At Seven Suitcases we spend a lot of time planning the next adventure. Well, not so much planning, as getting really, really excited about new and exotic destinations. While we love Hawaii, and we’ll always have Paris, there’s so much more of the world we want to share with our little adventurers. So herewith, Amelia and Miriam’s top picks (we tried for seven, truly) for our travels-with-children in 2014.
If Thailand is just a tad too tame for you these days, consider beating the crowds to Cambodia, where children are welcomed with open arms and there’s still a sense of exploration and discovery to make you feel like a proud, adventurous parent. Kids will love the fairytale tree-meets-temple at Ta Prohm, the Elephant Valley sanctuary at Mondulkiri, while the whole family will enjoy lazing on quiet southern beaches, visiting the floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake and exploring the market madness in the capital, Phnom Penh.
Rainforests and temples, elephants and endless beaches…not to mention fabulous food, friendly locals, and an ever-increasing abundance of family-friendly boutique accommodation scattered across this incredible island country. Take your little ones out exploring the alleyways of the historic Galle Fort, head inland for shades of green like you’ve never seen before at the tea plantations in inland Hill Country, and, for the more adventurous, head up the northwest coast for beaches free from all the tourist trappings. For the full castaway experience, push the boat out (literally) by renting Taprobane Island, a tiny isle with magical, rambling gardens and a magnificent family-friendly abode (sleeps 10).
When the sun comes out, Finns disappear to their summer homes on the thousands of islands on the country’s thousands of lakes. Make like local families with plenty of sauna and swimming, feasting on berries and chanterelles as the kids frolic outdoors long into the still-sunlit wee hours. Diminutive fans of Tove Jansson will likely love a visit to quirky Moominworld, (itself on an island) which, with its quirky homespun charm, is about as un-Disney as a theme-park can get; once sufficiently Moomined, head north above the Arctic Circle to Lapland, to encounter moose and reindeer, discover what Father Christmas does during the summer months at his Santa Claus Village, and experience, in its full splendour, the Land of the Midnight Sun.
It doesn’t have to be Christmas to visit Bethlehem, that most historic and evocative of cities in the Palestinian West Bank. Palestinians love children, so expect your little ones to be treated to free samples as you wander through the old market, and made a fuss of as you explore the atmospheric Church of the Nativity. No matter what pre-conceptions you might have, it’s safe, it’s ancient, and it’s supremely family-friendly….plus, you’ll never eat better hummus in your life than at Afteem on Manger Square.
It’s not just for Greyhound bus-hopping backpackers or elderly RV-ers: the great highways and byways of the beautiful U. S. of A are just as fun with children as they are if you’re 18 or 80. Meander down the Californian coast, smelling the wildflowers on the stunning Big Sur; wind your way through one of the beautiful national parks (Yosemite, the Rocky Mountains, and Yellowstone are all fabulous choices), sample the hip, family-friendly Texan charms of Marfa and Austin or the beats of Nashville and New Orleans; hit a drive-in movie or superlative summer festival; or drive desert highways through Death Valley or Joshua Tree. Take a tent and sleep in the great outdoors, or hunker down in good old Psycho-style motels; either way, a dose of Americana is intoxicating for all ages.
South Coast, New South Wales, Australia
The beach towns of Byron Bay and Noosa might be vaguely familiar names, even in the northern hemisphere, but ever heard of Currarong or Bermagui? Not many people have, and that’s the delightful thing about the incredible stretch of coast between Sydney and Eden. That, and the perfect aquamarine water and white sand beaches, the sort you would only expect to find on a tropical island. But even during the busy summer holidays you and the fam will generally have miles of sand to yourself. The beaches are long and empty, lined with wildflowers and great walking tracks, and the one-pub coastal towns are unpretentious. Enjoy spectacular bush camping at Mystery Bay and Pebbly Beach, snorkel with the seals on Montague Island and get stuck into fresh seafood just about anywhere along the track.
Currently being touted as the “new Gambia,” this little West African lovely is admittedly one for the more adventurous families amongst us. But with regular scheduled British Airways flights from London, now’s the time to head to SL before the package tourists hit full force (trust us: it’s only a matter of time), and your trail-blazing will be rewarded with empty beaches, friendly smiles, and some stunning local wildlife. Explore colourful, ramshackle Freetown, the country’s capital, before heading up north for wildlife-watching in Outamba-Kilimi National Park, where bumpy roads and super-basic facilities are far outweighed by sightings of hippo, elephants, chimps and birdlife galore. Alternatively, stay at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, an easy drive from Freetown, before heading out to the Banana Islands to explore serene stretches of sand with nary a sunlounger or slowly-basting tourist in sight.
The crazy, pulsating megalopolis that is Tokyo may seem a bit overwhelming for little people but put those commuter-crushing fears aside and embrace the neon city. Whatever the age of your travel companion, there will be something to impress, whether it’s marauding zombie enthusiasts and crazy cos-players or cafés where you can cosy-up with rabbits and goats (cats are so last year). There’s enormous men in loincloths wrestling in the name of sport, incredible kid-friendly museums, and the food…don’t get us started on the food! Make yourself at home in a well located apartment – Airbnb has some great finds – and explore small parts of the city each day.
Waking up in Cappadocia for the first time is like believing you are still dreaming. The lunar-like landscape is completely surreal for adults, and quite possibly mind-blowing for the little ones. Deep in the heart of Turkey, this region is famous for its ancient, underground cities, rose-tinted gorges and slow-paced village life. Float over the fairy chimneys in a hot-air balloon in the morning, and then spend the rest of the day scrambling (and swimming in summer months) through the valleys of this ethereal world. If the kids are faster on four feet, take a horse – or mountain bikes are also available. Finish up the day with a magnificent sunset and a Turkish feast, before flopping into bed in a wonderfully atmospheric cave hotel.
No longer the preserve of retirees, Palm Springs is a gem of a Californian desert town, brimming with luxe child-friendly stays, stellar food (vegan Oklahoma bacon cheeseburger, anyone?), mid-century architectural masterpieces and a constant stream of happy, festivals. Venture out of the city for incredible desert hiking or even rock climbing amid splendid Joshua Tree National Park – with hikes for every age-range and ability – and outsider art galore in the winsome desert communities just a short drive away…you’ll likely find, like Bob Hope, Old Blue Eyes and a certain Miss Monroe, that you’re drawn back time and again.
Costa Rica is a firm favourite with families exploring Central America, but for those who seek to lose the crowds, or spend a little less than the often top-dollar prices in CR, head next door to Nicaragua in 2014, to enjoy beaches, wildlife, mountains and rainforest with a far more affordable price-tag. Tropical, lake-studded and welcoming, revel in the past glories of Granada (founded in 1524) and UNESCO-rated Leon, visit the huffing, puffing Masaya Volcano, kick back on pristine Pacific and Corn Island beaches, and explore the cloud forests of the north….before everyone else begins to do likewise.