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The Best Gift Ideas for Mother's Day

Check out the best gifts for your favorite female traveler to give this Mother’s Day—bonus, most of these Mother’s Day gifts are under $100.

Travel-Related Mother’s Day Gifts

Bellroy Travel Folio

Help your mom stay organized while traveling with this chic passport holder and travel wallet. She can keep the whole fam organized since it fits two passports, four to eight cards, cash, and multiple boarding passes. This zip-up style also has RFID blocking technology, which protects documents, cards, and passports from RFID skimming, i.e. electronic pickpocketing. The environmentally-certified leather wallet also comes with a three-year warranty.

LifeProof Wake Phone Case

Give mom a protective and sustainable phone case, no matter what model phone she has. This case is both drop-proof (from two meters), easy to grip, and helps the environment through a donation on the company’s behalf to select charities.

iLive Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds

If mom isn’t the most tech-savvy, then these affordable wireless earbuds might just be the perfect gift. This pair supports true wireless and Bluetooth capabilities and comes with a charging case of its own.

Keebos Crossbody Phone Case

Go totally hands-free with this useful and inexpensive phone case; it’s a crossbody bag, wallet, phone holder, and protective case all in one. This Mother’s Day gift is perfect for walking the dog, circling the park, or grabbing a coffee.

Mother’s Day Gifts for the Home

YETI Lowlands Waterproof Outdoor Blanket

From beach picnics to lining the back seat of the car for your family pooch, YETI’s outdoor blanket is an ideal gift for the no-fuss mom. It even comes in a convenient carrying case and is machine-washable. Other standout features are that this comfy blanket has a waterproof layer and that it easily shakes off pet hair.

Artifact Uprising Wood Block Prints

gift ideas for mother's day

Gift mom a personalized photo album with this simple yet beautiful woodblock stand. Send 12 of your favorite travel photos to Artifact Uprising and the company will print them on thick card stock and voila—you’ve got a personalized gift within days.

Other places to shop customized prints include Etsy, Framebridge, and Shuttterfly.

COSORI 12-in-1 Air Fryer Toaster Oven

Whether she’s cooking for additional family members in quarantine or perfecting some of her favorite recipes, this multi-purpose toaster oven will be a delightful surprise. Not only is it reasonably priced, but it serves as an air fryer, toaster oven, broiler, rotisserie, and more. The 12 presets include: pizza, roast, airfry, toast, bagel, bake, broil, cookies, rotisserie, dehydrate, ferment, and keep warm. Plus, there’s an included recipe book (featuring over 100 ideas) for even more cooking inspiration.

EcoVessel Wine Tumbler

Take your favorite drink on-the-go with these triple-insulated, stainless steel tumblers. Priced under $20, it’s an ideal gift for the mom who loves a park picnic or day at the beach.

ChappyWrap’s Places Blanket

While the jury’s still out on our summer vacations, remind mom of one of her favorite places with an ultra-plush blanket from ChappyWrap. With maps of locales like Cape Cod and San Francisco, you can keep her cozy during stay-at-home orders.

Mother’s Day Gifts, Clothing & Accessories

Keds Women’s Clipper Jute

This pair of stylish slip-on shoes from Keds make for the perfect understated, yet practical gift for mom. Wear them now around the house and save them for the next family beach vacation. The versatile style means they match with almost anything and the slip-on style makes them ideal for errand running and city walking.

Rothy’s Bag Collection

We’ve already expressed our love for Rothy’s latest bag collection, and we think the line of bags and pouches also make for great Mother’s Day gifts. All of the accessories are stylish and practical for both future travel and use around town.

Hari Mari Sydney Slides

Keep mom comfy and fashionable with these spring and summertime sandal staples. Between the premium leather, memory foam footbed, and on-trend style these shoes have it all. Not only do they match almost everything, they’ll be her go-to pair of shoes all summer long.

Plaka Slipper Socks

I’ve already raved about these in my review, but these slipper socks are the perfect inexpensive gift for mom this Mother’s Day. The sock-like upper is flexible and soft while the cushy rubber bottom lets you grab your mail, take the dog out, etc. without having to put real shoes on.

Cotidie Evelyn Drape Waist Shirt

Gift mom this classic shirt, with a twist. The moisture-wicking and stretchy material mean this shirt is the queen of double-duty. Whether she’s a frequent flier or just likes to look chic (but make it comfy) at the grocery store, this athleisure brand has got you covered.

Ministry of Supply Swift Wide Leg Pants

These lightweight pants are the stylish ideal travel pant, but can also be worn easily around the house. The stretch crepe material is airy and breathable and will look good with either a sweatshirt or blazer.

Bleusalt

Fair warning, you may want to steal this gift, but know it will bring the utmost coziness to your mom. So, let her enjoy it. Bleusalt’s environmentally-friendly and sustainable beechwood fabric is literally a dream, so anything you pick will be a win. But, if you need help choosing, The Classic Shirt and The 2 Yard Wrap are my go-tos.

MZ Wallace Metro Pouch

It’s a clutch, it’s a pouch, it’s a diaper holder, it’s anything you need it to be. We adore this line of bags (also available at Nordstrom) for its waterproof nylon quilted material and packability.

State Cashmere

Spoil mom with high-quality cashmere, but not at the expected price tag. State Cashmere offers dozens of styles under $100 as well as a wallet-friendly and lightweight spring line, made with cotton cashmere. Or pick something out from the travel section, think socks, blankets, and wraps.  

Mother’s Day Gifts, Beauty

Dyson Airwrap Hair Styler

Gift mom the latest in hair styling innovation, with Dyson’s minimal heat hair styler. It’s a smoother, curler, styler, and dryer all in one.

Pro Tip: Also check this product’s Amazon listing for potential price reductions and Dyson will price match.

TULA Skincare Best Sellers Travel Kit

Cult-favorite skincare brand, TULA, offers some of their best-selling products in a convenient and reasonably priced, travel-sized kit. It’s a perfect way to test out the facial cleanser, day and night cream, sugar scrub, and moisturizing primer. And while you’re at it, throw in the brightening eye balm and sunscreen to your cart for yourself (we won’t tell).

DW Home Candle

Remind mom of her favorite scent with a budget-friendly candle from DW Home. We love the Calming Waves and Tranquil Lotus scents for uber relaxation during this crazy time.

Athena Club the Go-Tos Set

Help mom make her skincare routine healthier with Athena Club’s the Go-Tos set. At just $25 this gift set includes the brand’s Dewy Body Lotion, Soft Face Wipes, and All Day Deo. Each product is made with good-for-you ingredients and smells fantastic.

Subtl Beauty Stack

Mom will thank you for this life-changing makeup gift. Meet Subtl Beauty’s stack, the ultimate travel-friendly makeup on the market. Build her a custom stack by choosing a lip stain, concealer, highlighter, bronzer, and/or shine control powder and voila, all her makeup’s in one place.

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Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

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Experiential Travel Family Travel Outdoors Romantic Travel Senior Travel Solo Travel Student Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

9 Whimsical Spring Flower Blooms We're Dreaming About

You don’t need to be a nature expert to appreciate the seas of colorful flowers that mark the end of winter each year, or to get lost in photos of them. Some of the world’s biggest and best spring flower blooms turn travel-worthy spots like national parks and famous cities into a sea of color.

The World’s Most Whimsical Spring Flower Blooms

Here’s where to look for a breathtaking dose of color in spring, and which ones offer livestreams.

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.

Mount Fuji, Japan

Spring flower blooms

Every April and May, pink-hued flowers blanket the meadows at the base of Mount Fuji. The Shibazakura Festival marks the occasion, drawing crowds who stroll through the electric-pink fields and snack at the many local food stalls that set up to offer Japanese buns, ramen, soups, and more. During the peak spring flower bloom this is one of the most photogenic places in the world. You can livestream the blooms here.

Death Valley, Southern California

spring flower blooms

Southern California’s parks are home to many different types of spring flower blooms, and they come to life earlier than most thanks to the region’s warm climate. Death Valley National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are popular for yellow and purple desert flowers that peek through the cracked desert floor as early as March. The Antelope Valley’s California Poppy Reserve becomes a sea of yellow, orange, and red poppies around April—and can look like a scene straight out of the Wizard of Oz. The small orange variation of poppy happens to be the state flower of California.

The California Parks Department offers a poppy live-stream here.

Keukenhof, Netherlands

spring flower blooms

If rainbow palettes of tulips don’t come to mind when you think of the Netherlands, it’s time to venture beyond Amsterdam. Spring is a great time to head into the countryside to discover windmill-dotted fields of bright tulips, which often bloom as late as May. The Flower Bulb Region is home to vast tulip farms as well as public gardens like Keukenhof—one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, and home to seven million flowers. You can virtually tour the gardens here.

Western Australia (September)

spring flower blooms

Take your pick of Western Australia’s incredible array of wildflower trails in September—the southern hemisphere’s spring. Guided or self-driven spring flower bloom tours are available in wildflower-blanketed Perth, along the Coral Coast, and as far north as Pilbara. Options include the Esperance Wildflower Trail, wild orchids south of Perth, and rainbow desert blooms in Broome to the north.

Valley of Flowers National Park, India

spring flower blooms

India’s Valley of Flowers is both a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its six miles of alpine flowers and rare, protected wildlife. Nestled between the Himalayas and the sacred Ganges River in Uttarakhand, the valley has 1,000 different species of flowers, including daisies, poppies, rhododendrons, lavender, and more. Hike along its waterways and through pastures blanketed in spring flower blooms—just keep an eye out for Himalayan black bears.

Monet’s House and Gardens, France

spring flower blooms

Claude Monet’s mesmerizing flowers don’t only exist in paintings. See the lavender and lily pad-filled settings that inspired his works in Giverny, France, where you can visit the Impressionist artist’s house and gardens. The grounds are separated into two main gardens: one around the house that includes an orchard and bulb flowers like daffodils, and an enchanting Japanese water garden across the street.

Texas Hill Country, U.S.

spring flower blooms

Combine wildflowers with wineries in Texas Hill Country, west of bustling Houston. Spring flower blooms come early to the Lone Star State, so you can get a jump start on summer by heading to Fredericksburg or Brenham to see the region’s famed bluebonnets—which the nearby Bluebonnet Wine Trail is named for. Stop at wineries and spot classic Texan ranches along the way.

Kew Gardens, London, England

Spring flower blooms

Spring flower blooms don’t have to require a trek from the city, especially if you’re in London. The U.K. capital has an abundance of gardens that come to life every spring, and Kew Royal Botanic Gardens is London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its 300 acres house 27,000 colorful plants, and are thick with tulips, poppies, peonies, and cherry blossoms each spring. The gardens even offer online educational horticulture courses so you can learn to identify species of plants.

Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.

washington monument with cherry blossoms tidal basin.

Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin is famously popular in spring for the thousands of cherry trees gifted to the park by the mayor of Tokyo, Japan, over a century ago. The pink and white buds explode into peak bloom all at once in a matter of just a few days, typically in March or April. The National Mall’s live webcam is here.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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At Home Family Travel Miscellany

7 Soothing Train-Ride Videos to Ease Your Mind

For globetrotters, there’s nothing better than hitting the road as you watch the scenery change around you. If you’re missing that open, expansive feeling, it’s time to climb aboard the YouTube Express! The videos we’ve rounded up below show real-time train trips as they pass through some of the prettiest terrain in the world. We’re talking Norwegian countryside, Swiss mountains, and English fields. The best part about these videos is how soothing they are—the landscape rolls by slowly, letting your mind ease into the gentle click-clack rhythm of a train trip. Our suggestion: Leave these videos running in the background to give a place to rest your gaze while working from home. They’re also a hit with train-obsessed kids (and train-obsessed kids at heart). Click on the links below and get ready to leave the station.

Golden Pass Route (Switzerland)

A plucky guitar provides the soundtrack to this stunning train ride through Switzerland. The Golden Pass route takes travelers on a weaving journey through the Alps right when the trees are bursting into their fall colors. A gushing river, A-line houses, and an atmospheric fog all add to the rich ambiance. As mountains open up to reveal sweeping valley scenes, the train window passes by the stuff of pastoral dreams.

Bernina Pass (Switzerland and Italy)

This video of the Bernina Pass between Switzerland and Italy shows more sweeping Alpine countryside, but this time we’re treated to the conductor’s view at the front of the engine. Snow-topped mountains and shimmering crystal-blue lakes dip in and out of the train’s view. Occasional tunnels drive everything into darkness, only to burst into full Technicolor on the other side, with blue skies and blankets of evergreens.

Gloucestershire (United Kingdom)

Relax and gaze dreamily out the window of this Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway train. The patchwork landscape beyond looks just like the picture on the top of a shortbread tin, and uplifting cotton-ball clouds unspool above. Fields, little houses, and church spires all make an appearance, and the soundtrack is just those train wheels turning over and over with their swaying rhythm.

Oslo to Bergen (Norway)

For pure winter wonderland magic, the Bergen Railway line can’t be beat. It moves from lakeside greenery into snow-blanketed stillness and back again. The view here is front-of-train (aka “cab view”), and the soundtrack is simply the wheels clacking along, with the occasional murmur of fellow passengers and train announcements, adding to the realness. Best of all, the train ride is over seven hours long, so you can click it on and let it run all day.

Toyosu to Shimbashi (Tokyo)

If you’re a fan of the towering skylines and streamlined architecture of Asia, this trip riding from Toyosu to Shimbashi will catch your imagination. Blocky skyscrapers by the waterfront dash out of view as this Yurikamome train pulls into futuristic white train stations. Adding to the commuter realism are the passengers ducking on and off the train, providing some fun people-watching. Gentle dinging, binging, and whooshing train sounds give the audio backdrop.

Port of Bar to Bijelo Polje (Montenegro)

Travelers that want to get off the beaten path will appreciate this video that pinwheels through the countryside of Montenegro. Train tracks loop around the craggy landscape ringed by deeply edged mountain ranges. Multiple tunnels thread through the mountains themselves, and all the while, the sky grows darker as streetlamps wink on.

Royal Gorge Route (Colorado)

America the beautiful, indeed: This trip through the Royal Gorge Route shows off Colorado’s geography at its most majestic. Pulling alongside the churning Arkansas River, these tracks skirt the rocky Grand Canyon. The train slips through some narrow keyholes of land on its way. And up above, celestial clouds in a perfect blue sky add to the postcard look. Halfway through the video, the train turns to double back for the trip home.

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Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

No matter how many photos you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon, standing at the rim’s edge for the first time will take your breath away—especially if you’re there at sunset, as the fading light paints shades of rose, violet, and gold onto the ancient rocks. But planning a trip to the Grand Canyon requires more than just booking a hotel and packing your camera.

Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

When should you travel to avoid the heaviest crowds and the most intense heat? Should you visit the North Rim or the South Rim? Where’s the best place to stay? For answers to these questions and more, read the following tips for planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.

Editor’s note: Many Grand Canyon facilities and tour operators have temporarily closed or made other modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Check each provider’s website for full details before making plans.

South Rim vs. North Rim vs. Grand Canyon West

Grand Canyon National Park is split into two sections: the South Rim and the North Rim, located more than four hours apart by car. Then there’s Grand Canyon West, located on the Hualapai Native American Reservation, four hours from the South Rim and nearly seven hours from the North Rim. If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon and your time is limited, where should you go?

The South Rim is the most visited part of the Grand Canyon for a reason. It has more viewpoints than the North Rim, with more expansive views of the canyon’s depth, as well as a wider range of lodging options and other visitor services. It also has plenty of hiking trails and activities like river rafting and mule rides. If you’re looking for classic Grand Canyon views, this is the place to go.

Popular with hikers and photographers, the North Rim is the South Rim’s quieter, more heavily forested cousin. While the views may be less spectacular, many travelers prefer the North Rim for its undisturbed wildlife and pristine trails.

The key draw at Grand Canyon West is the Skywalk, a glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the canyon for dizzying views on all sides—including right under your feet. (Important note: The Skywalk does not permit cameras or phones. Professional photos are available for sale.) This isn’t the best bet for avid hikers, as there are only two (relatively easy) trails here, but other activities include zip-lining, pontoon boat rides, and touring a Native American village. Grand Canyon West is the closest part of the canyon to Las Vegas, making it a convenient, though long, day trip.

Note that because Grand Canyon West is located on Native American land, it requires a separate entry fee than the North and South Rims, which are administered by the National Park Service.

When to Visit the Grand Canyon

planning a trip to the grand canyon

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, consider visiting the South Rim any time other than summer—especially if you’re hoping to hike all the way down to the bottom of the canyon, where temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August. Summer is also the busiest time of year; lodging in the park is expensive and sells out quickly, and viewpoints along the rim can be jammed with crowds.

The South Rim is open all year round, and you’ll find pleasant temperatures and smaller crowds in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). Even a winter visit can be rewarding; bundle up and enjoy the sight of the canyon dusted with snow.

Thanks to its higher altitude, the North Rim has a cooler climate and is closed between mid-October and mid-May. Fortunately, this part of the park sees fewer visitors and isn’t usually crowded even during the summer high season. Consider visiting in the fall, when the Kaibab National Forest erupts in vibrant colors.

Grand Canyon West, open year-round, is less crowded outside the summer months.

Getting to the Grand Canyon

Most visitors to the Grand Canyon fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix. There’s also a small airport in Flagstaff, just an hour from the South Rim, and some North Rim travelers fly into Salt Lake City. No matter where you land you’ll need to rent a car, as public transit is extremely limited in this part of the U.S.

Once you arrive at the Grand Canyon, you might need to park your car and take a shuttle bus to get around. Grand Canyon West is closed to private vehicles and operates a hop-on, hop-off shuttle around the park, while certain parts of the South Rim are only accessible by bus. A shuttle service makes the 4.5-hour trip between the North and South Rims; it’s particularly handy for rim-to-rim hikers. The North Rim is fully open to private vehicles.

One fun alternative way to arrive at the South Rim is via the Grand Canyon Railway, which runs from the town of Williams, Arizona, into the heart of the park, allowing for a half-day of exploring before returning in the afternoon.

Grand Canyon Lodging

The most convenient Grand Canyon lodging options are within the national park or Grand Canyon West rather than in nearby towns, but these options tend to book up quickly—sometimes months in advance. When planning a trip to the Canyon, reserve your accommodations first.

The South Rim section of Grand Canyon National Park is home to half a dozen lodges, including the venerable El Tovar, which dates back to 1905 and has hosted former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Another option is the Bright Angel Lodge, situated at the top of the park’s most popular trail. There’s also an RV park near the main visitor center, as well as two campgrounds.

If you can’t find lodging within the South Rim section of the park, there’s a handful of options in nearby Tusayan, as well as dozens of hotels (mostly chain motels) in Williams and Flagstaff, each a little more than an hour from the park entrance gates.

The North Rim has just two places to stay inside the park: the Grand Canyon Lodge, which offers motel rooms and cabins, and the North Rim Campground. If these are booked, consider the Jacob Lake Inn, 45 miles away, or head farther afield to Kanab, Utah, or Page, Arizona.

The most unique place to stay at Grand Canyon National Park is Phantom Ranch, located on the canyon floor. The only ways to get there are to hike or ride a mule down.

If you want to stay overnight within Grand Canyon West, you can book a cabin at Hualapai Ranch; each one features a front porch where you can relax and enjoy the desert views.

Grand Canyon Hikes

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, leave time for a hike or two.

The simplest walk at Grand Canyon National Park is the Rim Trail, which stretches for 13—mostly flat—miles along the top of the South Rim. Much of it is paved and wheelchair-accessible, and you can enter and leave the path at any viewpoint.

If your fitness allows, try to hike at least part of the way into the Grand Canyon; you’ll get a completely different perspective than you do from the top.

The most popular South Rim trail into the canyon is the Bright Angel Trail, which is well maintained and offers some shade along the way. Another good option is the South Kaibab Trail—it is a little steeper and has less shade, but boasts slightly more dramatic views if you’re only doing part of the trail. While both of these trails go all the way to the bottom, you can easily transform each of them into a day hike by turning around at one of the mile markers and going back the way you came.

The North Rim offers a variety of day hikes ranging from less than a mile to about 10 miles round-trip. It’s possible to hike into the canyon from the North Rim on the North Kaibab Trail and back out of the canyon via one of the trails on the South Rim (or vice versa); this is recommended only for fit, experienced hikers.

For information on all the trails listed above, see the day hiking information page on NPS.gov.

The National Park Service strongly recommends against hiking down to the river and back in a single day, even if you’re a veteran hiker. Instead, plan to overnight at Phantom Ranch or one of several backcountry campgrounds within the canyon.

Keep in mind that it usually takes twice as long to come back up the trail as it does to go down, and that temperatures at the bottom of the canyon can be up to 20 degrees higher than those at the top. Hundreds of hikers are rescued each year from the canyon due to dehydration, heat exhaustion, or injury.

Grand Canyon West offers just two hiking trails, one easy and one moderate, and neither one goes into the canyon.

One intriguing Grand Canyon hike to consider is the 10-mile (each way) track to Havasu Falls, the famous turquoise cascade you’ve probably seen on your Instagram feed. It’s located on Native American land between the South Rim and Grand Canyon West. Reservations are required (and limited). To learn more, see the NPS website.

Mule Rides, Rafting Trips, and Helicopter Tours

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, don’t forget about other activities besides hiking, like riding a mule into the canyon. (Why a mule? They’re more sure-footed than horses.)

From the South Rim you can ride a mule to the Colorado River and spend a night or two at Phantom Ranch, or take a shorter two-hour ride along the rim. (See GrandCanyonLodges.com.) From the North Rim you can take one- or three-hour rides along the rim or part of the way into the canyon. (See CanyonRides.com.) Book as far in advance as possible to guarantee yourself a spot.

Dreaming of rafting the Colorado River? You can take a guided trip in the national park with options from a half-day to more than two weeks, or plan your own trip with a permit from the National Park Service. To plan a one- or two-day rafting trip at Grand Canyon West, visit GrandCanyonWest.com.

Finally, one of the most incredible ways to view the Grand Canyon is from the air. Numerous companies operate helicopter tours over the canyon, including Grand Canyon Helicopters and Papillon.

General Grand Canyon Travel Tips

As soon as you arrive, stop by the visitor center—especially if you have limited time. Park rangers can help design an itinerary to make the most of your visit, suggest hikes to suit your fitness level, and recommend the best viewpoints for sunrise and/or sunset.

The desert heat can be deadly, so hikers should pack plenty of water as well as salty snacks. Bring a reusable bottle that you can fill up at water stations located throughout the national park. Start hiking early in the morning to avoid the midday sun. If you get a headache or start to feel dizzy or sick to your stomach, stop to rest and rehydrate.

The South Rim is located at 7,000 feet above sea level, and the North Rim is at nearly 8,300 feet. Some travelers may experience fatigue, headaches, or other symptoms of altitude sickness.

Stick to the trail. Not only does this protect the landscape, but it also protects you. Numerous tourists have died after falling from the rim of the canyon.

The most crowded viewpoints at the South Rim are those nearest the parking lots and bus stops. To avoid getting a hundred other people in every photo, walk along the Rim Trail in either direction. Often you can snap great shots along the trail or find your way to a less congested viewpoint.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Family Travel In-Flight Experience Miscellany Oddities

The Turbulent Rise and Fall of the Kiddie Wing Pin

How one mini freebie illustrates the story of the airline industry at large.

As a kid, I loved to rummage around the bottom of my father’s sock drawer, where, among the loose change and rolls of breath mints, he stashed his collection of little airplane wing pins. For decades, these were handed out as mementos to child passengers, but my business-traveler dad (ever a 10-year-old at heart) was never above grabbing one for himself. I found his collection of pins compelling then, and today they still fascinate me. In many ways, wing pins have been a weathervane of the airline industry, showing what direction the winds of change are blowing.

Aficionados can often recall their first pin. Tracy Stewart, Managing Editor of Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site), remembers the exact brand. “It was given to me by my dad. He gave me a Delta pin, and I thought that was the coolest thing.”

Likewise, Cameron Fleming, advertising copywriter and creator of the site Fly the Branded Skies, recalls his modest collection as a kid. “I would keep them in a jam jar. I had maybe 12.” As an adult, he now owns 636 pins, which are stored in an industrial filing cabinet and documented methodically on his site. Fleming is in good company. More than 1,300 eBay listings are currently selling junior wings, ranging from a plastic Western Airlines pin going for $2 to a 1940s United Airlines one for $125.

Three airline wing pins on a map.

Wing pins and commercial flight took off in tandem. As early as the 1930s, airlines gave out tiny metal airplane-wing pins to their youngest travelers—usually kids flying for the first time. In those days, these tiddlywink-type handouts were a huge badge of honor; only about one percent of Americans in the 1930s had boarded a commercial flight, and very few were children. “The Civil Aeronautics Board always had the final say in how much airlines could set seat prices,” Stewart says, “and you didn’t see a lot of discounted fares or even youth fares.”

In that era, air travel and the accompanying souvenir would have been quite exotic. “Having that Pan American ‘junior pilots’ pin on the playground would be quite something,” Fleming says. In terms of bragging rights, “it would be like you went to the moon.”

These wings became treasured keepsakes for kids, like baseball cards or marbles, and they fostered similar attachments. Some pins were marked “pilot,” “crew,” or “stewardess,” allowing children to role-play and recreate their flights during play-time. In those days many airlines doled out pilot pins to boys and stewardess ones to girls, proving that even 30,000 feet in the air, there’s still a glass ceiling.

Production of these “junior wings” or “kiddie wings” continued through the decades and peaked in the 1980s. Those years were also a boom time for air travel; propelled by the industry’s deregulation in 1978, the number of passengers doubled to 1 billion in the decade from 1975 to 1985. “Finally, airlines were able to set their own fares and they could be more competitive,” Stewart says. And with rising competition came the drive for airlines to set themselves apart. It’s in this moment “you start seeing airlines giving out lots of freebies like wing pins.”

Fleming also notes that wing pins were a way for new-to-market brands to legitimize themselves, essentially acting like wearable business cards. “It was a marketing symbol that the airline was open for business. Once it had the wings that it could give out to kids, it had arrived.” It also helped that new, cheapie plastic versions of these pins made significantly less of an impact on the bottom line than the costlier metal ones. At the high point, 73 airlines were doling out wings to their youngest clientele.

TWA Junior Hostess Wing Pin.

Of course, these were just part of a fleet of airline-branded items that included playing cards, matchbooks, and keychains. But kiddie pins were singular in that they targeted the next generation of travelers, which put them in an ethical gray zone. A 1978 report by the Federal Trade Commission, the same year as airline deregulation, confirmed that children under age 8 couldn’t differentiate between an advertisement and a personal message. This meant that children saw the pins as toys gifted to them, no different from a faux sheriff badge or secret decoder ring. As such, the pins fostered nostalgia as powerful as any other childhood plaything, but specific to an airline. This was not unlike the branded toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals, which kicked off in 1979. That pairing has met it share of criticism for using Disney characters, Beanie Babies, and the like to entice kids into a lifelong relationship with unhealthy food.

Fleming, however, doesn’t see pins as a “nefarious” act on the airlines part to hook the next generation. “I guess depending where you were in your development, it could mean a lot to you as a kid, and some of those residual feelings would carry on into adulthood.” But ultimately, he sees the pins as an excuse for playtime in a less-than-playful space. Stewart also thinks “it’s just a way of putting kids at ease,” and compares wing pins to a free lollipop at the bank. “For kids, it’s an act that helps soften up an otherwise boring, adult necessity,” he says.

Wherever they fall on a moral spectrum, wing pins have taken a nosedive since their heyday in the 1980s. The early 2000s was a low-point for pins; only around four airlines continued to dole them out. Once again, the pins reflected the larger turbulence in the marketplace. “In 2000, the industry was dealing with a bad economy—nine airlines went bankrupt—and then 9/11 happened and everything went down the tubes,” Stewart says. “After that, you start seeing successful budget carriers springing up. Legacy carriers were forced to mimic the model used by the low-cost carriers to survive.”

The rise of online flight shopping and easy price comparison tools drove a race to rock-bottom prices. With more and more price transparency, airlines couldn’t rely on emotional connections forged by kiddie wings and other paraphernalia to help sell tickets. Nor could they justify raising the price to absorb the cost of those branded items, when even a $10 difference could send travelers to the next airline on search results.

The heyday of wing pins was officially over.

Or was it? In the 2010s, airlines have again risen in profitability, and the wing pin has started to make a few glimmering reappearances. “Delta has them. United has them. American has them,” Fleming says, listing the wing pins that could be currently circulating somewhere above our heads. Delta, Fleming recalls, brought its pins back with a lot of fanfare. “They are so strongly associated with the golden era of air travel that bringing them back really does send a strong signal of company health,” he explains.

Virgin Atlantic Airline Wing pin.

Tellingly in these last few years, pins have popped up outside fuselage walls. On a flight back from London, I ran into a familiar sight: the wing pin. This time, it was being handed out in the airport terminal by a Virgin Atlantic rep next to a “selfie wall.” The pin, on a millennial-pink card, declared, “You’re a future flyer” and came with a postcard instructing travelers to snap a picture and post it with the hashtag #VirginFutureFlyers.

In a way, that’s a return to form for the wing pin. “What’s interesting about them is that they’re an invitation to participate in the brand,” Fleming says. “The idea that you can, on some basic level, be part of the crew is exciting.” Just like in yesteryear, these new wing pins are encouraging interaction, playtime, and “joining a crew,” though now all of that takes place in a virtual world.

It’s not surprising that, in our last decade, wing pins have left the current dreariness of the plane cabin and slipped down the escape ramp of social media. In the past, Stewart jokes, “You’d have a huge hulking seat, like a La-Z-Boy, and the flight attendant would be, say, carving a ham next to you.” Now he says, “the reality is that you’re trapped in a plane with very little legroom.” In other words, in the middle seat of economy, everyone’s wings are clipped. But online, the fantasy of jetting off into the sunset still lives on. And it’s on that runway that airline pins could take off again.

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10 Best Places to Go in Florida

The United States is home to more than a dozen cities and towns named Florida, but none can compare with the real Florida’s natural fun-in-the-sun appeal.

The Best Places to Go in Florida

From the coolest cities in Florida, like Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, to top theme parks like Busch Gardens and Disney World, these must-see attractions top our list of the best places to go in Florida.

Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida

Disney Magic Kingdom

It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Walt Disney should have named his Orlando theme park Disney Universe—or even Disney Galaxy. The Walt Disney World Resort is so large, in fact, that it’s difficult to narrow down which of the four main theme parks and two water parks to make time for, let alone whether to stay at a hotel within the resort confines or conserve costs with a nearby off-resort stay. Even selecting your preferred theme-park entry ticket can be daunting.

Here is some helpful Walt Disney World Resort information to get you started at this must-see Florida attraction:

Disney World ticketing options include single-day, single-park passes for Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the Magic Kingdom. You can extend your Disney World family vacation with multi-day passes, which reduce the per-day rate significantly. For example, you can purchase two-day passes, three-day passes, seven-day passes, and 10-day passes. All tickets must be used within 14 days of your initial visit.

With multiday passes, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one Disney theme park. Tack on the Park Hopper option (with access to all four parks) to increase your ticket’s flexibility: Admission to Magic KingdomEpcotDisney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is included.

For some Florida visitors, it’s not a vacation without wild water play or tee time. Disney knows how to round out the visit with two water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach), a nine-hole golf course, two mini-golf courses, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park. Access to these extras is included in the Water Park Fun & More pass. You can also combine both the Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More options for an additional fee.

Budget-minded travelers will easily find an array of accommodations options, with thousands of hotel rooms from “budget” to “luxury” within driving distance of Disney World. Consider a stay at a Disney Resort such as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin if you want to take advantage of early-morning and late-night access to select theme parks. Guests of Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista also have an added hour of play before the general public is allowed in and three hours after the parks close for the evening.

With so many parades and shows, peruse the Disney calendar to find scheduled events, plan your itinerary, and work around park closings. No matter what, you’ll find there’s plenty to do in Orlando—one of the coolest cities in Florida.

South Beach, Miami, Florida

lincoln road miami beach.

Lovingly dubbed SoBe, South Beach’s reputation as a gregarious scene for the fun-loving is well deserved among young and old visitors alike. From laid-back lounges to racy dance clubs, South Beach is world-renowned for its hot nightlife (many clubs operate until dawn). And while the robust club and dining scene is too caliente to sleep through every night, SoBe also knows how to play “grown-up” during the day.

Actually the southernmost tip of Miami Beach, South Beach is one of the best places to go in Miami Beach and home to many enriching cultural offerings, including Miami City BalletNew World SymphonyHolocaust Memorial of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and Miami Beach Botanical Garden. And you’d be remiss to pass up a stroll along South Beach’s world-famous Art Deco District. This historical part of South Beach is easy to meander along—not only because of its vintage beauty, which is alive with more than 800 candy-colored art deco-style structures, but also because of its concentrated size: a single square mile. Learn about South Beach’s celebrated history by going on a guided art deco walking tour led by the Miami Design Preservation League.

On South Beach, both locals and tourists know how to share the sun, sand, and the occasional pickup volleyball game. Expedite a speedy hangover recovery with yoga lessons from 3rd Street Beach Yoga. Generous instructors facilitate donation-based “yoga from the heart” near the beach’s lifeguard hut.

Always a popular tourist destination, South Beach experiences its biggest influx of visitors in March (spring break), April (Pride festivities), and over Memorial Day Weekend (Urban Beach Week).

Everglades National Park, Florida

everglades national park

A visit to Everglades National Park isn’t just a must-see Florida attraction or one of the top things to do in Florida—it’s an adventure traveler’s dream. The Everglades offers canoe and hiking trails, airboat and tram tours, bird-watching expeditions, and camping.

Also a mecca for those seeking out wildlife sightings, the Florida Everglades’ ecosystem is one of the top attractions in Florida because it’s like no other in the world. Alligators, crocodiles, falcons, turtles, and even panthers are but a few of the many animals you can spot in the Everglades.

Not to be missed, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge lies on the western edge of the Everglades. This 35,000-acre national refuge comprised of mangroves and islands provides refuge to endangered wildlife, among them West Indian manatees, bald eagles, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. There’s some debate about how many islands are actually in the Ten Thousand Islands area. Conservative estimates have it in the hundreds, while more robust assessments estimate at least 17,000 islands during low tide. The Everglades National Park as a whole spans about 1.5 million acres.

Fort Lauderdale

canals with large boats in florida

Ft. Lauderdale is known by many nicknames, among them the “Venice of America” (for its vast system of canals) and the “Yachting Capital of the World” (because locals collectively own 50,000 private yachts). Regardless of what you call it, there’s no disputing that this Florida must-see is a dream destination for boaters. For more than 50 years, Ft. Lauderdale has hosted the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show—the largest such event in the world.

But boaters aren’t the only ones docking in this local scene. Countless spring breakers flock to the city for hedonistic fun each March, beach bums bask on Ft. Lauderdale’s 23 miles of beaches, and snorkelers and divers seek out underwater adventures among the 75-plus artificial reefs.

Key West, Florida Keys, Florida

Key West Florida street.

The final stop on the Eastern Seaboard’s 2,369-mile Route 1, Key West really is the be-all and end-all. Geographically, Key West sits at the southernmost point within the continental U.S. and is closer to Havana than it is to Miami. In spite of its tropical climate (Key West boasts an annual average temperature of 77 degrees) and its low-lying land, Key West is hit by hurricanes less than other coastal regions.

While Key West is enthralling in and of itself, be sure to make it out to sea when in the area. Just a few miles off the coast is the third-largest coral-reef system in the world, the Great Florida Reef. Snorkeling, diving, and deep-sea fishing are popular area adventures. Man-made reefs offer wreck diving just a few miles offshore, too.

Key West was once home to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, among other celebrities of yesteryear. These days, its most famous residents come in a more natural variety: iguanas, feral chickens and roosters, and a clutter of cats, the latter of the excessive-toe variety, nestled in Hemingway’s former home.

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida
(Photo: Universal Orlando Resort)

Just like Walt Disney World Resort on the other side of town, Orlando’s Universal Studios can hang with the big boys. And planning a visit in advance yields major savings.

Multiday tickets purchased online offer as much as $20 off gate rates. For single-park, single-day passes, you can choose between Universal’s Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. Single-park, multiday tickets are available two days, three days, and four days. Multipark, single-day passes are also available. Multipark, multiday options are available for two days, three days, and four days.

You can skip the lines while at the Universal Studios parks with the Universal Express Pass. A multipark, single-day Universal Express Pass option is also available; as are multiday and even annual pass options (with select blackout dates). Season passes are available that offer “red-carpet treatment.”

With so many theme parks, resorts, and other top attractions to choose from all in one place, it’s easy to see why Orlando is one of the coolest cities in Florida—not to mention one of the best places to go in the entire Sunshine State.

Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island

The beaches of Sanibel Island are revered around the world as one of the best places to go in Florida by conchologists (shell collectors). The practice of shell collecting is so popular on Sanibel Island’s shores that locals have nicknamed the act of bending down for a shell “the Sanibel Stoop.”

Sanibel Islanders celebrate the seashell with an annual three-day exhibit and festival that typically runs in March. Shell enthusiasts can also learn about shells and mollusks by visiting The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The biggest prize on the beach is the junonia shell, which can land you in the local newspaper.

While shelling is serious business on the island, so is conservation. More than half of Sanibel Island is part of a designated wildlife refuge.

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine isn’t nicknamed “Ancient City” for nothing. Juan Ponce de Leon first explored the area in 1513 and claimed it for Spain. It was later turned over to Britain, then back to Spain, and finally ceded (with the rest of the Florida Territory) to the United States in 1819. Today it’s one of the coolest cities in Florida.

You can see much of its rich history infused into St. Augustine’s architecture in places like Ft. Matanzas National MonumentCastillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country, the Hotel Ponce de Leon (once a regal hotel, now part of Flagler College and also a designated National Historic Landmark), and, of course, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. (Folklore says that Ponce de Leon was searching for the elixir of life when he stumbled upon St. Augustine.)

St. Augustine is also home to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The park opened its doors in 1893 and now houses more than 20 species of crocodile as well as other reptiles, a bird collection, and many mammals.

Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida

Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida
(Photo: Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida via Shutterstock)

For those seeking an up-close look at safari wildlife without the high price of an airfare ticket to Africa, Busch Gardens is one of the best places to go in Florida. Among the 2,700 animals that call the 335-acre zoological-themed park home are elephants, cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, kangaroos, meerkats, and lemurs.

Busch Gardens Tampa also features an adjoining water park, Adventure Island. Seek out some water-filled fun on the twisting Aruba Tuba, the 55-foot-drop Riptide, and the 700-foot-long Key West Rapids. Adventure Island closes from November through February and reopens in March; see the current calendar for more information.

All theme-park tickets provide complimentary round-trip shuttle transportation from several Orlando pickup/drop-off points.

Amelia Island, Florida

Amelia Island, Florida

Among the southernmost of the Sea Islands, Amelia Island is an easy drive from Jacksonville and only about five hours from Atlanta. Two bridges connect the island to the mainland.

Amelia Island’s seashore provides plenty of adventures for all. Scallop digging, snorkeling, and horseback riding are all quintessential Amelia Island activities. Watch for the shoreline’s playful dolphins and (if you’re lucky) perhaps even a right-whale sighting.

Amelia Island offers upscale resorts, spas, championship golf courses, a variety of festivals, and of course beaches. Amelia is routinely recognized among the top 10 U.S. islands in Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Awards.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published on March 1, 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information about the top attractions and best places to go in Florida. 

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Family Travel Theme Park

The 11 Best Amusement Parks in Florida, 2020 Edition

You can’t think of theme parks without thinking of Florida. The Sunshine State is a must-visit spot for anyone who loves riding roller coasters, splashing down waterslides, and immersing themselves in the worlds of their favorite movies and TV shows.

But all the Florida theme park options can be overwhelming. There are six different parks at Walt Disney World Resort alone, and another three parks at Universal Orlando Resort. Teens chasing thrills don’t necessarily want to find themselves in the same lines as toddlers decked out in their best princess tiaras. So here’s a breakdown of the top amusement parks in Florida to help you find the best match for your interests and travel party.

Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom

Disney Magic Kingdom

Best for: Families with young kids and nostalgic types

The theme park that started it all, the Magic Kingdom first opened its castle doors in 1971. Since then it’s been the spot for Mickey Mouse meet-and-greets, fantastical Dumbo flights, and over-the-top fireworks displays. There aren’t a lot of thrills to be found here; the park’s roller coasters skew more entry-level than scream-inducing (although riding through the dark on Space Mountain can still offer up surprises).

Head here if you have young kids or if you just love the feeling of yesteryear that’s so palpable in the Orlando-area amusement park. Try to book a meal at Be Our Guest, a restaurant jaw-dropping dining areas modeled after different rooms in the castle from Beauty and the Beast.

Where to stay: You can’t get much closer than Disney’s Contemporary Resort, which is just a short walk or monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom. It’s home to the popular Chef Mickey’s character buffet and a viewing spot for the nighttime Electrical Water Pageant boat parade.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure

harry potter world at universal

Best for: Wannabe wizards and movie fans

Named top amusement park by Tripadvisor, SmarterTravel’s parent company, in 2019 (the fifth year in a row), Universal’s Islands of Adventure is where The Wizarding World of Harry Potter first came to life. You’ll see lots of visitors wearing robes and brandishing wands as they head to Hogwarts to travel by broom on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or stroll through Hogsmeade village with a butterbeer in hand. If you want to ride the Hogwarts Express (and you should), make sure you have a park-to-park ticket, as it travels between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.

If spells aren’t your thing, there are attractions based on Jurassic Park and Marvel superheroes, water rides for cooling off in the Orlando heat, and a Dr. Seuss-themed carousel.

Where to stay: From Loews Royal Pacific Resort, you can walk or take complimentary boat service over to Islands of Adventure. Guests at the South Seas-themed hotel get early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and free Universal Express Unlimited ride access that lets you skip the lines at most attractions, two highly beneficial perks.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom iconic tree of life

Best for: Animal lovers and Avatar fans

The park’s popular Pandora area, based on the fantasy world from the movie Avatar, draws visitors looking to immerse themselves in all things Na’vi. You’ll definitely want to visit at night, when the area’s awash in a bioluminescent glow, and snag a FastPass for the Flight of Passage, a 3D ride that simulates flying on the back of a banshee.

For animal encounters, ride the Kilimanjaro Safaris (be on the lookout for baby elephants or giraffes) and walk the park’s various trails to spot everything from gorillas to tigers. Don’t leave without hunting for the Yeti on the Expedition Everest roller coaster.

Where to stay: Enjoy the creature comforts of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Some rooms offer savanna views where you can watch zebras, giraffes, gazelles, and other animals from your balcony. On-site restaurants spotlight the flavors and spices of African cuisine.

Universal’s Volcano Bay

Universal’s Volcano Bay

Best for: Water enthusiasts in search of the latest and greatest

The newest entrant on the Orlando waterpark scene, Universal’s Volcano Bay, offers thrills and experiences you can’t find at other area splash zones—like its TapuTapu wearable technology that holds your place in line and alerts you when it’s time to ride, or TeAwa, the Fearless River, a thrilling inner tube river ride that’s anything but lazy.

With 19 attractions on a compact 25 acres, it’s easy to hit them all in a day. You’ll be surprised at how many different ways you can plunge down the side of a “volcano” and how much fun you’ll have doing it.

Where to stay: Book a room at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort for close proximity to Volcano Bay and the ability to get inside an hour before the water park opens to the public. The resort offers lots of retro charm, plus fun amenities like a lazy river and 10-lane bowling alley.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Slinky Dog ride at Hollywood Studios

Best for: Disney movie buffs and Star Wars fanatics

In 2018, Disney’s Hollywood Studios celebrated the opening of its Toy Story Land, an imaginative area designed to make visitors feel toy-sized. It’s home to two new rides—the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster and spinning Alien Swirling Saucers—plus must-try food items like the S’more French Toast Sandwich and “Totchos” (think tater tots meet nachos).

But an even bigger buzz surrounded the 2019 opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, where you can fly the Millennium Falcon and board a Star Destroyer.

Where to stay: Until Walt Disney World’s Star Wars–themed hotel opens (hopefully not in a future far, far away), make a reservation at the nearby Disney’s Art of Animation Resort to stay immersed in the movies. With décor inspired by Cars, Finding Nemo, and The Lion King, the resort’s family suites sleep up to six and have two full bathrooms. Disney’s Skyliner gondola transportation system (currently under construction) will eventually connect the Art of Animation Resort to Hollywood Studios so guests can travel by air between the two.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Sheikra Roller Coaster in Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay

Best for: Thrill seekers and Sesame Street fans

Like roller coasters that really get your heart racing? Then get in line at Busch Gardens, home to a 200-foot-tall floorless dive coaster, a triple-launch coaster, and Florida’s first family spin coaster. The newest addition is Tigris, Florida’s tallest launch coaster, which launched in 2019. It’ll be followed by Iron Gwazi, the world’s fastest and steepest hybrid roller coaster, in 2020.

But it’s not all about daredevil drops here. The park’s also a great place for the preschool set, thanks to its Sesame Street Safari of Fun area filled with kiddie rides and attractions, plus photo ops with Elmo and Big Bird. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is also one of the largest zoo facilities in the U.S., so animal lovers big and small can see everything from giraffes and cheetahs to sloths and kangaroos while strolling the park.

Where to stay: Less than a mile from Busch Gardens, the Home2 Suites by Hilton Tampa USF offers spacious rooms with full kitchens, free breakfast, and an outdoor saline pool for cooling off after a day in the sun. It’s also close to other Tampa attractions like the Museum of Science and Industry.

Universal Studios Florida

Fast & Furious–Supercharged Universal Studios Florida

Best for: Speed demons, sci-fi fans, and Simpsons devotees

The first park at Universal Orlando Resort includes beloved original rides like E.T. Adventure plus the resort’s newest attraction, Fast & Furious–Supercharged, which immerses visitors in the world of the high-speed film franchise.

You can also find rides based on Men in Black, The Mummy, and Transformers here, along with the white-knuckle thrills of the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster, which sends riders on a 90-degree climb toward the sky set to the soundtrack of their choice, and the less-intense-but-still-zippy Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. Make sure to visit the Springfield section for a Duff beer, Krusty Burger, and other Simpsons fun.

Where to stay: Live like a rock star at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando, just a short stroll from the park. In addition to the hotel’s amusement park benefits, there’s an underwater sound system at the pool along with musical amenities that you can take advantage of during your stay, from celebrity-curated playlists to a menu of 20 different Fender guitars that can be delivered to your room.

LEGOLAND Florida Resort

LEGOLAND Florida

Best for: The under-12 set and their parents

If you’re not sure your family’s ready for a theme park with the scale of Walt Disney World, this is the place for you, especially if you have LEGO enthusiasts in your household. Located in Winter Haven (less than an hour from the Orlando area), LEGOLAND Florida offers a manageable size and plenty of fun for young kids (but older kids might not be as enthralled).

Kids can drive their own LEGO car and boat, brave dragon- and dinosaur-themed roller coasters, and put their ninja moves to the test on an interactive Ninjago ride. Brick-building zones help keep the kiddos occupied while waiting in line. Don’t miss Miniland USA, which features highly detailed LEGO re-creations of New York City, San Francisco, and other famous locales.

Where to stay: Within walking distance of the park, the LEGOLAND Florida Hotel was designed for brick heads. There’s a LEGO pit in the lobby, LEGOS floating in the pool, and more than 2,000 LEGO models made with more than two million bricks throughout the hotel. Guest rooms offer cool kid-friendly themes that make even going to bed fun.

SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica

Manta Dips a Wing at SeaWorld Orlando

Best for: Kids who love sea creatures

SeaWorld has weathered its fair share of controversy in recent years, which has kept some visitors away. But if you do head to the Orlando park, you’ll find shows that aim to educate guests about dolphins, orcas, and other aquatic life. In addition to its signature animal attractions, the park also offers up plenty of thrill rides, from the tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster in Orlando to a new river raft ride with the world’s tallest drop.

A new Sesame Street area opened last year with SeaWorld Orlando’s first-ever parade and re-creations of Mr. Hooper’s store and other landmarks from the TV show. This year a new coaster called Ice Breaker will make its debut. SeaWorld’s Aquatica waterpark features rides with plenty of dips and drops plus the Dolphin Plunge, which takes riders through clear tubes that travel underwater in the park’s Commerson’s dolphin habitat.

Where to stay: Check into Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld for some R&R after a long day at the park. With some of Orlando’s most spacious guest rooms, several on-site restaurants, and a waterpark with slides and splash zones, there’s plenty to keep guests of all ages busy here.

Disney’s Epcot

The Norway Pavilion is a Norwegian-themed pavilion along World Showcase promenade at Epcot.

Best for: Galivanting gourmands and cocktail connoisseurs

Yes, Epcot’s idea of the future isn’t actually so futuristic anymore. And strolling the park’s World Showcase is a pale comparison to actually wandering the streets of Paris or Venice. But if you love good food and drink, and enjoy sipping and sampling in the Florida sun, bring your appetite and walking shoes for a day filled with interesting eats.

Indulge in jalapeño margaritas, chocolate crepes, crispy fish and chips, shawarma chicken, and other international delicacies served at carts, counter-service spots, and sit-down restaurants throughout the park. You can take in performances by Chinese acrobats, Mexican mariachi bands, and other global acts while you nosh. And if you have picky eaters in your family, this is a great place to get them to try new things.

Where to stay: You can walk or take a boat to Epcot’s back entrance from Disney’s Beach Club Resort. It’s got a three-acre pool area with one of Disney World’s highest hotel waterslides and a unique sand-bottomed pool. And it’s a short stroll from the hotel to Disney’s fun-filled Boardwalk area, where you can find restaurants, games, and roving entertainment.

Blizzard Beach

Blizzard Beach Water Park

Best for: Disney fans who want to make a splash

Blizzard Beach offers a “snowy” ski resort theme complete with a chairlift that travels to the top of Mount Gushmore. You can brave the 120-foot drop of Summit Plummet or travel down the mountain in a more leisurely but still just-as-wet way. It also features a play area for younger kids, a lazy river, and single- and multi-rider slides.

Where to stay: Stay in the swim at Four Seasons Resort Orlando. The luxury hotel located on Disney property boasts its own five-acre water park with two waterslides, a lazy river, a splash zone, and a family pool that shows “dive in” movies on Saturday nights.

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What Do I Need in My Travel First-Aid Kit?

When you pack for a trip, especially a trip overseas, it’s easy to forget about medications and first-aid. That’s why you should always bring a basic first-aid kit with you on your travels.

I always keep a pre-packed first-aid kit ready to go so I don’t have to think twice about it when I’m packing. Of course, you may need additional items depending on where you’re going and what activities you have planned. But this first-aid kit packing list covers the basics.

First-Aid Kit Tips

  • Look in the school supply section of your local drugstore for a small container, or order a small tackle box from Amazon.
  • Only separate medication from its labeled bottle if you know you’ll be able to differentiate pills.
  • Keep prescription medications separate from your first-aid kit.
  • Include over-the-counter (OTC) medication based on your needs; i.e., if you’re traveling on a cruise and need motion sickness pills, make sure to include those.
  • Pack a natural balm like GREEN GOO First Aid, which can relieve symptoms for dry skin, insect bites, scrapes, rashes, chafing, cuts, sunburns, blisters, and poison ivy.
  • Include various-sized bandages; they double for blister protection if you plan on doing a lot of walking.
  • Hand sanitizer, a small tissue pack, lip balm, and sunscreen are also must-haves.
  • Be sure to fill out the Medical ID on your iPhone and list any allergies, emergency contacts, and your doctor’s information.

Download and print this checklist to make your own travel first-aid kit.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Family Travel Packing

What to Pack for Disney World: 38 Essentials

When I walk down Main Street, USA in Magic Kingdom, I can’t help but smile. I’ve spent years growing up at Disney World, and that first glimpse of the castle after rope-drop never gets old. Whether this is your first trip or you’re a regular park hopper, here’s the essential Disney World packing list you need to make sure you have a magical time.

What to Pack for Disney World: Luggage

I always manage to throw in more souvenirs than I plan for when I go to Disney. Luckily I’ve outgrown stuffed animals and toys, but I always manage to find another mug I have to have, so I make sure to bring a larger suitcase than I normally would for a trip.

I’m obsessed with my Away Carry-On, which covers everything I need. But when I want to go bigger, I bring my trusty Samsonite Voltage DLX 29” Spinner.

What to Pack for Disney World: The Day Pack

I like to spend most of my days in the parks, and that means a day pack is essential. I got this monogrammed drawstring bag years ago, but when I need something bigger I grab my Mickey-themed Loungefly bag. As long as it fits snacks and a water bottle, I’m good to go.

If you’re towing kids or little ones, consider this diaper bag for heavy-duty travel.

What to Pack for Disney World: Park Essentials

  • Sunglasses: You’ll want to bring polarized shades that can handle the sunshine. I always pack my Ray-Ban Wayfarers when I travel since they go with everything, but if you want a little Disney flair, these are my favorites.
  • Hat: A baseball cap is a must in the parks. Don’t forget to take it off on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster—I’ve had to buy this embroidered cap twice.
  • Water bottle: The worst thing that can happen is getting overheated on a hot Florida day. You can fill up your reusable bottle at stations around the park or at any restaurant or counter service location.
  • Mini fan: For super hot days and long waits outside, I use this mini-fan to keep cool. I always get lots of envious looks from other people in line.
  • Snacks: Disney allows you to bring pretty much any food item except for alcohol into the parks. I hate getting hangry while waiting in line, so I always keep a few snacks on hand that hold up to the heat.
  • Extra napkins: Eating ice cream at 9:30 a.m. is one of my favorite parts of vacation, but it can get messy. I keep these in my purse just in case.
  • Reusable straws: Disney banned plastic straws a few years back, so if you’re a soda drinker, bring your own.
  • Autograph book: I love meeting characters, especially Winnie the Pooh and friends at the Crystal Palace for lunch. An autograph book makes for a sweet souvenir—each character has a unique signature.
  • Stroller: If you have a little one, it’s up to you whether you want to rent a stroller or bring your own. If you do bring one, make sure it’s a compact option like the Mountain Buggy Nano Stroller and that you make it your own so it stands out—a lot of strollers look the same.

What to Pack for Disney World: Shoes

  • Sneakers: Somehow I always manage to walk at least 10 miles a day when I’m at Disney (usually from snack cart to snack cart, let’s be real), so good walking shoes are essential. I can walk all day in my Keds, and they’re cute enough to go with most of my park outfits.
  • Socks: I bring cushy options that can handle crisscrossing the parks.
  • Sandals: I go for walkability over fashion with my sandals, so I like this pair from Columbia (I use them as camp shoes when I hike). Here’s the same pair for men.
  • Dressy sandals: I throw in a pair of versatile wedges I can dress up or down, depending on my dinner reservations.

What to Pack for Disney World: Jackets

  • Lightweight sweatshirt: I usually bring a sweatshirt for watching the parades and fireworks shows in the evenings. (Here’s a similar one for men.)
  • Rain gear: You’ll likely get caught in a torrential downpour for at least a few minutes every day while you’re at the parks. It doesn’t last long, but I always bring a raincoat or poncho to stuff into my backpack.

What to Pack for Disney World: Clothing

If you’re staying on property, you’ll be able to do laundry with laundromats at every resort, through their valet service, or, if you’re staying at a Disney Vacation Club Villa, with a washer and dryer in your room. Just bring:

What to Pack for Disney World: Water Parks and Pool Days

When I get tired of roller coasters, I trade them for water parks. Blizzard Beach offers ski-themed thrills and Typhoon Lagoon feels like a tropical oasis. Of course, there’s always time for poolside lounging back at the resort, too. For water-based sports, you’ll need:

  • Swimsuit: Of course! Everyone has a different style, but I go for classic and preppy J. Crew suits. (Try these tropical board shorts for men, too.)
  • Rashguard: I have really sensitive skin, so I go for a rashguard if I’m slipping and sliding on rafts and in chutes. Plus, I don’t have to constantly slather on sunscreen.
  • Water shoes: I’m fairly uncoordinated, so water shoes are my friend at water parks. But I tend to just wear my Havaianas Slim flip-flops for around the pool.
  • Sun hat: I swap my baseball cap out for a floppy straw hat that gives me enough shade to read by the pool.

What to Pack for Disney World: Toiletries

  • Sunscreen: Because it’s sunny out there.
  • Bug spray: Disney does a great job of spraying in the parks, but Florida is a swamp, so it’s never a bad idea.
  • Blotting papers: When it gets hot and humid, I pack a few of these to use right before any character photos.
  • Frizz control: The humidity wreaks havoc on my hair, so I bring this spray for mornings and evenings.
  • Motion sickness medication: Nothing ruins a roller coaster like getting motion sick. If you struggle with it, there’s plenty to do in the parks besides the rides. But it’s always good to bring just in case.
  • Bandages for blisters: Those miles add up.

What to Pack for Disney World: Gadgets

  • MagicBand: Disney runs on MagicBands. You won’t need your credit card, room key, or Fastpasses anymore: It all works with a wave of your MagicBand. It’s best to order these ahead of your trip so you’re ready when you check in.
  • Camera: Capture the magic with a digital camera. If you’d rather stay in the moment, you can also have your photos taken throughout the park, synced through your MagicBand to order and print after your trip.

What to Pack for Disney World: Accessories

  • Crossbody bag: I like to go lighter for nighttime park visits, and this Madewell purse does the trick.
  • Mickey ears: I never leave home without my ears for Disney trips. I have a flowery pair I bought for the Flower & Garden Show at EPCOT a few years back, but you can pick any number of combinations.

What Not to Pack for Disney World

The only things you won’t need? High heels or any uncomfortable shoes—you’ll be walking a lot. Second, leave the umbrellas and selfie sticks at home. The parks get super crowded, and you’re just as likely to drop them or leave them behind while getting in or out of a ride.

Overall, when packing for Disney, don’t be afraid to get whimsical. You’ll rub elbows with tourists from around the world, so you’ll see all sorts of styles. If there’s anything to learn from Disney, it’s that you make your own magic.

More from SmarterTravel:

Always in search of adventure, Kayla Voigt hails from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, the start of the Boston Marathon. You can usually find her at the summit of a mountain or digging into a big bowl of pasta. Say hi on Instagram @klvoigt.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Entertainment Experiential Travel Family Travel Food & Drink Historical Travel Island Outdoors Romantic Travel Senior Travel Solo Travel Student Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends Weekend Getaways

10 Best Things to Do in Aruba

The tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba sees more than a million visitors per year—and not just for the beachfront resorts and romantic Aruba hotels. Travelers from the U.S. and beyond know Aruba for its bright blue waters and white sand, but there’s also rugged outdoor adventure and colorful Caribbean culture to break up your beach lounging.

The Best Things to Do in Aruba

Below are 10 of the best things to do in Aruba, including some lesser-known gems. And before you pack your bags, also consider these things you should know before traveling to Aruba.

Visit Arikok National Park

boca prins aruba.

Did you know almost 20 percent of Aruba is a protected national park? Arikok National Park stretches from the island’s arid center to its eastern and northern coasts, where it meets tropical blue shores and steep ocean cliffs.

Inside Arikok you’ll see centuries-old cacti and rock-face paintings. Cooling off means heading to its breezy coastal inlets, like Boca Prins (pictured) for far-flung ocean views.

Opt for a hike of the trails to see bright quartz peeking through the desert soil and succulents like aloe flourishing; then head toward the wind turbines in the distance (which create a significant portion of the island’s electricity) to experience the nearby sea cliffs and swimming spots.

Explore Caves

guadirikiri cave aruba.

At the edge of Arikok National Park are shady caverns rife with ancient paintings, stalactites, skylights, and (only a few) bats that are sure to make you feel like a true explorer. Unlike Aruba’s beaches, these caverns rarely fill up with tourists—giving you a unique up-close experience with the island’s natural formations. Guadirikiri Cave is a favorite for its two large main caves connected by a “Tunnel of Love,” lit by skylights and dotted with thousand-year-old Arawak Indian cave paintings and hand prints.

Discover San Nicolas

baby beach aruba.

Most Aruba visitors stay in the resort-saturated Palm Beach area on the north coast, but the opposite side of the island has some of the best local beaches and cultural things to do in Aruba.

The San Nicolas area is home to colorful street murals, local art galleries and artisan shops, and Baby Beach—which earned its name for its calm, clear bay that’s fit for babies to splash in. You’ll get equal parts nature and culture in San Nicolas.

Go Snorkeling

sea turtle and snorkeler in aruba.

The clear, calm waters of Aruba make snorkeling a can’t-miss activity, and there are plenty of animals to see outside the water as well. Head to Arashi Beach or Boca Catalina for pristine waters full of tropical fish, or pick one of the many hotels on the island that have their own snorkeling and wildlife areas.

The Renaissance Aruba Resort in Oranjestad (Aruba’s capital) has its own private island complete with snorkeling, plus iguanas and vibrant flamingos that lounge on the beach with you.

Visitors can feed the flamingos the provided treats, although food isn’t necessary for the pink residents to walk right up to you on the soft sands. Colorful iguanas and blue lizards lounge on the beach next door as well, and a regular boat shuttle takes you back and forth from the hotel.

Celebrate Carnival

carnival performers in aruba.

Caribbean destinations like Aruba celebrate traditional Carnival annually, taking to the streets in ornate costumes and masks. The colorful events go on for weeks in Aruba between early January and late February. Locals and visitors alike honor the tradition with music, food, dancing, and parades—just in time for spring-break season. It’s one of the best things to do in Aruba if you want to experience the island alongside locals.

Most Arubans speak the local language of Papiamento, plus Spanish, Dutch, and English. It’s a treat to hear all the languages co-exist on this one happy island, and the friendly Arubans are welcoming of visitors.

Taste Aruban Flavors

mahi mahi meal in aruba.

The Dutch-Caribbean food scene is a unique one that includes both rich European flavors from Holland as well as spicy Caribbean flavors like seasoned seafood and fried plantains. For the latter, Zeerovers’ seaside picnic tables and fried fish baskets are island-famous and perfect after a long day at the beach. Local coffee, beer, and quick bites are a favorite at Craft Aruba.

For romantic dinners, Wilhelmina in Oranjestad offers Dutch-influenced dishes, local seafood options, and international fare. Papiamento Restaurant also stays true to local and Dutch flavors, and is located at a historic local house with intimate tables both inside the home and on its open-air patio.

Don’t leave the island without trying fresh local fish like red snapper, mahi mahi, and Caribbean rock lobster.

Learn About Aruban History

fort zouman aruba.

Aruba might be tiny, but it has a long history that dates back beyond the Arawak Indians, who drew Arikok National Park’s cave paintings about 1,000 years ago. You can learn about the original Arubans and see 4,000-year-old pre-ceramic artifacts at the National Archaeological Museum Aruba, or hear about the Dutch settlers and pirates that landed here in the 1700s at the Fort Zoutman Historical Museum.

Go Sailing

tranquilo tours sailboat aruba.

Take to the Caribbean Sea with a sailing expedition that will give you the full view of the island and an opportunity to experience various swimming spots all in the same day. Try Tranquilo Tours for a locally led daytime cruise around the island, with onboard lunch and off-boat swimming included.

Hit the Beach

divi divi tree on eagle beach aruba.

Aruba has over a dozen idyllic public beaches worth exploring, from Eagle Beach‘s white sand and Palm Beach‘s cabanas to Boca Prins‘ sea spray.

Locals and visitors alike take to Druif Beach for relaxation closer to downtown, while the calm waters of Baby Beach or watersports at Palm Beach might also be worth the trip for some water lovers.

Buy Local Goods

shopping in oranjestad aruba.

A haul of all your favorite Caribbean and Dutch goodies makes for great Aruban souvenirs, from European cheeses and chocolate to local spices and tropical jams—best found at local grocery stores. While retail shopping can be pricey on Aruba, especially near resorts, just strolling colorful Oranjested’s shopping district is worth the view.

Local crafts and goods made in the Netherlands or the greater Caribbean are worth getting since they’ll be cheaper than they are in the States. Look out for authentic items like Caribbean-made papaya hot sauces and Dutch sweets. Just be sure to declare cheeses and similar food items at customs if you do indulge.

More from SmarterTravel:

Associate Editor Shannon McMahon visited Aruba as a guest of Aruba Tourism Authority and JetBlue. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Search Aruba activities and where to stay on Aruba.com.

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Airport Family Travel

Children Flying Alone: What Every Parent Should Know About Unaccompanied Minors

If you are allowing your child to fly alone as an unaccompanied minor, be sure to take every necessary precaution to ensure his or her safety. Millions of children fly alone each year, the majority without incident. But there are occasional horror stories, like the time JetBlue mixed up two little boys and sent them to the wrong airports. That’s why it’s vital that both you and your child are fully prepared for the trip. Read on for important family travel tips on children flying alone.

How Old Do Kids Have to Be to Fly Alone?

Airlines generally consider children between the ages of 5 and 14 who travel without a parent or guardian to be “unaccompanied minors.” For kids between 15 and 17, unaccompanied minor service is typically optional.

Many airlines will not allow children 7 and under to make connections at all, but in the event a minor is old enough to change planes, they will be assisted by airline personnel. Some airlines—Southwest, for example—will not allow any minor (5 – 11) to change planes. JetBlue and Spirit will not allow any children under 15 to make a connection. Southwest and Spirit do not allow unaccompanied minors on international flights, while most other airlines do. Unaccompanied minors are often prohibited from taking codeshare flights.

If you intend to send an unaccompanied minor by plane, you will be required to fill out a form detailing the child’s name, age, and other relevant information. Upon arrival, your child will be escorted from the aircraft by an airline representative and released to the responsible adult named by you prior to departure.

General Age Guidelines for Unaccompanied Minors

Airline rules vary, but here’s a good idea of what to expect. Note that the ages listed below reflect your child’s age on the date of travel, not at the time of booking.

Children ages 1 – 4 may fly only when accompanied by an adult. A child must be at least 5 to fly solo.

Kids ages 5 – 7 can take a direct flight to a single destination but not connecting flights.

Those 8 and up may change aircraft on some airlines, and will typically be escorted by airline personnel to their connecting flight.

Anyone under the age of 17 who is flying alone on an international flight may be required to produce a signed letter of consent from a parent or responsible adult.

As these guidelines vary slightly by airline, be sure to contact your carrier for specific information.

Unaccompanied Minor Fees

Airlines charge anywhere from $35 to $150 each way for an unaccompanied minor fee. The exact amount will depend on the airline, the age of the child, and whether the flight involves connections. Some airlines charge a fee per child, while other carriers will allow multiple children to travel together under a single fee.

Below are the fees charged each way for unaccompanied minor service on some of the major U.S. airlines.

  • Alaska: $50 per child for nonstop flights; $75 per child for connecting flights
  • American: $150 (covers siblings, if applicable)
  • Delta: $150 for up to four children
  • Hawaiian: $35 per segment for up to two children within the state of Hawaii; $100 per segment for up to two children between Hawaii and another North American city
  • JetBlue: $150 per child
  • Southwest: $50 per child
  • Spirit: $100 per child
  • United: $150 for up to two children; $300 for three or four children; $450 for five or six children

Other Considerations for Minors Flying Alone

Some airlines do not allow unaccompanied minors to fly on the last connecting flight of the day, or on so-called “red-eye” flights between 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. Be sure to read each airline’s policies carefully before booking.

After filling out some paperwork and paying the appropriate fees at check-in, one parent or guardian will receive a special pass that will allow him or her to get through the security checkpoint. The parent or guardian must accompany the child to the gate and wait there until the plane takes off.

Important Tips for Children Flying Alone

Never wait until you have reached the airport to inform the airline that you have a minor traveling unaccompanied. Always provide this information to customer service over the phone, and have them inform you of all your options, fees, and so forth.

Try to purchase your child a nonstop ticket to minimize the chance of travel snafus, even if he or she is old enough to make connections. If a change of planes is necessary, aim to use a small, less intimidating airport for the transfer. That said, some airlines restrict which connecting cities are permitted for children flying alone.

Make sure your child carries plenty of emergency information. For example, leave instructions on how to handle flight delays or cancellations, including emergency contacts and a means to pay for necessities, such as overnight accommodation. Your child should also carry identification, such as a copy of his or her birth certificate.

Familiarize your child with his or her itinerary and make sure all travel documents are kept in a safe place—especially if they’ll be needed for a return flight.

Try to book a morning flight. If it is delayed or canceled, you have the rest of the day to make alternate plans.

Small children may have trouble with checked baggage. If possible, stick with a single carry-on bag and a personal item. If not, take a careful look at your child’s checked bag stubs to be sure that the luggage claim ticket and luggage tag match your child’s final destination.

Get to the airport earlier than usual to ease check-in and get children accustomed to their surroundings. If possible, show them where help desks are located and teach them to recognize uniformed employees.

Make sure your child has a photo of the person meeting him or her, as well as that person’s full name, address, and phone number. You will need to provide contact information to the airline as well. The adult meeting your child at the destination airport should carry photo identification.

Pack some snacks for your child such as chips, sandwiches, trail mix, or other finger foods like grapes or berries. You may also want to purchase juice or water for your child after you pass through the security checkpoint.

Be sure your child has plenty of things to keep him or her entertained in flight, such as a tablet stocked with games or a few favorite books.

Give your child a little cash to cover incidental expenses in the event of an emergency.

Just because a 5-year-old is permitted to fly solo, that doesn’t mean that your 5-year-old will be able to handle flying alone, especially if your child hasn’t flown before. Parents should use common sense and make a decision based on their own child’s level of maturity.

Airline Policies for Unaccompanied Minors

Click on the link below to find your airline’s policy on children flying alone.

To learn more, check out What Are the Regulations and Rules for Kids Flying Alone? from SmarterTravel’s sister site, Family Vacation Critic.

Comfy Kids’ Outfits for a Flight

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Arts & Culture Cities Experiential Travel Family Travel Group Travel Historical Travel Road Trip Weekend Getaways

10 Essential Civil Rights Movement Historic Sites to Visit


The story of the African-American civil rights movement runs from the kingdoms of Africa to the Jim Crow South, through the Black Panther movement, and into current-day events across the country. Each year, the history, present, and future of racial justice in the U.S. comes into focus with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January and Black History Month in February.

10 Essential Civil Rights Movement Historic Sites to Visit

But these exceptional museums, monuments, and historic centers dedicated to the civil rights movement deserve the attention of travelers seeking the story of America all year long.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.

In D.C., the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016 with much pomp and circumstance and ticket lines that ran around the building. If you still haven’t gone, you’re in for an exceptional experience: Exhibits span five floors and explore topics ranging from pre-slavery kingdoms in Africa to Jim Crow Segregation, and beyond, to modern day issues and achievements. The museum does a great job of bridging the job of informing without overwhelming, but trying to do it all in one visit will be tough. Timed entry passes are required on some days; check online for advance tickets or take your chances on a same-day request line at the museum.

African American Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This dedicated museum predated Washington D.C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture by 40 years, and was the first in the country to be dedicated solely to exploring African-American heritage. The African American Museum in Philadelphia is a fantastic visit for all ages, but does a particularly good job of communicating with the under-12 set who will engage with exhibits like the hands-on Children’s Wall, which details the lives of historic African Americans. The permanent “Audacious Freedom” display details the contributions of people of African descent in Philadelphia during the years immediately following the founding of the United States.

[viator_tour destination=”906″ type=”1-mod” tours=”3958P47″]

The Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, Alabama

Gain insight into the rise and fall of segregation in Alabama with a visit to this well-appointed museum. Your self-directed exploration through the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute will take you through various timelines and details of the movement. When you’re done, cross the street to the 16th Street Baptist Church, where in September 1963, a bomb was set off killing four African-American schoolgirls who were attending Sunday School. The church still holds Sunday service each week at 11.

[viator_tour destination=”34184″ type=”1-mod” tours=”56778P2″]

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee

It’s been over 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: In 1968 the world-respected leader was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel when he was shot. Since 1991, that former motel has housed the National Civil Rights Museum with a goal of sharing the lessons of the movement while also addressing the goals of equality and freedom around the world. Thanks to a $27.5 million investment in 2013, interactive exhibits have been added that enrich the visit.

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Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington. D.C.

Frederick Douglas started his life as a slave; then taught himself to read, outsmarted his captors, and escaped. He used his newfound freedom to become one of the most famous abolitionists in history and gained the respect of President Abraham Lincoln. Cedar Hill, the home he lived in from 1877 until his death in 1895 is now the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. Daily ranger-led tours offer a glimpse into the impressive man, his family life, and his work alongside five American Presidents.

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Missouri History Museum, Missouri

The Missouri History Museum offers a glimpse into how one city has made an impact on the national story of civil rights. Here you’ll find exhibits on the story of the four precedent-setting Supreme Court civil rights cases that had their start in St. Louis, as well as artifacts collected during the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, Missouri. Don’t miss the section of live exhibitions, where actors bring historic events and people to life right in front of your eyes. Admission is free.

Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, D.C.

This iconic family-owned fast-food spot opened in 1958 with a simple take on the chili dog. Today, Ben’s Chili Bowl’s half-smoke—a half-pork, half-beef sausage topped with onions, cheese, and the restaurant’s signature chili—is a D.C. must-eat. But beyond the food and friendly service, the Chili Bowl on U-Street—in a historically African-American area of Washington D.C.—also has a place as an important part of the American civil rights movement. It was at ground zero of the 1968 race riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, the restaurant—at the request of famous Black Panther Stokely Carmichael—stayed open despite curfews in place to feed protestors and police officers alike. Today, the walls of the shop hold photos of celebrities, public figures and local icons. And a mural on the wall outside features celebrated figures in the community. Though patriarchal namesake Ben Ali passed away in 2009, the property remains in the hands of his wife and children. And the half-smoke is still on the menu.

[viator_tour destination=”657″ type=”1-mod” tours=”231627P1″]

Freedom Rides Museum, Montgomery, Alabama

The African American civil rights story depended in part on allies from other races, communities, and countries. It’s a story that is diverse in class, age, and race. The Freedom Riders—groups of volunteers who drove into segregated areas in 1961 with a goal of desegregation—are a prime example of exactly that. Before venturing off, Freedom Riders often wrote wills and goodbye letters to their families. Many of them would be killed and none of them was older than 22. The Freedom Rides Museum shares the story of 21 of these young people who took on the nonviolent protests encouraged by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and sacrificed for the movement.

Civil Rights Memorial Center; Memorial to Peace & Justice, Montgomery, Alabama

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While in Montgomery, don’t miss a chance to visit the Civil Rights Memorial and Civil Rights Memorial Center. The monument chronicles the history of the Civil Rights Movement, while the memorial plaza offers a contemplative place to remember those killed during this turbulent period of American history. And nearby, the massive new Memorial to Peace & Justice from the Equal Justice Initiative aims to remember the thousands of African American men, women, and children who were lynched in America.

[viator_tour destination=”22212″ type=”1-mod” tours=”41627P1″]

Oakland Museum of California, California

The southern and eastern states get the lion’s share of attention when it comes to Civil Rights, but California played a role too. Famous Black Panther members Bobby Seale and Huey Newton founded the party in Oakland. You can still tour the neighborhood where things began, and alongside a former Black Panther thanks to the Oakland Museum of California’s ongoing exhibition series about the group. More exhibitions and dates can be found here.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

[viator_tour destination=”657″ type=”3-mod” tours=”6349P19,40048P5,40048P29″]

More from SmarterTravel:

Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on GlobeTrottingMama.com.

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Adventure Travel Family Travel Outdoors

Everglades: Our January National Park of the Month

We’re kicking things off in Florida’s Everglades. Here’s why you should go right now:

Why Everglades National Park Is Amazing

Spanning 1.5 million acres of southern Florida, Everglades is the third-largest national park in the continental United States (behind Death Valley and Yellowstone, respectively), protecting what is left of a crucial wetlands that was once nearly four times its current size but has been lost to development. This so-called “River of Grass” is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance (one of just three areas in the world holding all three distinctions) and is home to more than 70 endangered and threatened species, including the Florida panther, a number of sea turtle species, and manatees—and is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles co-exist.

There are five visitors centers (open every day) that serve as points of entry; because the park is so large, it’s best to plan your route through the park based on what you’d like to see or do, whether it’s sightseeing by car, bike, hiking or boat. Although there are many gateway towns with hotels, there are no accommodations in the park other than car campgrounds and back-country camping spots (permits required). Or for a real adventure, you can paddle a canoe or kayak to spend the night on a chickee, a wooden platform built above the swamp.

Why January Is the Perfect Time to Go

There are two seasons in the Everglades, wet and dry. The dry season runs from December through about mid-May and is the most popular season for good reason: The temperatures are mild (typically in the 70s, though colder spells are common), the humidity is low, and the biting bugs are blessedly absent. This is prime bird-watching time, as species from all over the U.S. and beyond migrate here to overwinter, nest, and raise their young. Wildlife viewing is also at its best— the water dries up significantly, so the deer, wading birds, alligators, turtles, and other animals tend to concentrate around the permanent sloughs.

Why It’s Great Other Time of Year

There’s no way around it: The wet season can be brutal in the Everglades, with frequent, violent thunderstorms, oppressive humidity, and vast clouds of mosquitoes and biting flies. But if you’re well prepared (good rain gear and the best bug spray money can buy), you’ll be able to experience a kind of solitude in the Everglades that very few ever will.

If You Go, Don’t Miss

From October through April, there are a wealth of ranger-led tours, including a Full Moon Bike Ride along the 15-mile Shark Valley Loop in the northern part of the park, about 40 miles west of Miami. As the sun sets and the moon rises, herons, cormorants, and other feathered denizens will strike up a birdsong symphony while you pedal to the observation tower overlooking the Sawgrass River. The three-hour ride is popular and fills up quickly, and reservations are required (by calling 305-221-8776). You must bring your own bike. (Can’t get reservations? You can still do the ride yourself. The park never closes but the parking lot closes at 6 pm, so just leave your car outside the park and ride in on your bike.)

January Bonus Pick: Saguaro National Park

Winter is a reliably good season for exploring Saguaro National Park just outside Tucson, Arizona, where you’ll gaze at rolling “forests” of its namesake cactus—found only in the Sonoran Desert. This stately icon of the American West can take 75 years to grow its first “arm,” but it eventually reaches up to 50 feet high and lives 200 years, or even longer. Saguaro National Park is actually two parks in one, divided into east and west districts about 30 miles apart on either side of Tucson. Consider visiting both districts; in addition to the stunning cactus-studded landscape, the western Tucson Mountain District is home to petroglyphs dating back thousands of years, many of which you can see along the Signal Hill Trail. And in the eastern Rincon Mountain district, sky islands (mountains emerging from the desert floor) are home to such beloved desert animals as bobcats, mountain lions, black bears, and coati.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

More from SmarterTravel:

Deb Hopewell is a longtime journalist and the former editor of Yahoo Travel. She writes for Outside, Fodor’s, Architectural Digest, Travel+Leisure, Yahoo Travel, and others. Follow her on Instagram @debhopewell and Twitter @dhopewell.

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9 Must-See Spots During Puerto Rico’s Low Season

For most travelers, hurricane season is a time to lay low on tropical travel plans and avoid the Caribbean. For others, it’s a great opportunity for an affordable and uncrowded fall getaway, as long as it’s covered by travel insurance. If you’re willing to gamble on beach weather over gale-force winds, you might find yourself in Puerto Rico between July and November. No passport or currency exchange required.

I had the good fortune of sunshine and 90-degree weather during my September trip to the island, but that’s not always the case. Here are the must-see spots the American territory has to offer during its low season, if you’re feeling lucky.

El Morro

The 16th-century defense forts of San Felipe del Morro, San Cristobal, and San Juan de la Cruz form a sea wall through which the Christopher Columbus-era Spanish controlled all access to the Caribbean. This site, known as El Morro, is San Juan’s busiest tourist trap.

However, during mornings in the low season, visitors can explore the fort without the crowds. Walking its original passageways and dungeons without camera shutters snapping or chatter echoing around you can create the illusion that you’ve traveled back in time. Perch inside one of the fort’s picturesque lookout points, or take in centuries-old drawings scrawled by prisoners and pirates on El Morro’s dungeon walls.

Old San Juan

Steps from El Morro, Old San Juan perfectly encapsulates Puerto Rico’s twist on Spanish-colonial architecture. Multi-colored homes line the blue cobblestoned roads, and no two on the same block bear the same shade. The picture-perfect neighborhood is even more Instagram-worthy in the months that grant it far fewer tourists.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site is also home to many local and fusion-inspired Puerto Rican restaurants. Stop by Barrachina, which claims to be the birthplace of the Piña Colada. However, San Juan’s Caribe Hilton makes the same claim. In all likelihood, they’re both right—legend has it that a worker employed by both spots created the frosty rum drink. Regardless of its origin, it’s sure to relieve you from the island’s year-round heat.

Try the mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish of fried plantains topped with meat, at Oceano Lounge in nearby Condado. For a modern twist on Puerto Rican dining, head out to Waffle-era, an eclectic tearoom with delicious variations of sweet and savory waffle combinations.

Pinones

If you’re looking to explore a neighborhood off the beaten path, head to Pinones. A seaside stretch of food kiosks and shopping spots, this neighborhood in nearby Carolina is frequented mainly by local families. A boardwalk, tidal pools, and sand bars entertain young beachgoers, while street-side food vendors serve up delicious alcapurrias (fritters), rum drinks, and Creole food. The gorgeous backdrop of a crystal-clear Caribbean ocean makes rental bikes an ideal way to explore the area, which can be reached by bus or rental car.

Ponce

Puerto Rico is a conveniently compact island with regions that cater to every type of traveler. Venturing beyond bustling San Juan is a must, and the first stop for more laid-back tourists should be Ponce. From the quirky Parque de Bombas to the refined Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico’s fourth-largest city has plenty to offer.

Ponce sits on the island’s southern coast, and is home to the centuries-old Serralles family—the founders of Puerto Rico’s best-selling rum, Don Q. Travelers driving by the family’s former sugar cane plantation at the historic Disteleria Serralles can small the fermenting molasses, and the rumor is that hard-hat tours where visitors can taste rum straight from the barrel are soon to come. A nearby museum inside the family’s historic mansion holds tours to educate visitors about the family’s history, and the home’s perch atop one of Ponce’s high hills offers spectacular views of the entire city.

Tanama River

For the ultimate rainforest adventure, head west of San Juan to Arecibo. This mountainous region is home to the Tanama River, which carves through caves and has waterfalls and rapids galore. Spelunking, rock-climbing, and body-rafting expeditions are the ideal way to see the area’s untouched natural beauty.

Explora PR charters educational body-rafting tours daily, offering an alternative way to sightsee. Once you conquer the steep forest hike and rappel the 120 feet down the rock face into the river’s water (a well-deserved cool-down after the humid trek), floating downriver on your back is the best way to look up and view the waterfalls and lush surroundings.

This unique adventure-travel tour is slow-moving and educational, which makes it perfect for all fitness levels. But it definitely is not for the high-maintenance. You’re sure to leave with a few bumps and bruises from floating through rapids, and are likely to ruin the athletic sneakers participants are required to wear. I found the experience to be well worth the minor black-and-blue souvenirs, and left feeling much closer to nature than I’ve ever been.

Vieques

If Puerto Rico is where mainlanders go to relax, Vieques is where Puerto Ricans go to relax. The remote paradise—albeit just eight miles east of the main island—is perfect for swimming in the crystal-clear sea by day and exploring scenic towns like Esperanza by night. The island is full of wild horses accustomed to picture-snapping tourists, and most of the tiny island is easily navigable by rental bike. If you really want to see the entire island, opt for a flight to Vieques on a tiny eight-seater plane via Vieques Air Link, rather than the local ferry. Breathtaking views dominate the 25-minute trip from San Juan, and will save you time so you can hit the ground running—to the beach.

A Bioluminescent Bay

Bioluminescent bays are brackish bodies of water home to microscopic dinoflagellates that glow, making the water look like something out of a sci-fi movie. Three of the world’s five bioluminescent bays are in Puerto Rico, and the brightest one is in Vieques. Any of the three bays are likely worthy of a visit, but I recommend a trip to the brightest one, which I had the pleasure of seeing via kayak. Low season is perfect for avoiding the excursion groups of up to 40 tourists (my group was made up of only nine people).

There’s a lot to consider before setting out on a nighttime kayaking expedition in the aptly-named Mosquito Bay, but the once-in-a-lifetime experience is a true must-see. The bay’s brightness depends on the amount of moonlight present at the time of your visit, but even under the almost-full gibbous moon during my kayaking expedition, we could see glowing waves being pushed from our paddles, and radioactive-looking fish flitting around below us. Just don’t forget the DEET-free bug spray, which will protect you from the ravenous mosquitos, without threatening the microorganisms that light the water.

Paradores

The local Paradores de Puerto Rico—a network of small inns owned only by locally-based Puerto Rican families—are an ideal option for tourism outside of San Juan any time of year. But because the lesser-known lodging options are already in more remote locations like Combate Beach in Cabo Rojo, you can have the nearby beaches and rainforests virtually to yourself during low season. Pristine waters on the west coast of Puerto Rico are ideal for snorkeling since they’re home to large tropical fish. If you’re not into fish, rainforest mountain biking, paddleboarding, and sea kayaking are also popular here. The types of paradores vary, from traditional hotel-esque properties to unique eco-suites made from recycled shipping containers.

El Yunque

Back near San Juan, El Yunque is another one of Puerto Rico’s biggest tourist hotspots that’s transformed during the low season. The national forest is home to waterfalls, hiking, a lookout tower, and a nearby beach. And swimming in the famed La Mina Falls is certainly at its best when you can have the gorgeous pool mostly to yourself.

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Shannon McMahon traveled to Puerto Rico courtesy of Puerto Rico Tourism Co. Follow her on Twitter @shanmcmahon_ and on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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10 Fun Family Vacations for Multigenerational Travelers

Guess who’s coming on your family vacation? Grandma, Grandpa … and your new nephew, too. The family trip has evolved—multigenerational travel includes a whole cast of extended family members.

Fun Family Vacations for Multigenerational Travel

But with needs and interests that include every life stage, multigen travelers looking for the perfect family vacation face a particular challenge. Multigenerational travel groups tend to need larger and connected rooms, more opportunities to be together in large groups, and activities and entertainment that keeps everyone happy. And quite simply, not every vacation is up to the challenge.

But some are designed around these very concepts, and deliver memorable fun that keeps everyone engaged and happy all vacation long. Here are 10 inspiring ideas for your next multigenerational travel adventure.

Cruising

multigenerational travel

For: Round-the-clock activity seekers who aren’t afraid to split up until mealtime.

What to expect:  The all-in-one-place entertainment factor coupled with the opportunity to explore port cities makes cruising a great multigenerational travel choice. Budgets are respected (everyone can choose the room and meal plan that works best for them) and larger ships offer options that range from champagne bars to late-night kids’ clubs. Everyone sets their own pace, making it a great option for balancing personalities and energy levels.

One to Try: Disney Cruise Lines, like the parks, promises fun for all ages. Families will find options they can enjoy together onboard, including first-run movies and interactive restaurants.

Dude Ranches

multigenerational travel

For: Wild West lovers who want horse encounters, outdoor fun, and campfire singalongs.

What to expect. Everyone bonds when you’re wearing cowboy hats. This is the trip for families that like structure and plenty of activities. Ranch styles range from early-rise/help the cowboy options to more leisurely camp-like stays. Know your intensity tolerance before you book.

Where to try it: At Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, just outside Sandpoint, Idaho, kids can spend a week with their horse in a kids’ horse camp, then meet back up with parents or grandparents for meals and quieter activities. At the Red Horse Mountain Ranch near Coeur de Alene, Idaho, days include beautiful mountain trail rides as well as mountain biking, yoga, archery and more.

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Family Adventure Tours

multigenerational travel

For:  Multigenerational adventure seekers keen on thrilling and culturally engaging activities around the world.

What to expect:  Adventure is the middle name (literally at times- think G Adventures or Thomson Family Adventures) of the companies who run these tours—and they live up to their names. Trips are full of opportunities to run, jump, question, and learn. However, if you’re traveling with folks who have limited mobility or hate the idea of a schedule, this one won’t be a fit. Days are packed with new exploits, and evenings leave time for laid-back fun.

Where to try it: Consider building the family bond on a Row Adventures Family Magic Rafting trip. Trips include a Travel Jester (like a camp counselor) to keep kids entertained in between excursions. Or try Intrepid Travel’s Family tours, which include opportunities to explore Asia, Africa, Europe, and more

All-Inclusive

multigenerational travel

For: Beach lovers whose perfect vacation includes food, frolic, and fun … without necessarily straying far from the room.

What to expect: Relaxed days and easy living. All-Inclusive resorts were among the first to embrace multigenerational travelers. Pick your destination and pay attention to your included options to make sure every member of your clan has something to look forward to.

Where to try it: Club Med. Connecting rooms are standard and can be reserved at the time of booking; some locations (especially in the Caribbean) offer suites for additional living space. Everyone is catered to: Its “baby club” takes infants as young as four months, and older kids will find age-appropriate sports and creative activities. Adult lessons like tennis, archery, and trapeze run on parallel tracks to kids’, so once activities are over, you can all get back together to enjoy quality time together.

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National Parks

multigenerational travel

For: The family who dreams of hike-filled days and star-filled nights.

What to expect: Head to a national park with the extended family for stunning vistas, starlit nights, and days filled with hiking and biking. The parks offer plenty of activities (ranger-led and independent; at a cost and free) which means options abound for family time, both together and apart. Send grandma off to learn about the local wildlife with her mini-me, while granddad teaches your daughter how to skip stones. Memories are easy to make here. Older bones may be less keen on the tent camping experience. Consider pop up trailers, RVs, or cabin rentals to keep everyone in your multigenerational group comfortable.

Where to try it: Any of the National Parks will be worth exploring, but if you’ve got the time, plan an epic road trip to Utah’s Mighty Five. Also, consider buying an annual pass for the National Park System. An $80 annual fee covers access to all parks that charge ‘per vehicle’, which greatly reduces the cost of entrance fees throughout the year if you visit multiple parks in the year.

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History Alive

multigenerational travel

For: Plant the seed of common interest between the generations by taking the learning out of the books and into the world.

What to expect: Historical getaways don’t have to be ho-hum. If you’ve got family members with an interest, or school kids who are studying American history, why not tie that into a trip they’ll all remember?

Where to try it:  Introduce the kids to the Civil War in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Museums and Battlefield tours (by bicycle, Segway, air balloon, or horseback) are perfect for inquisitive travelers of all ages. You can easily spend a few days exploring the local area, and you’re only a short drive from Washington, D.C., for more history and museums. 

Wintry Escapes

multigenerational travel

For: Families who see winter as a challenge just waiting to be conquered.

What to expect:  An active vacation with some quality time built in. Snow destination vacations offer opportunities for a variety of skill levels on the slopes, window shopping in the village, and the comfort of a cozy chalet in between.

Where to try it: In Whistler, British Columbia, you’ll find slopes that work for both beginners and advanced skiers and snowboarders, plus spa options and wildlife tours. The Family Adventure Zone offers fun for all ages, and a wide choice of comfortable accommodations can fit the whole clan.

Heritage Travel

multigenerational travel

For:  Multigenerational travelers looking to connect on a trip that traces the family tree to its ancestral roots.

What to expect: Stories and outings that bond the generations. Taking a trip to the places that helped to shape your parents (and theirs) will give the whole family a connection to personal history.

Where to try It:  Everywhere. Start with your family’s photos and scrapbooks, or an online site like ancestry.com, and build from there. Will it be a reunion with the extended family in Scotland or a three-generation Vietnam family tour? Work with a travel agent to find the perfect guide to lead your family home and include the personal stops that will matter most.

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Giving Back

multigenerational travel

For: Families who want to help make a lasting positive change in the world.

What to expect: Plenty of destinations offer volunteer options, but it can be hard to be sure your good intentions are doing what you hope. Research is key. Chat with your family ahead of time so that you choose an activity that means something to everyone involved.

Where to try it: Elevate Destinations offers luxurious eco-friendly trips to destinations that also allow you to give back in a variety of ways. The intensity of the volunteer work ranges from work with local non-profits to assisting creative artisans. The great thing is that the trips aren’t all work and no play. Fun is still a part of the equation. Plus, the “Buy a Trip Give a Trip” program means that for every trip sold, a local child is given a trip so they can see more of their home country.

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The Villa Stay

multigenerational travel

For: Families intent on finding an island paradise where togetherness is the order of the day … and no one is futzing in the kitchen or worried about the laundry.

What to expect: The royal treatment with a side order of peace and quiet. Pick your island and then leave the details to your villa team. They’ll handle your meals, the cleaning, and booking any activities. Your main job? Relaxing with family. While prices can induce sticker shock (Expect $5,000 to $20,000 per week in some spots) it may still be less expensive than individual hotel rooms—not to mention the advantages of having a chef, butler, maid, ground transfers and private pools on site.

Where to try it: Jamaica. The island has a range of offerings that differ in size, vibe, and amenities. The premium luxury villas at Round Hill Villas in Montego Bay have two pools, outdoor showers, on-site staff, and access to the Round Hill Resort children’s programs.

What to Pack for a Family Vacation

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on GlobeTrottingMama.com.