Some of the joys of travel are subtle. I spent a fair amount of time in Siberia, and despite the romantic image it produces in our minds, it was hardly exhilarating in reality. The enjoyment was distributed evenly across the experience and noticable only when I would look across the flat landscape to the horizon thinking, “Shit, this tundra goes on forever.”
Those are not the kinds of experiences you want when traveling with kids. Kids (ours are 6 and 9) can’t appreciate the endless tundra of Siberia. Well, they can, but only for a moment. To keep kids engaged and interested, we suggest you adopt the mantra we developed last summer in the Middle East: Seek drama and keep moving.
Once we got the hang of it, building a kid-friendly itinerary was easy in the Middle East. It’s packed with exciting, inspiring, visually-impressive sites. Petra’s cavernous pedestrian george, Jerusalem’s old wall and caves and of course, the pyramids and restored temples of Luxor, Egypt are all so accessible to the child’s imagination. In many places, the kids could climb and interact, which made it so much more real.
We did find, however, that guides were generally a mistake. Of the five or six guides we used at different points, only one could adapt the program for children. Out guide in Luxor, with whom we were stuck for two long days, was obviously so proud of his University-level knowledge of ancient Egypt. No prompting or signal to ‘keep moving’ got through his determination to say every word. It was even tough for the adults and really painful in 115 degree heat for the kids. In places where we had no guide, the family enjoyed the experience more.
Presentation matters a lot. We were surprised at how little they enjoyed the Egyptian museum in Cairo compared to the much smaller museum in Luxor. Cairo was cluttered and confusing, whereas Luxor was better curated. The girls spent twice as much time in Luxor as they did in the twenty-times-more-extensive Cairo museum.
You can’t spend much time in the same place. We would do mosques in under an hour — up to the minaret, once around, ‘Allah Akbar!’, and out again. As an adult, would I have spend more time admiring the architecture? Yes, I would, but I can’t. Happy family travel is about compromise. We know that, right?
In Morocco, we hit a bump. The girls got really restless driving over the High Atlas mountains for two days. It was gorgeous and remote. Lunching in a tiny backpacker hotel overlooking the mud-hut village was delightful to adults, but pretty boring for the kids. Car rides are especially deadly without frequent stops, a luxury our itinerary did not afford in Morocco. Children don’t get get tired until they get bored. (well, mostly anyway.)
But we rescued win from the jaws of fail! Our destination on those long rides was the the drama highlight of our trip: an overnight camp-out in the Sahara Desert. Overall, the Middle East was pretty easy to arrange for kids. As we build our kid-friendly travel plan for Mexico and Italy we’ll post our drama-filled, fast-moving itinerary. Maybe you can suggest great stuff to see!