As a family, we have been to Europe, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. There are many more places on our list, but we have certain favorites and many reasons why. Everything from people, to culture, to the “easiness factor” calculate our favorite family destinations.
Europe is one of the easiest places to travel in the world, in my opinion. The vast train system makes it easy to get from country to country, the Euro makes finance seamless, and kids are welcome anywhere! And I mean anywhere. A nice dinner out with gallons of wine at 10pm? No problem! Kids are respected by servers and bedtime is much later in Europe.
Our favorite spot? Italy. Italy has everything from ski resorts to gorgeous beaches. Not to mention the rolling fields of Tuscany, dotted with olive trees and endless vineyards. The culture is full of amazing architecture and totally laid back – sure I’ll take a nap in the middle of a work day and go back to work later! And the history! We were blown away when we visited the Roman Forum and realized we were walking on the marble that Caesar Augustus himself walked on. And the people! So friendly, so fun and always smiling. Bonus – they love to feed you. Huge plates of steaming pasta, fresh olives and luscious wine. There is an endless amount of enjoyment for a family in Italy. The rail system makes it possible to experience history and culture and beach in one week.
Families with young children, or even teenagers, are all too quick to dismiss Central America. It is dubbed as a “dangerous place” with zero family friendly amenities. However, nothing could be further from the truth. I would argue that walking around Liberia, Costa Rica is probably safer than walking around many areas of Chicago (Chicago’s murder rate soared 72% in 2016). In 2016, New Orleans had 41 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. The entire country of Nicaragua has a murder rate of just 11 people per 100,000 and Costa Rica has just 8.5 per 100,000 people. Would you visit New Orleans? I sure would. As with anywhere, do research before visiting and read up on crime and family friendly areas.
Countries such as Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are extremely family friendly and are home to warm, friendly people with so much to offer. All three have fantastic beaches and interesting cities. Our favorite? Nicaragua. We loved everything about it and the kids still talk about it 3 years later. We’ve often talked of buying a property there so we can access it whenever the mood strikes us. Granada is a beautiful, colonial city and the beaches are gorgeous, with surfing hot spots on the Pacific coast and calm, blue water on the Caribbean side, home to the Corn Islands. The country is easy to get around, with plenty of tour companies for car hire and easy flights from the U.S. (usually through Houston). Nicaragua is definitely one of our favorite family friendly destinations.
Edited to add: the current political situation in Nicaragua is iffy at the moment (July 2018). As much as we love it, better to try Costa Rica or Panama at the moment.
South East Asia:
Family works differently in South East Asia. Families spend a LOT of time together and children are revered. In addition, elderly are taken care of by children and grandchildren. As such, the area is a very family friendly vacation destination. We found SE Asia to be, without a doubt, the most family friendly place we have ever visited. Although a long way to travel for a family from the U.S. or Europe, SE Asia is worth the trip. The anticipation of visiting such an interesting place makes a long flight go by surprisingly fast.
Our favorite is Thailand. SO MUCH to see and do and the friendliest people on earth. It truly is “the land of smiles.” Taxis and tuk-tuks make it easy to get around and the beaches, the tours, the cultural aspects…..there are so many family friendly aspects, I could go on forever. And while Thailand’s currency is getting stronger against the dollar, it is still remarkably cheaper than a vacation in Hong Kong or many other destinations in Asia. We were treated with respect and our kids were treated with respect. The people of Asia truly seem to love visitors.
Another vacation destination labeled “dangerous” by almost every American out there, the Middle East has more than meets the eye. The Middle East has several countries that are perfectly safe and offer cultural education and relaxing beach time alike. Middle Easterners are friendly people, most of whom love to chat with visitors “different” from them. At no point did we ever feel unsafe during our visits to Oman, Bahrain, UAE, Lebanon or Jordan. Ever. Admittedly, today’s political climate is a little different from it was during our time living in Qatar, but with the right planning and tour company, a safe, family friendly trip is possible. There are still plenty of people traveling in the area, despite what the media wants us to believe. I recently planned a trip for a clients to Dubai and Jordan and both had a fantastic time.
Our favorite family friendly destination is Jordan and I can’t recommend it enough. The country has a vast amount of Roman ruins, Petra and beautiful seaside resorts on both the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. Two things stand out as being a highlight in our wandering lives – seeing the ruins of Petra appear after walking through the Siq and the day Max was treated like a rock star. “Friendly” doesn’t even begin to cover the people of the Kingdom of Jordan.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past year, you have probably heard that Colombia is hot, hot, hot. The dollar is very strong against the Colombian Peso, there are countless cities to visit, and the culture loves children and families. Combine that with the fact that Cartagena is only a two and a half hour flight from Miami, and Colombia is our favorite family friendly destination.
The city of Cartagena is mainly housed inside the old fortress walls, drawing tourists in with its amazing architecture, Bougainvillea covered walls and tree-lined squares. Horse drawn carriages roam the streets, street performers and dancers are out after dark and kids are welcome anywhere, even bars such as the Cafe del Mar. Feel like drinking a local beer while roaming the cobblestone streets? Go ahead – vendors are everywhere selling everything from Panama hats to handmade jewelry to cans of beer. We spent hours simply walking around with a very minimum amount of complaining from the kids.
Cartagena is just the tip of the iceberg. Both Bogotá and Medellin are safe places for families to visit, and the islands off the Caribbean coast are to die for. Other little known places to visit are Tayrona National Park and the Cocora Valley. The best part? Colombia is eager for its reputation of drug smuggling to end and the country welcomes tourists with open arms.
Truthfully, every place we have been has its charms and could be on this list. The world is a vast and beautiful place. Our travels have forged a bond with our kids, and I’m confident we will be talking about our favorite family friendly destinations for years to come. As we continue to travel throughout the years, our list will continue to grow!
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