When it comes to family travel adventures, contemplating the planning process can be a bit overwhelming.
If you are like me, you would love nothing more than to turn over these planning duties to someone else to come up with the perfect vacation itinerary for your family that will fulfill your bucket list and take advantage of some of the best guided tours available.
Serving the role of mom in your family—if your crew is anything like mine—means you plan all the events, the tours, the dinners, the tours, and the destinations. Talk about needing a vacation from your vacation!
Of course, the dads who come along and help in the process deserve a special shout-out for being active in their family plans as well!
However, what if neither one of you had to plan your next family adventure? If that sounds like a heavenly proposition, read on to learn more:
1. Austin Adventures
One of the best ways to go about enjoying a planned family vacation is to work with a company that prides itself on planning such adventures for your family.
As part of an Austin Adventure planned group tour and vacation, you and your family (along with some new friends) can explore various locations like Africa, Latin America, the Galapagos Islands, Europe, or the ever-popular North American National Parks.
Kenai Fjords, Yellowstone National Park, and San Juan Islands are other possibilities if you have older kids moving into their teenage years, as they offer breathtaking panoramic views and hiking that is only possible with older kiddos.
If you and your family love being outdoors like mine does, you will appreciate the outdoorsy activity choices that go along with these fun trips, including bicycling (always on safe trails, not roadways), kayaking, glacier trekking, and horseback riding, depending on the destination.
This is where their expertise in small-group adventure travel for families shows up. In addition to offering several destination options that will appeal to a wide range of age groups and family sizes, this company also loves to plan into your trip what they call “wow moments.”
A few examples of these moments include but are not limited to enjoying a treat of brownies and ice cream when making it to the top of Angels Landing in Bryce National Park.
International tours can be longer, but for those in America, the trips are usually a six-day, five-night itinerary.
The ideal age for Austin Adventure group tours is for families with kids ages 7 to 12 and families with teens. Each tour group size is kept small to ensure optimal enjoyment. Travel group sizes will range from 12 to 18 people.
2. Thomson Family Adventure
If you are like me, you want your kids to explore and experience other cultures. However, if the thought of taking your kids — especially if they are on the young side — outside of the perceived safety of the United States border scares you just a bit, then Thomson Family Adventures might be the perfect solution.
This company specializes in planning safe overseas trips for families by partnering them with Friends Across Borders. This is especially neat as the whole process begins before you even leave for your trip and allows your kids to correspond with local children ahead of time as digital pen pals; how cool is that!
Don’t worry; even if you plan to travel somewhere with spotty at best internet, your kids can still make this valuable introduction and connection before visiting the area as the group partners on location will print out the messages and deliver the messages to the local kids in printed form.
The goal of this whole family adventure process by Thomson Family, which is one I happen to adore, is to immerse kids in the culture. As a result, visits will include bucket-list-type activities like hiking in the Andes, sailing in Ireland, and swimming with whale sharks in Baja.
Tour group size typically consists of between 8 and 12 people, and kids ages for these adventures should be no younger than 8 and can go up to teen years and into early adulthood.
In addition, as a bonus, when more than eight people are departing, your group will have their own Rafiki, which is Swahili for friends, whose job it is to keep kids engaged. All tours have a driver and a guide.
3. National Geographic Family Journeys
In partnership with G Adventures, National Geographic Family Journeys was launched as a subset of Nat Geo’s 300 in 2020. These family-specific adventurous itineraries have been carefully curated by researchers, scientists, and other experts who aim to support local culture within these areas.
These vacations are more than fun adventures. They are like a National Geographic magazine come to life, engrossing your whole family in an adventure beyond belief.
Before you leave, you, as the parents, will be given field guides that will help you spark your kids’ interest in the area you are visiting.
National Geographic Family Journeys can include a visit to Vietnam, Costa Rica, Venice, and more. As part of your adventure in these locations, kids can taste-test noodles in Hoi An, Vietnam, prepared by teens learning the culinary arts, fashion their own Carnival mask in Venice, or plant a tree in a tree nursery in Costa Rica.
Each tour group includes two enthusiastic guides called “Chief Experience Officers.”
Destinations and itineraries include eight to 13-day options to visit Iceland, Cambodia, Alaska, and Peru, in addition to the other already mentioned locations of Costa Rica, Vietnam, and Venice.
Expect a tour group size of up to 20 people. These tours are best suited for kids aged 7 to 17.
4. Adventures by Disney
No list of the best family travel adventures would be quite complete without a mention of a Disney-branded tour adventure. With Adventures by Disney, your family can visit more than 40 countries and enjoy over 50 different itineraries.
As part of this group tour adventure, you and your kids will get to experience some hands-on local experiences. Disney guides are carefully selected, and all have an innate storytelling ability befitting the Disney moniker.
There are times for adults only with the adults-only dinner as part of this adventure, during which kids enjoy a kid-friendly meal and watch a favorite Disney movie.
Group sizes for this experience range between 38 and 40 people, and kids aged 6 and older are ideally suited, though some as young as 4 might be allowed to travel with their families.
Some of the many adventures that you can experience when booking an Adventures by Disney adventure tour include trying your hand at archery while visiting a Scottish estate, crafting bento boxes at a Japanese cooking school, hurling in Ireland, or sampling wines at a vineyard in Tuscany (don’t worry, kids get to pick herbs for the olive oil).
Although it is a Disney-branded tour, daily activities focus more on the local culture instead of Disney characters. However, as you would expect with a Disney-based company, you can count on a few notable, fun, and Disney-themed surprises throughout your experience.
Full Adventures by Disney vacations typically encompass eight days and seven nights. Escapes offer shorter adventures that can be booked on their own or added to the Adventures by Disney experience.
Another way to enjoy the best family vacation without putting long hours and bitter tears into the planning process is to opt for an all-inclusive resort.
5. Vomo Island Resort, Fiji
One great option for the ocean-loving family is the Vomo Island Resort Fiji. This resort is situated on a private island encompassing 225 acres. Here, no amenity is overlooked, and rates even include child care in the form of a personal Baby Butler (I wonder if they can come home with me).
If your kids are ready, then Fiji is a great place to get them started in snorkeling or scuba diving, as it is the soft coral capital of the world. Vomo even has its own resident marine biologist to oversee ecology lessons and work in the resort’s PADI dive center, meaning you can get certified to dive while at the resort.
You and your kids will love the beachfront residences or villas complete with outdoor tubs and showers, all ensconced by tropical foliage to ensure privacy.
When booking this tour, all you have to do is select the time you want to travel, and then the rest is virtually already done. Don’t miss the Kava ceremony that the resort hosts, which is a Fijian feast.
6. Mohonk Mountain House, Hudson Valley, New York
This beautiful location situated in Hudson Valley — about 90 miles north of New York City — is the ideal getaway for the active family, with everything planned ahead and in one location.
The iconic Mohonk Mountain House is a breathtaking Victorian-style castle and an all-inclusive resort with 265 rooms. It is nestled on a scenic mountaintop (overlooking the Shawangunk Ridge) and looks like something out of a fairy tale.
Nearby, there is a sparkling lake where you and your family can fish, paddleboard, kayak, and swim as part of your visit during the warmer months of the year.
The Mohonk Mountain House has been owned and operated by the same family since 1869 and is a National Historic Landmark.
During the winter months, the resort takes on even more of a fairytale vibe as it is typically surrounded by fresh, powdery snow, while the inside is enhanced by wood-burning fireplaces. Ice skating, winter hikes, and snow tubing are all available during the winter, as is cross-country skiing on the more than 30 miles of groomed trails.
Some of the many amenities that come with a stay at this all-inclusive resort include three daily meals, guided hikes, meditation and yoga classes, along with tennis and golf.
I just have to mention that they also have a newly renovated 30,000-square-foot spa on site as well!
7. JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge: Masai Mara, Kenya
As Marriot’s first luxury safari lodge, the JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge is an all-inclusive resort with 20 luxurious ensuite tents. You can even use your Marriott Bonvoy points on this trip if you have any to spare.
This is ideal for the adventure-loving family that enjoys being surrounded by luxury that is matched only by the beauty of the wildlife that awaits your crew outdoors.
When staying on-site, your family can enjoy thrilling game drives that take you into the Masa Marai, where you can spot the Big Five, or lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and African buffalo, along with East Africa’s other wildlife.
Onsite amenities include a whirlpool situated conveniently on your tent’s private deck, a dedicated kids pool, lodge fire pits, a rushing river, meals, game drives, binoculars, Wi-Fi, laundry service, and airport transfers.
Be sure to engage with the local Maasai people when staying here and let your kids soak in their traditional dancing, fanciful storytelling, and more, which all tend to be geared towards the entertainment of young guests.
This, along with the memories your family will make as you see amazing wildlife or enjoy a breathtaking sunset on site, are surely bucket-list worthy. And the best thing is, there is little to no planning required once you arrive!
8. Blackberry Farm: Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
This vacation pays homage to the rich Appalachian history of the area and also offers your crew a little taste of the unique cuisine with astounding artisan options.
On this 4,200-acre mountain estate, there are plenty of activities to enjoy, from horseback riding to fly fishing in Hesse Creek, biking, and more. Your family can join guided treks to scout for black bear and deer in the woods surrounding the estate.
If your kids are aged four and older, they can enjoy the resort’s Camp Blackberry, which will keep them entertained with customized, tailored sessions based on their interests.
For older kids, the Youth Discovery program offers farmstead activities, as well as arts and crafts like painting and ceramics.
Amenities on-site feature an art studio where there are courses available to learn skills including basketmaking, painting, pottery, and more, along with an Appliacian-inspired dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, the award-winning James Beard.
This unique estate employs its own cheesemaker, forager, master gardener, butcher, and sommelier, ensuring that your meal is always going to be one to remember and as gourmet as it can possibly get. If you and your family love “foothills cuisine,” this is the ideal destination for an all-inclusive stay.
If you are truly feeling spontaneous and adventurous and adamantly abhor planning if you can help it, then a surprise or mystery vacation might be the ideal way to enjoy a fun family vacation.
9. Magical Mystery Tours
Magical Mystery Tours is a vacation planning and booking company that specializes in customized mystery trips and surprise vacations. It has been successfully booking vacations all over the globe since 2009.
With this company, you won’t know where you are going at all until you show up at the airport. That isn’t to say, though, that you can’t at least sway the choice a bit, as you are required to answer questions that will hint at the type of vacation you would enjoy.
For example, you will answer: Do you want to stay in America or desire an international trip? Do you prefer tropical or desert environments? Do you like cold weather or prefer the beach or warmer climate?
After specifying what you do and don’t like in terms of vacation destinations, you will then share your travel dates, your budget, and the number of people who are traveling with you and their ages.
After evaluating all this information, this company will book your destination location and activities and give you a packing list, weather forecast, and flight departure time.
The cost obviously will depend on various factors like the amount of time you are staying and how far you are traveling to reach your destination, along with your preferred standard of accommodations.
The good thing about this company is you can test it out on a weekend getaway just to see if you like the process before booking something longer and farther away.
10. Pack Up and Go
Founded in 2016 in Pittsburg, Pack Up and Go is a way to enjoy a short weekend getaway without worrying about the planning process.
As with the other “surprise” style planning companies, you enter your vacation budget on a per-person basis, what dates you want to travel, and complete a survey to tell Pack Up what type of adventure best fits your family.
One sample question that showcases what you can expect within this survey is: Do you want to enjoy relaxation or learn about culture?
Before your trip, you will be given a packing list, a weather forecast so you know how to dress, and your flight information.
A few days before you are set to leave, an envelope will arrive telling you about your destination. To get the most out of this experience, wait until you are at the airport to open up the envelope!
While I would love to do this with my entire family, I am thinking that a Pack Up and Go trip could be in my husband’s and my future before too long.
We need to test it out, after all, and the Travel Planning Team at Pack Up takes care of it all, from travel to accommodations and more.
11. The Vacation Hunt
As one more option in the surprise vacation category that requires no planning on your part, just an open mind and an adventurous spirit, consider The Vacation Hunt surprise vacation planning company.
This brand was started by a husband and wife team in Washington, D.C., in 2017 and has since expanded. Today, you can opt for vacations that span from as little as three days to as long as three weeks, all without the need to get out your planning book.
When signing up, tell the reps what you are looking for in your ideal getaway. Is it museums, bars, spas, beaches, etc.? You will also have to share other information so the planning team can plan the right type of adventure for your family.
You can choose from American-based or international options as well, and you can let the trip remain a surprise for as long as possible to further enhance the overall experience.
As a bonus, Vacation Hunt will send you clues on where you are going before it’s time to leave so the whole family can get in on the fun and guess where your next adventure will take you!