. Bugs feature and you may well have to eat them. but don’t worry, our insects were the toasty rather than the slimy variety. We went as a whole family and some of us fared better than others; watch this video to see how we got on on and what you might expect.
For for a gentler introduction to bushcraft Woodmatters in the Lake District offers family camps where fathers and sons can mix in with family groups, “They are all in the same pot, having to make a shelter, eat around the campfire,” says Gareth Thomas who runs the experiences.
What are the benefits of father-son adventures? Two outdoor dads give their opinions.
Check out my interview with Ben McNutt where he taught me how to make fire.
2 Doing an assault course
Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean is a great option for active adventure. The Forest of Dean Adventure company has a new assault course plus an Adventure Challenge, archery and a climbing tower. Alternatively we’ve always found Via Ferrata to be quite challenging. You could try hiring a guide and going climbing, or if you have little ones you can simply find a rock or outdoor climbing wall in a playground and start teaching them where to put their feet.
If you fancy assaulting a wall of water, the boys thought being shot out of a water cannon might be gentle and relaxing fun; until they tried it. Check out this video of how Cam got on at Area 47 in Austria:
Read about our experiences tackling Via Ferrata at Mayerhofn in Austria.
Here’s one where we tried rock climbing in the Julien Alps in Slovenia.
3 Camp on a farm
Finding things that will interest your son is the key to a successful father-son bonding trip. Animals are a great common denominator and there are lots of overnight experiences on offer. If you like zoos and animal parks, many offer the chance to spend the night in the grounds. Whipsnade offers stays in the Lookout Lodges complete with torch lit walks. Forest Holidays have Forest Rangers to teach you spotting skills ad take you on night walks. At port Lympne The Aspinall Foundation’s conservation campus in Kent, you can take a sunset safari tour or go monkey feeding. You can stay in Tiger Lodge or ‘The Bubble – an actual giant bubble with air con and a king sized bed. Oh and stars- you will likely see the stars.
4 Star gazing
Talking of seeing stars, star gazing isn’t something I’d ever thought of until I found myself on the top of Teide in Tenerife, looking at a moon so intense it hurt my eyes though the powerful telescope. Once you’ve started to spot constellations then it becomes addictive. Of course you can do it on your own doorstep, but it’s much more fun to make a trip of it. We enjoyed camping in Dubai on an overnight experience; once the sun went down there wasn’t much to do till morning apart from listen to camels snore and watch the stars twinkle in a chilly desert sky.
We grabbed a warmer night’s sleep on our star gazing mission to Durham. The North Pennines has more Dark Sky Discovery sites than anywhere else in the UK. The Dark Sky initiative is part of an international programme that helps encourage observation of the Milky Way or the constellation of Orion with the naked eye through protected sites. We stayed at Killhope Mining Museum in a yurt. On the wild moorland there was no shortage of darkness and while the stars stayed away early evening they shone in all their glory in the tiny hours past midnight. If you are lucky you might even see Orion through the magnificent waterwheel. There’s a small observatory too for prearranged spotting,
5 Become James Bond
James Bond is always a winner with kids. You can create your own 007 adventure with a bit of imagination and a small budget. Transport is a good place to start; while you may not be able to parachute onto a Swiss mountain, most places with a decent river or lake can offer speed boat experiences. Hire one yourself or join a rib ride. We had fun on the Thames where a guide gently talked us through what we could see on the riverbank before instructing us to hold tight for a high octane return. We also did a rib ride adventure in Anglesey. In the Faroe Islands, public transport is heavily subsidized and we travelled cheaply by helicopter and speedboat.
You can do some spy training together too. Various providers offer day courses. If you are near Washington DC you can do a secret family sleepover at the International Spy Museum. Or follow one of the Treasure Trails Spy Missions around the UK.
Here’s how we got on in with our scooter spy mission Central London.
Check out our James Bond style day out in The Faroes
6 Have a Knight’s night
What boy doesn’t dream of being a knight; whether that’s conventional or Jedi? Indulge their passion for swords and dragons with a trip to a jousting match at a castle near you. Kynren, in the UK’s north east takes you on a theatrical journey through olde England with lots of horseback action. France’s Puy du Fou does the same with French history but on an even bigger scale and with more horses and a wild array of animals. Warwick Castle offers a range of sleeping options in their Knights Village, including knight’s lodges, fairy tale castle tower suites or a luxury Kings Tent with a four poster bed. All include two day priority access to the castle where you can enjoy the dragon slayer show together or attend a medieval banquet.
7 Go to the edge
We’ve always enjoyed scaring ourselves silly. In Cebu we walked on the outside of a skyscraper in a unique attraction. But you don’t need to travel far. Simply find a clifftop to explore together. Or a ledge or edge of some kind. A walk to a lighthouse can be a good way to position yourself at the end of the land and tilt towards the sky. A waterfall can do the same job. Or go for broke and find an edge with a bungee or swing attached.
8 Be surf dudes
Surfing is a great lad and dad bonding activity. You can take a course together or just grab boards and give it a go. We took a lesson in Portugal and also tried sand surfing in New Zealand where you push yourself down dunes on a boogie board. And if you can’t find any water; I-Fly gets you surfing a wind tunnel. No experience necessary.
Wind tunnel diving at I-Fly
9 Soup up the bikes
In our house Stuart has always biked with the kids. They haven’t always loved the idea, but we had no problem getting them out the day we put an engine on it. Check with the hire shop for any age restrictions.
10 Upgrade your wheels
There are many different driving adventures you can take with either them or you at the wheel. We have taken adventures in cool cars as far afield as Dubai and the Forest of Dean. Children over 1.5 metres tall can drive a Mini Cooper at Goodwood. Sand dunes are truly awesome for an off road adventure as you can see in the following video:
Read about our off road jeep safari in Portugal.