Taking a trip to a new, exciting place sounds great. Adding an element of community service probably sounds even more enriching. However, deeply immersing your entire family in another culture also might be slightly intimidating to plan. Bellevue Club member, owner of Global Family Travels and co-founder of Impact Travel of Greater Seattle, Jennifer Spatz talked with Reflections about how to give the whole family the travel experience of a lifetime.
Reflections magazine: What’s your best advice for traveling as a family?
Jennifer Spatz: I always encourage people to do something immersive in the culture they are visiting. Going to UNESCO world heritage sites, beautiful beaches and mountains can be amazing, but travel at its most fulfilling encourages genuine and meaningful interaction with others, which ultimately leads to a deeper understanding and appreciation of yourself and those you meet on the journey.
RM: Any tips for traveling with young kids?
JS: With young kids, you will be hauling a lot more gear, so you may not want to travel to a place where you are hiking or navigating cobblestone streets. I also recommend waiting to plan a “trip of a lifetime” until the kids are a little older. My family traveled to China when my daughter was 6 and my son 8, and I had them keep a journal and draw about their experiences climbing the Great Wall and volunteering in a giant panda sanctuary. Six years later, they still have fun memories.
RM: What about older kids?
JS: For older kids, I encourage families to plan vacations around your child’s interests, which allows you to engage with your child in the planning process. For example, given my son’s passion for playing soccer, we have taken several trips where we play soccer with the locals, from the slums of Mumbai to the beaches of Cuba. In Nicaragua, we built a soccer field with a local community with 16 other travelers.
RM: What are some common mistakes people make when planning family vacations?
JS: Not understanding the culture and some of the political issues of the destination in advance of traveling is probably one of the greatest mistakes people can make. Having such information helps you be culturally sensitive and allows travelers to engage with the locals over topics that you know they care about.
RM: How do you suggest people better inform themselves before traveling?
JS: Global Family Travels supplements travelers’ experiences with reading lists, informal discussions, and a pre-trip orientation, which includes information on the culture and history of your host country, helpful words and phrases and cultural “do’s and don’ts.”
RM: What destinations are you personally looking forward to visiting this year?
JS: This July I am leading a group trip to my favorite place on Earth—Ladakh, India, which has always been at the heart and soul of Global Family Travels and is one of the most magical destinations we visit. Often called “Little Tibet” and located high in the Himalayas of Northern India, Ladakh’ s culture is ingrained with the Buddhist way of life. Trip highlights include the opportunity to contribute meaningfully in the village of Stok by participating in a community service project.
RM: Is there a destination you recommend families avoid right now?
JS: Not really, just do your research before you go and be aware of any political unrest and steer away from the places where you feel unsafe.
RM: What’s new with Global Family Travels?
JS: Despite the recent reversal of travel policies to Cuba, the good news is it is still an accessible destination and we are taking trips there. We are also excited to be developing new trips to Nepal, South Africa and Guatemala for Days for Girls, a non-profit based in Washington State. We are also expanding our soccer trips, creating a Soccer Safari to Zimbabwe to play with youth teams.
RM: Is there anything else you want to share about yourself or traveling?
JS: One of the things I am most excited about is my new role as co-founder of the Impact Travel of Greater Seattle, which we recently introduced to Seattle-area community leaders, tourism officials, and local non-profits. Committed to leveraging the potential of travel to help solve the world’s most pressing challenges, our mission is to provide education, advocacy and community building around sustainable tourism, with the goal of strengthening our own communities.
About Global Family Travels
Based in Bellevue, Global Family Travels’ mission is to learn, serve and immerse. In partnership with community-based tour partners, schools and non-profit organizations, they offer family-friendly, sustainable travel experiences in support of education, preservation of local cultures, conservation and economic growth. Their trips include a mix of cultural and educational activities, homestays and participation in local service projects aimed at improving the lives of people in the communities they visit.
→ For information, visit globalfamilytravels.com.