Off The Beaten Track

Get More Out Of Your Next Vacation By Immersing Yourself In The Culture

One of my many goals of traveling is to expose both my children and myself to different regions of the world. I am trying to raise my children as global citizens that have an appreciation and connection to the places and the cultures we’ve experienced. 

To that end, when preparing to visit a destination, I look for interesting activities that help us connect to the people, the history and the culture in a memorable way.   Now, that can range from going to the seeing a local sporting event, exploring a historical site or taking a cooking class in someone’s home. 

One experience that was very successful in this way was learning about the Coliseum in Rome.  We started the day with a tour, which was very cool, but my kids had lost interest 30 minutes into the 1-hour tour.  After the tour we grabbed lunch and headed to Gladiator school where they got hands-on experience as gladiators.  Now, this brought history to life!   In Washington DC, where we’ve been multiple times, we did a “Bike the Sites” tour.  All four kids and I rode mountain bikes from site-to-site with a wonderful guide and learned more in 2 hours than we had in many hours on our own.  Any time we can combine physical activity and learning, it’s a good thing!

Each region, each destination - home or abroad - offers interesting, unique and educational activities.  Think local markets, cooking classes, surf lessons, fashion tours, or farm visits.  I’m talking about activities that are off-the-beaten path and beyond the concierge’s scope.  These are the activities that create shared memorable experiences. For example, kids always like to learn how things are made.  Think about the special industries in the destination you are visiting; movies in LA, olives in Tuscany, wool in Ireland - you get the picture.

So how do you find these unique experiences? It’s not always easy, but my two favorite sources are the Internet and locals that you connect with at your destination.  Before going, I research on the web, usually starting with Viator, Go City Kids and Trip Advisor for ideas, then searching from there.  I have to do many different searches to find the right options, especially since my kids vary in age. You can also try Fodors “Travel like a local” section or look at the website of the local newspaper for that destination. 

Then once there, we take advantage of any friendly waiter or chatty family that we come across.  We ask them what they do with their kids.  On a trip to Quebec, our waiter told us about this amazing water park that they turn into a snow-tubing park in the winter that he loved to take his kids to.  It was definitely something we would never have found, but it was amazing and certainly a highlight for my kids. 

To help my kids connect, I always order a few books about the destination ahead of time.  Then while we are there, they have an idea what they are looking at and the context behind it.  I had my son read a “Capitol City Mystery” before going to D.C.  I hadn’t thought much of it until we were at the Washington Monument and he was giving us all these details about the stones inside the monument.

Research and then get out of your hotel and talk with the locals. Rather than passing through a place, experience it!


Nancy Solomon is an avid traveler and writer for Ciao Bambino, a worldwide guide to the best family-friendly hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals.  She lives outside Boston and has four children 9,8,5 and 1 with whom she enjoys sharing the world.