Usually, by googling some keywords like off the beaten path, off the beaten track, off the tourist path, volunteering, home schooling, road schooling, travelling like the locals, cultural immersion, study tour.....it will lead me to some blogs and some great links. And I rely heavily on Trip Advisor and travelling blogs for reviews and recommendations.
I strongly believe travelling is a personal thing. Things that may be awesome to me and my family might not be awesome to yours. It really depends on your family's interest. For us, every trip is a cultural immersion and learning trip for the kids. So there will always be some days allocated for them to learn new skills, explore their interests, volunteer and mix with the locals. I prefer to stay off the tourist path. Travelling off the beaten path has led us to very interesting discoveries. It exposes us to the local culture better. So we stick to it.
We also prefer to travel a bit longer as we try to immerse the kids in the local culture. Well, at least as long as we can afford. Travelling longer also allow us to space out the activities. Even if you cannot afford long trip, try not to fall into the trap of trying to do too much to make it worth the money and worth the trip. The worst thing to do on a holiday is cramming up the itineraries for the sake of "been there done that" and end up with cranky parents and crankier kids. As much as I can, I avoid wasting time on the road. I usually plan the activities around the place we stay. I found that works best with kids. There are days where we just chill and do nothing.
I usually divided the trip into parts. Here is an example of our itineraries from our recent trip to Bali.
Part 1; Bambu Indah
Although I am a cheap skate, and I need to stay within budget to ensure my dearest husband approve my proposal, I do splurge a bit during holiday. It's a holiday after all, right??? So Bambu Indah was our splurge during the Bali trip.
Part 2: Ubud Reader Writer Festival
Ubud Reader Writer Festival is an annual event. This is the main reason we were in Bali. Luqman is exploring writing, illustration, cartooning etc etc. So I thought the festival would be a good exposure for him. And it was indeed. There were lots of workshops for children and youth during the festival. Some were free. Some had fees. We only joined the free workshops. If you are interested and planning to go, do look out for their announcement and register for the workshops early as they usually have limited spaces.
Part 3: Volunteering in Nusa Penida
Friends of National Park Foundation (FNPF) is a not-for-profit organization whose work include saving one of the world’s rarest birds and Bali’s emblem bird, the Bali Starling. You can read more about FNPF's work here and here.
We spent 2 days touring with Kadek. I found out about him through Trip Advisor. True, you probably can find cheaper drivers. But I wanted somebody who don't just drive us from place to place. I wanted somebody who can bring us to interesting "off the tourist path" places and tell us the story behind all those places. Kadek is very knowledgeable and I was very satisfied with his service.
Part 5: Surfing in Legian.
Legian beach is a great place to learn surfing. The beach is clean and not so crowded. I asked for a few quotations before we went to Bali but I was a bit hesitant to sign up and pay upfront as I wasn't sure whether the kids would like surfing. And I wasn't sure about the logistics too. Thankfully we found UP2U surfing school which is within walking distance from our hotel. The great thing about UP2U is the surfing classes are held on Legian beach itself. That saves the trouble of commuting from one place to another. Their rate is very reasonable. In fact, it was the cheapest in comparison to all the prices I have been quoted earlier.
In her book, Barefoot in the City (page 184), Jacqueline Koay wrote;
"So, I come to a conclusion that it is environment rather than exposure that makes a long lasting impact on a child's life. I think children do not benefit that much (other than being featured in lovely photographs) from a whirlwind tour of Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Geneva. They need to stay in one place, meet its people, try to speak its language, eat its food, understand its natural rhythm, get bored in that place, explore, for the experience to become a meaningful part of their lives. Exposure is passing through on a tourist bus, looking out of the window at the highlights but missing out on the life that pulses beneath; immersion is the time that it takes for an experience to take hold in our psyche."
I couldn't agree more. This has been my travelling philosophy for a while. Until today, kids tell me they really missed Maejantai Village and the Children Shelter's Foundation in ChiangMai. And of course, they are missing Bali like crazy. I don't get this reaction from our past trips to theme park or popular tourist spots or fancy hotels. Immersion does leave a permanent mark in their memory. Any trip can be a magical trip if you do it right. I hope this helps you in planning your next family holiday. Bon Voyage!!!!