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Taking the Kids: A guided trip just for your family that won't break the bank

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Not one complaint. "Truly I can't think of any cons, and the pros were numerous," said Tamar Halpern Zuydhoek after shepherding her family of 21, including more than a dozen grandkids, on trips to Alaska and Iceland.

Certainly, it's not easy to please everyone, ranging in age from preschoolers to teens to college students to grandparents, "of various levels of abilities from triathletes to couch potatoes," she acknowledged.

The secret: Having someone else do the planning -- and the guiding. The Halperns opted for Backroads, because they had done bike trips with the company before. "Having multiple leaders for our own group allowed us to divide up on levels of strenuousness, knowing everyone was with a leader and safe, if the parents chose to do something different," she said.

More important, because there weren't other paying guests, the family could "go with the flow." ... "One afternoon the boys wanted to just play tag football and the girls wanted to shop for mugs to bring home," she explained.

Such private trips are growing more popular, whether a family wants to celebrate a 50th anniversary sailing on a Turkish gulet, go whitewater rafting, biking or to explore Italy or visit a national park.

Over the past five years, for example, Abercrombie & Kent has seen a 15 percent increase in multigenerational families (five or more guests) traveling on tailor-made itineraries with private guides. Italy is one of the most requested destinations, but China and Japan are also popular.


Austin Adventures also has seen an increase in these trips. "I personally think it's because grandparents in this day and age are more active than before," says Carol Austin, who with her husband runs the company, especially known for their guided trips in Yellowstone.

Even Road Scholar, known for senior educational trips, but vastly increasing offerings for grandparents and grandchildren, offers private trips for groups of 12. Families arrange private trips to celebrate Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in Israel and to explore their roots in Ireland, among other places.

Some of these trips can be to even more far-flung locales. Archaeologist Peter Sommer, whose company specializes in expert-led trips in the Mediterranean, notes that more families are opting for private cruises in Greece, Turkey and Croatia so that they can focus on special interests. "We've done private gulet cruises for families of four fairly often and have done private land tours for couples or small families lots of times over the years. Land tours can be scaled down or up very easily," he said.

"You have all the upsides of tours at your pace and time frame," added Sandy Duncan, whose family of six celebrated her and her husband's 50th anniversary with a Sommer charter in Croatia. "If we did not feel like seeing all the sights that day, the tour guide on the boat customized the day to our wishes and desires," she said.


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