La Reunion Island; Courtesy of Serge Gelabert
All Ages

9 Amazing Family Vacations That Will Take You Outside of Your Comfort Zone

See recent posts by Cynthia J. Drake

Many families tend to pick the same tried-and-true vacation spots year after year. The temptation to stick with what’s familiar is strong, especially if you’re traveling with young kids and hoping to relax.

But there’s something to be said for getting outside of your comfort zone and trying a new destination. Far-flung places around the globe might challenge you in terms of navigating new roads, learning a new language and trying different foods, but the families who take these kinds of trips tend to truly value their travel experiences.

“Be unafraid of new places, and your kids will be the same,” says Kyle Stewart of The Trip Sherpa, who has traveled to 28 countries with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. “They mirror what they see and hear us say and do. If their parents embrace new destinations, cuisines and languages, you’ll be amazed by how quickly your children follow suit.”

Antarctica; Courtesy of Stu Shaw/

1. Antarctica

Why you should go there with your family: Few people have the opportunity to visit this continent—and even fewer families make it to the South Pole—but its rugged natural beauty, including icebergs and wildlife, make Antarctica an unforgettable destination.

Recommendations: Take a tour through a company such as Abercrombie & Kent, which offers chartered small cruise tours with an educational component that are tailored to kids, including excursions to see penguins, seals and whales up close.

La Reunion Island; Courtesy of Serge Gelabert

2. La Reunion Island 

Why you should go there with your family: Described as a place “like nowhere else on Earth,” La Reunion Island is located in the Indian Ocean between Mauritius and Madagascar and looks like a setting from Jurassic Park.

Recommendations: Off the Map Travel offers guided tours including helicopter flights, meals and accommodations. For a unique camp-like experience, you can stay in Bubble Dome Village.

Sir Lanka; Courtesy of Palitha Anthony

3. Sri Lanka

Why you should go there with your family: Long revered as a destination for spiritual and adventure travel, Sri Lanka can be an accessible and valuable option for family travel, including opportunities to bathe elephants, take cooking classes and spend time with local families, learning more about their culture.

Recommendations: Off the Map Travel offers a Spiritual Sri Lanka itinerary designed to immerse your family in Sri Lankan life. The Wallawwa, located in Kotugoda, offers a wonderful start to your vacation.

Lapland, Finland; Courtesy of Iris van den Broek/

4. Northern Lapland, Finland

Why you should go there with your family: Northern Lapland, one of the most remote locations on the globe, offers breathtaking views of the Northern Lights, along with days filled with spotting reindeer, skiing and tobogganing.

Recommendations: Reserve a stay at Torassieppi, which are fully furnished geodesic domes that give your family a 360-degree view of nature right from your cozy bed.

Atlantis The Palm at Night

5. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Why you should go there with your family: Located in the United Arab Emirates, the travel industry in Dubai has exploded with Westernized, family-friendly options, such as LEGOLAND Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and Motiongate Dubai.

Recommendations: Families should consider staying at Atlantis The Palm, the first entertainment resort in the region. The resort includes an ocean theme and onsite Aquaventure Waterpark, underwater aquarium, and open-air marine habitat.

Tokyo, Japan; Courtesy of ESB Professional/

6. Tokyo, Japan

Why you should go there with your family: Children interested in video games, robots and comics will love being immersed in the culture that gave birth to all of their favorite things. Round out your stay with a side trip to Kyoto to explore temples in Japan’s former capital city.

Recommendations: Consider staying a night at Henn Na Hotel Maihama Tokyo Bay, a “robot hotel” staffed by realistic robots at the front desk.

Dominican Republic; Courtesy of Maciej Czekajewski/

7. Volunteer Vacation in the Dominican Republic

Why you should go there with your family: Though the Dominican Republic is already a popular tourist destination, making your beach trip into something that leaves a lasting gift for the community can be really rewarding. Check out organizations such as Beach Corps (there are others around the world, too) for add-on volunteer service projects, such as working with animals, recycling, donating school supplies and more, starting at just $100.

Recommendations: After volunteering, stay at the Grand Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real, an all-inclusive, all-suite hotel that features an onsite water park, a Beach Club and a kids’ club.

Galapagos; Courtesy of Quasar Wildlife Yachts

8. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Why you should go there with your family: Charles Darwin’s work in the Galapagos Islands was a notable historic and scientific achievement, but the ecology of the islands continues to captivate the world—just this year the Fernandina tortoise (thought to be extinct) was sighted.

Recommendations: Family travelers enjoy staying at the festive, friendly and budget-conscious Hotel Fiesta. Also consider cruising the islands on an eco-friendly, carbon-free vessel through AdventureSmith Explorations.

The Shark Reef Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas; Courtesy of Mandalay Bay

9. Las Vegas

Why you should go there with your family: A lot of families write Las Vegas off as an adults-only destination, but there is plenty for kids to enjoy, from shows to interesting dining experiences to lively walks on the Strip.

Recommendations: You’ll have plenty of options for hotels with a lot of cool factor, but Mandalay Bay stands out with its Shark Reef Aquarium (with an optional turtle and shark feeding program) and Mandalay Bay Beach (boasting 6-foot waves and a lazy river).

Related: 10 Surprisingly Family-Friendly Vacation Destinations

Tips for Outside-Your-Comfort-Zone Family Trips

 1. Make travel easier.

“Different countries have different policies toward Uber and there is nothing worse than getting into a taxi where the driver and my family are unable to communicate,” says Stewart. “Sometimes we book a hotel car, which can be expensive but at least gets us safely to Wi-Fi and usually English speakers where we can get the local experience we need to determine onward travel while in-country.”

2. Have a ‘try everything’ policy—and give yourself a burger day, too.

“We have a family policy which applies to our daughter and the two of us alike: ‘We try everything,’” says Stewart. “This may mean our daughter tries an egg roll she doesn’t recognize or that we, as parents, try a bite of spaghetti with ice cream. By holding ourselves and our daughter accountable to try everything, it widens our scope of available food types and gives no one a pass. That being said, we make it easy on ourselves sometimes too and allow ourselves forgiveness if one of us just needs to have a hamburger day.”

3. Learn some basic phrases in the local language.

“Language barriers are less of an issue than one might perceive,” Stewart says. “Usually, some basic English will be understood. To improve our own ability to interact, we try and master the words, ‘yes, ‘no,’ and counting 1 to 10. We screenshot Google translate words we might need for quick communication in the event we don’t have reliable internet service.”

4. Engage your children in the planning process

“Let them take ownership over what you will do as a family,” says Stewart. “I’d also encourage them to learn at least ‘thank you’ in the local language. It both reinforces good manners and breaks them out of their comfort zone.”

Cynthia J. Drake is a travel writer based in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Since becoming a mom, she’s been stranded at sea with her family, gotten lost in the Rocky Mountains, dealt with more than her fair share of public vomiting, and still can’t wait for the next trip. She writes regularly for AAA magazines, Austin American-Statesman, Texas Highways and Cruise Critic. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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