"Will my family be safe?"
Everywhere I go people have the same question about travel this spring and summer.
At the moment, there is a U.S. Department of State travel alert for Europe throughJune 20. Terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants and transportation, the State Department warns. The New York Times, meanwhile, reports that since the assaults in Paris last November, officials now know that the Islamic State's European operations are larger than first thought, and Britain, Germany and Italy are high on the list of targets.
Zika Virus, meanwhile is now across theCaribbean, in Mexico in popular Central American destinations like Costa Rica andPanama and South America, where the 2016 Olympics will be held in Rio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention especially warns pregnant women, and those trying to become pregnant, as Zika, transmitted primarily through infected Aedes mosquitoes, has been shown to cause devastating birth defects. The virus can cause fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, but some of those who become infected won't even know they have it. So far, there are no long-term effects for children. There is also no vaccine, so all you can do is try to avoid getting bitten.
So what's a travel-loving family to do this summer? Obviously, it's a very personal decision. If you've been planning that trip to Costa Rica or to the Olympics for a year or more, if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you might want to rethink that. Otherwise, you'll want to be very careful about using insect repellent and covering up.
Not everyone is staying home, of course. Cruise lines report business is as good as ever, even in Europe and especially in Alaska where you can take your pick of a major cruise line. (All-inclusive Crystal Cruisestouts kids-sail-free deals while smaller more expedition-like trips attract wilderness-loving families to Un-Cruise Adventures, which also offers trips around the Hawaiian Islands.)
If you've got your heart set on Europe, perhaps to celebrate a special birthday or graduation, consider smaller, less crowded touristy sites. Take a family-friendly river cruise. (Kids are half-price on Uniworld and free on some sailings. Here's what I wrote about one of their kid-friendly trips in Germany.) Go hiking in the Alps, perhaps staying in rustic mountain chalets or huts. Tirol, Austria, offers lots of opportunity and spectacular scenery. U.S.-based tour operatorAlpenwild arranges many hiking and walking tours in the Alps for families. Sign on for a family bike tour with Backroads.com. (You can put your own group together!)
But perhaps this is going to be the summer when we return to the glory days of the Great American Road Trip, suggests Brigham Young University historian Susan Sessions Rugh, who literally wrote the book on the subject -- "Are We There Yet? The Golden Age ofAmerican Family Vacations." There is even a new much- publicized TV series Detour about a family's road trip misadventures.
That Golden Age started right after World War II and ended with the gas crisis in the '70s, Dr. Rugh said. "A lot of baby boomers grew up sitting in the back seat and people today talk about wanting to give their children that same experience," whether you want to exploreNew England, the Badlands, or drive to a lake cabin like we did so happily in Minnesota, staying at Ludlow’s Island Resort, run by the third generation of the same family. Maybe this is the year, now that gas prices are low. Just don't expect it to all be smooth sailing.
Here are six other options:
-- Rent an RV for your road trip -- you can get one equipped with sheets, dishes, pots and pans. Either way, your kids will enjoy the camaraderie at a campground, making fast friends -- as will you. (Rentals start at $80 a night, plus campground fee.)
-- Teach the grandkids (as young as five) a thing or two with a Road Scholar intergenerational adventure. You can search for dinosaur fossils in Utah, explore California's High Sierra, go to "camp" in the Adirondacks or explore Revolutionary History in Boston. There are dozens of trips to choose from, many less than $1,000 for nearly a week.
-- Calling all fourth-graders and their families. Not only are they free this school year at national parks, but fourth-graders are free on Austin Adventures luxury family vacations. You can explore Yellowstone, the Black Hills, Utah Bryce and Zion Canyon, among other places, with other families and, I can tell you from personal experience, guides make the experience stress-free for parents and grandparents.
-- Opt for a campground. If getting all the gear and sleeping on the ground in a tent isn't your idea of a vacation, consider that many campgrounds have cabins with everything you need. KOA Campgrounds have more than 4,000 camping cabins, some downright luxurious, that sleep six and start at just $120 a night across North America.
-- See your dollar stretch in Canada where a U.S. dollar is worth$1.29 in Canadian currency. You'll feel like you are in Europe in Quebec City -- the only walled city north of Mexico. Practice your rusty French and shop and eat till you drop in Montreal where you have your pick of museums, festivals (check out the Just for Laughs Festival) and outdoor fun. I'm a fan of British Columbia, which offers so many options to hike, kayak, fish, bike ride, see wildlife and more. Stay at a guest ranch or a nice hotel in Whistler where, given the strength of the U.S. dollar, you are guaranteed a bargain.
-- Summer is a great time to hit a snow resort. You'll find great deals on lodging and as much, if not more, to do in the mountains as in winter. This June, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service, Epic Discovery is launching in Vail Mountain,Colorado, and Heavenly Mountain Resort in Lake Tahoe, California, a first-of-its-kind on-mountain summer adventure with everything from zip lines to wildlife trail explorations and "learn-through-play" activities.
Feeling better now?
Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kid’s Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released.