For regular readers of this blog, it may be of little surprise to know that I love planning family trips. I’m not sure if it is due to my type-a personality that encourages order (or meticulous flexibility as I see it) or the idea that I’ll be able to experience something new to share with my son or perhaps even learn something new about me. Whatever the reason, there’s pure joy felt when planning a family trip. Just recently, I was presented with a vacation challenge. With my husband recently having started a new job at a new company, I knew our traditional summer family vacation this year would have to be reconsidered.
Given that the prospect of traveling alone with children while one’s spouse is working and unable to get away, or as a single parent, often presents a challenge for many families, I decided to share the planning process I went through for our upcoming mother-son family trip to Greece.
Task – find a suitable destination and itinerary that would be kid-friendly in terms of cuisine, activities and accommodations, parent-friendly in terms of logistics and opportunities for education conservation, and environmentally-friendly, where possible.
Travel Tip #1 – Select one region where all vacation activities are within a maximum 1 ½ hour driving or public transportation radius; otherwise, the only vacation activity the kids will remember is being in transit.
Options – While I considered some U.S. destinations (we have family and friends scattered throughout the country), the appeal to get away from the tourist crowds and experience something unique was too great for me to ignore.
Travel Tip #2 – Some of the best summer vacation values may not be within the United States, especially if you are able to use frequent flyer points toward airline tickets.
Target – Given that my son has always been a decent traveler and is now getting older, I considered taking a trip that would focus on his ancestry. My son’s heritage is a mix of Polish (Dad) and Greek (Me) with a bit of English, Irish and Scottish thrown in to make things lively.
We had already taken a short, introductory trip to London, which was very successful, and since we are already planning to go to Poland for the UEFA soccer championships next year, the obvious choice was Greece.
Travel Tip #3 – Consider a family trip to identify your children’s heritage to make history, holiday traditions and language come alive for them.
Details – Aside from the popular Athens attractions such as the Acropolis and brand new Acropolis Museum and Greek island attractions, Greece has a diverse set of nature tourism and ecotourism choices to offer families too. The difficulty was choosing just one area (e.g. island on Aegean or Ionian Seas, the Peloponnese) that would have enough interesting activities for a week.
When faced with so many choices, I usually make the final decision based on the accommodation options and, for anywhere in Europe, I typically opt for renting a house.
Besides being more convenient and comfortable than a typical hotel room, renting a home enables you to relax, stock some simple mealtime items, cook dinners when the kids don’t want to (or shouldn’t) go out, and wash clothes. In addition, since you are making arrangements with a local property manager (who usually speaks English), you can organize performance tickets, ask questions about activities, and coordinate a chef or baby-sitter, all before you arrive.
I found a lovely 2 bedroom villa on the small island of Alonissos (pictured above right), one of the Sporades islands in the northern part of the Aegean Sea. The villa is on the beach overlooking the Bay of Glyfa and another Greek island of Peristera. The kitchen is fully equipped to a high standard and all linens are provided. Within a five-minute walk, there are supermarkets, coffee shops and restaurants, so there is no need to rent a car either. Also, I arranged for us to get a tour of the Alonissos Marine National Park, which is park set up to study and protect the endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal.
Travel Tip #4 – Consider using Home-Away Holiday Rentals to find suitable accommodations such as an apartment, cottage, house or villa on the beach, in the mountains, right in the city or anything else in between. You can also ask the property manager to help secure tickets for activities or additional services during your stay.
Logistics – During the summer months, regular bus service (leaving every 30 minutes) from Athens takes you to a northern seaport where you then transfer to a hydrofoil (kind of a flying boat) for a 2 ½ hour ride to Alonissos. Because the infrastructure is set up for ecotourism rather than mass tourism, Alonissos has retained the original character of Greek Islands from days gone by.
As for cuisine, the Mediterranean diet consists mostly of salads, goat cheese (feta), vegetables and fish with lamb as the meat of choice. Fried foods, such as squid (calamari) and fresh fries, are also very popular. Food allergies are not common in Greece, but as most places (outside Athens especially) encourage you to tour the kitchen and actually pick out the exact fish or piece of meat you want to eat, you can generally speak with the chef as well so that he knows what needs to be prepared separately.
Travel Tip #5 – To get the children excited about an upcoming trip and prepared for the cuisine, check out a local (i.e. Greek) restaurant beforehand. Once your children find a favorite menu item or two, use Google Translate or Select Wisely to prepare a local language restaurant card that you can readily hand to a waiter or chef.