2017-05-22 09:32:02
The Getaway: Want Family Travel to Really Count? Make a Plan

When the first of her three children neared age 8, and school events and sports increasingly demanded the family’s time, Tracy Krechevsky, 52, a teacher in Wellesley, Mass., decided they needed a plan to make the most of their vacations.

“We knew the opportunity for traveling together was going to become less and less as they got older, so we started to map out where we wanted to go and putting aside money,” said Ms. Krechevsky, who in the past 15 years has visited several national parks, a Wyoming dude ranch, the Caribbean and South Africa, among other places.

The Krechevskys’ approach embodies the latest trend promoted by the travel industry: family vacation planning. The idea behind it is to encourage families to take the time and save the money so that they can meet all of their travel goals.

“Families are saying we want to map out the next five years of our vacation,” said Martha King, an independent adviser with Brownell Travel in Chattanooga, Tenn., adding, “It’s about making sure they see and do these things, and they like to have it to look forward to and to budget for.”

Future-minded travelers are not just super-organized; they may be onto something: A plan helps them save for the trips so that they don’t forfeit their travel budget to domestic emergencies such as roof repair.

Planning ahead can also help lower costs; last-minute airfares, for example, are almost always the highest possible price. And many places, particularly national parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite, require planning up to a year in advance for some visits during the high season.

“Preplanning is about getting value and saving money,” said Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association, a group that advocates family travel as a transformative and educational experience. “You would save money like you would for college. There are families that save for a lifetime to go to Disney.”

It may also be a matter of logistics. Lauren DeChiara, 53, a small-business owner in New York, spent at least two years arranging a family trip to Africa with the travel agency SmartFlyer. This year, her multigenerational group is heading to Italy. “Especially with big family trips, as opposed to me and my husband or me and the kids, we look further out,” she said.

Children often seem to grow up in an instant, and if that’s not apparent to a parent, the travel industry tries to make it so with marketing plans that tug at the heartstrings. Visit Idaho, the state’s tourism office, has a travel campaign called 18 Summers, underscoring the limited number of summer vacations most families have together before the kids move out. Virtuoso, a North American network of luxury travel agents, created a program called Return on Life, which is designed to inspire travelers to heed the clock and plan their travels as they would their finances. And both the internet and bookstore shelves are filled with advice on the tens or hundreds of places to see with the kids before they grow up.

“I find people would rather travel than have stuff,” Ms. King of Bronwell Travel said. “The pendulum has swung back to seeking great experiences, not filling the garage with cars and boats.”

Travel planning, of course, isn’t limited to married couples with children. “We get first-time empty nesters and they want to do things,” said Jack S. Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations in New York. “We have L.G.B.T. couples who want to make the most of their time together. In their 50s, they may want to do more active things now and less active things 10 years from now.”

With families, much depends on the children’s interests and maturity, but experts recommend the following progression of age-appropriate trips to consider over time.

Junior might not remember the Eiffel Tower or the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska, but at an early age, children can be exposed to the practice and stimulation of travel that may pay off later.

“Once kids are exposed to any kind of travel experience, particularly at a young age, they’ll be a better traveler as time goes on,” said Mr. Jenss of the Family Travel Association. “One mistake is to hold off too long, and then they’re teenagers and not interested. Teens are very distracted anyway because of school and social pressure. It’s important to expose them early in life.”

Beach resorts make easy destinations for families with toddlers. Cruise lines increasingly cater to young families; Royal Caribbean even offers nanny care for infants as young as 6 months old.

European destinations in general tend to be family-centered. “Parents won’t feel prohibited there,” Mr. Jenss said.

School-age children may develop an appetite for history based on their studies, which places like Boston, Philadelphia and Washington bring to life.

For trips that focus on nature and the environment, Will Bolsover, founder and managing director of Natural World Safaris, recommends the Galápagos Islands rather than Africa for a wildlife experience that is easy, up close, engaging and fun. “You’re not putting young kids in front of lions,” he said.

He also points families with children ages 8 to 12 to Costa Rica.

“It’s about ziplines and rafting and burning off some of that energy, but you still have wildlife and educational aspects,” Mr. Bolsover said.

Tween children can do a lot physically that they couldn’t do when they were younger. Growing stamina makes longer hikes and ski runs possible. They’ve also reached a great age to learn a skill, such as surfing or cooking, with their parents. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors offers a certification course for children as young as 10 years old.

Many safari operators will take children as young as 8, though specialists suggest waiting until they’re ready to sit still for long drives that can be very sedentary, often for safety.

Although it may be harder to persuade a teenager, especially one committed to a busy school and extracurricular schedule, to travel than it is to figure out where to go, they are ready to handle the complexities of places like China and India.

Once people reach their late teens or early 20s, Mr. Bolsover of Natural World Safaris suggests more adventurous trips to keep them engaged, such as a self-driving safari in Namibia with overnights at rugged desert camps.

“When they’re 18, 20 or 21, they’ll think that still sounds cool: going on safari with Mom and Dad rather than going to a luxury lodge and living on a schedule,” he said.“It’s young and fun and more of an adventure.”