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Tips for a Successful Family Walking Trip
Tips for a Successful Family Walking Trip

Hiking Trip


Photo by Trusted Adventures

By Dave Wiggins

We were on the trail for less than an hour and already the day was not going as planned. Luke, my laid-back 8 year-old, was more interested in damming a stream than continuing ahead. Older brother Jake, his polar opposite, was racing ahead out of sight. I envisioned a day of walking together, laughing, sharing stories, enjoying the mountain scenery and growing closer together as a family. It wasn't happening. Where did I go so wrong in my thinking?

I selected a guided hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies as a way to expose the kids to the great outdoors and get some healthy exercise to boot. And I carefully researched the trip as well as the tour company, which were over the top in every way, before I booked. But I failed to include the kids. Getting the kids involved in every phase of vacation planning from research to decision making and pre-trip planning is the cardinal rule for a successful family vacation.

Since that unfulfilling day near Banff I've talked to tour operators, walking guides and fellow travelers about how to make a family walking trip successful. Sorting through a range of suggestions from "take your kids to the library before going," (good) to "don't have kids," (not so good), I've compiled a list of the top 10 tips for a successful walking holiday.

1) Involve the whole family in the planning process
A great vacation may mean something different to each family member. Gather around the kitchen table (or computer) and have a family meeting. Make sure everyone's input and ideas are heard and acknowledged.

2) Help kids picture where in the world they are going
Use a real globe (the round one) and destination websites. Go to the library or bookstore. Read to young ones about the culture, history and traditions you'll be encountering. Ask your tour company for a suggested reading list. Have something to read on the long plane ride.

3) Go to the movies
Kids love movies and can vicariously experience a destination with a mouthful of popcorn. IMAX, Disney and various family classics can give kids a great introduction to where they are going. Talk about the film and scenery afterwards and find out what interested them most about the places they saw.

4) Learn to speak like a local
This is for the entire family. Learn some basic phrases like "hello", "thank you", "my name is…" in the foreign language of your destination. It will help kids get excited about their trip, create some valuable bonding time, break down barriers once you're there and help everyone interact better with the locals.

5) Present your kids with a pre-departure packet
Include colorful, age-appropriate information such as laminated wildlife guides of animals they can expect to see, picture books that depict life in the culture you'll be visiting, or posters of the habitats they'll experience. Include anything that builds anticipation for things kids can look for when they arrive.

6) Prepare physically
Be sure your family's level of physical fitness is in line with the trip. It will make the walking holiday that much more enjoyable. The best way to get into shape is to go on local walks together prior to your trip. Any level of aerobic activity will be beneficial. Choose trails with varied terrain and wear your daypack to get used to the extra weight. Remember - keep it fun!

7) Purchase good shoes and raingear
Pampered feet and dry bodies equal happy hikers. Get a good pair of hiking shoes that fit well with two pairs of socks (thin liner under a heavier sock such as Thorlo or SmartWool). Break them in before the trip. A two-piece rain suit (coat and pants) of waterproof and breathable material works best and offers the most protection and flexibility. It will rain on you at some point during the hiking trip!

8) Hydrate
Drink plenty of water before and during your hike. By keeping hydrated, you replace water lost from perspiration. Water intake reduces the chance of nausea and headaches, as well as cramping and sore muscles. If your kids find water a little dull, try adding a slice of lemon.

9) Stretch
While kids may be as naturally flexible as Gumby it's important to get them to stretch their muscles before and after each hike. Parents may want to add a bit of stretching that morning in your hotel room and in the evening while recuperating in the hot tub before bedtime.

10) Create a daily goal and achieve it
Each hike should have a special destination such as a waterfall or ruin, a discovery en route, or the satisfaction of an accomplishment like walking to a lookout or climbing to the top of a castle. Often, kids will discover an inner source of strength that enables them to do things they never imagined and step outside of their everyday comfort zone.

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