The parents spending thousands on exotic holidays with their kids

By Nikki Ekstein

How much would you pay to take your children on extreme international adventures from an early age? There's a market for it and the sky's the limit, price-wise, finds Nikki Ekstein.

With trips starting from US$10,000, bespoke travel agencies are increasingly targeting wealthy parents who want to expose their children to exotic international holiday experiences. Photo / 123RF
With trips starting from US$10,000, bespoke travel agencies are increasingly targeting wealthy parents who want to expose their children to exotic international holiday experiences. Photo / 123RF

If you're a parent, you know the importance of having university and wedding funds. Now, if you want to be on the cutting edge of financial planning, you'll also want to invest in a travel fund.

"We're looking at a generation of parents who have been lucky enough to travel themselves, and they want to have that for their children as well," said Christopher Wilmot-Sitwell, co-owner and director of the bespoke travel agency Cazenove+Loyd.

These parents don't want to put their bucket lists on hold for 20 years until their children fly the coop. Instead, they'd rather bring their kids along for extreme, educational adventures as soon as they're ready for it.

Legacy Travel, Cazenove+Loyd's newly minted programme, aims to take the guesswork out of long-term family travel planning.

The basic premise: agents learn about the children in a family - what they enjoy, what they're learning in school, and what their parents want to see and do - then create a long-term travel schedule that outlines the family's trips for the next three to 10 years.

Big Costs, Big Benefits

"Without being a sentimental softy about it," Wilmot-Sitwell said in an interview, exposing children to a lifetime of travel "can be a way to input into someone's development ... certainly a lot more than what a beach holiday could do."

In his 25 years as a travel specialist, he said, he has watched kids develop interests in photography, medicine, politics and more as a result of global vacations. They grow up with an awareness of the world that can't be gleaned from textbooks. And, he said, well-travelled children often find more meaningful careers in their adult lives.

Seeing gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the trips recommended for parents travelling with 16- to 19-year-olds. Photo / 123RF
Seeing gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the trips recommended for parents travelling with 16- to 19-year-olds. Photo / 123RF

It's one thing to plan travel 10 years down the line, another thing entirely to plan financially for it. A typical trip to far-flung places with Cazenove+Loyd goes for US$10,000 (NZ$13,937) to US$12,000 (NZ$16,726) per person, Wilmot-Sitwell said. To accomplish one each year for 10 years requires an investment of nearly half a million dollars for a family of four.

As a result, most families need to plan. Kathy Sudeikis, a family travel specialist based in Chicago who noticed more families wanting to plan their travels several years at a time, joined forces three years ago with a financial planner.

"My job is to help them create their bucket lists," she said, and "financial advisers are providing an outlet to help them fulfill those dreams."

She advises families on trips according to their children's ages and creates a travel calendar that stretches several years ahead.

More travel agents are joining her in teaming up with financial advisers. In fact, it was a recommendation that agents affiliated with the high-end consortium Virtuoso get on board with a wealth management professional to help realise their clients' bucket lists - and retain a loyal clientele for many years.

"The growth of the travel industry is pegged exactly to this: educational experiences. Not frivolous travel, but trips that shape you into a world citizen," Sudeikis said.

When and where to go

At Cazenove+Loyd, trip planning is limited to three (very big) regions: Africa, Central and South America, and South and Southeast Asia. For the company's largely European clientele, it's easy enough to take a weeklong trip to Kenya or Sri Lanka.

Many travel professionals, including Wilmot-Sitwell and Sudeikis, say that kids begin to be ready for those big-ticket trips at around 8 eight years old.

"That's when they start having meaningful experiences of destinations-when they start learning about history and literature," Sudeikis said.

Sam McClure, an Austin-based travel advisor who works exclusively on family travel, disagrees.

"Even at three to four years old, kids start understanding the differences between time zones, food, accents ... they will get something out of it at that age."

She recalled her son, at 4, getting ready for bed and wondering about the people in Europe who were just waking up.

"Every family has a different map and a different timeline," she said.

Sam McClure, an Austin-based travel advisor who works exclusively on family travel, recommends interactive wilderness trips for 7- to 8-year-olds. Photo / 123RF
Sam McClure, an Austin-based travel advisor who works exclusively on family travel, recommends interactive wilderness trips for 7- to 8-year-olds. Photo / 123RF

McClure said those who start young become more flexible travellers. She recommends trips to Europe for the youngest set, interactive wilderness trips to places like Australia and the Galapagos Islands for 7- or 8-year-olds, and places like Greece and Egypt for pre-middle-school kids learning about ancient civilisations.

Preteens have the highest tolerance for museums, she said, while teenagers are looking for active and exotic experiences.

Her most epic suggestion: a round-the-world trip. "You want to do it between the ages of 8 and 12," she advised, explaining that she has hired tutors and organised year-long logistics for families who might be able to take a year off between jobs. It runs an average US$10,000 per week, or US$520,000 per year, for an entire family.

You can make everyone happy

No two families are alike, and ages and interests vary even within one family. That's why Wilmot-Sitwell recommends booking a few "separate but equal" trips-his term for trips for just one parent and child. For instance, one mother he worked with took her teen daughter to learn southern Indian cooking in Kerala and took her 10-year-old son to see prehistoric rock carvings in Chile's Atacama Desert.

Seeing prehistoric rock carvings in Chile's Atacama Desert might interest tweens but if you're travelling with babies or toddlers, a beach holiday might be a better bet. Photo / 123RF
Seeing prehistoric rock carvings in Chile's Atacama Desert might interest tweens but if you're travelling with babies or toddlers, a beach holiday might be a better bet. Photo / 123RF

"The tricky dynamic is when you have multiple kids, and the oldest, a seven-year-old, is really ready to travel, but the youngest one, a three-year-old, just isn't there yet," says Sudeikis.

"Even a trip to Disney can be utterly exhausting in that case - you have to wait until the youngest child is mobile and can do without the nap."

If you must travel with toddlers and teens, beaches can be an easy way to please everyone.

Be realistic - or be flexible

Though most family travel specialists are indulging their clients' wish lists with plenty of advance planning, few think it realistic to put travel plans in ink when they're still 10 years away. Kids change, personalities change, and the world changes. Especially with political uncertainty and such phenomena as Ebola virus or Zika virus, agents know that nothing is set in stone until the flights and hotels are booked.

"When your 16-year-old decides she wants to learn Spanish or become a doctor, there may suddenly be different trips that pop up," Wilmot-Sitwell said.

"Even if you're planning six months out, there's always wiggle room."

THE EPIC (AND EXPENSIVE) FAMILY HOLIDAYS TRAVEL EXPERTS ARE PITCHING TO WEALTHY FAMILIES

Older teenagers will appreciate a trip to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, say experts from the bespoke travel industry. Photo / 123RF
Older teenagers will appreciate a trip to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, say experts from the bespoke travel industry. Photo / 123RF

Looking for some inspiration for where to take your kids? Here are some ideas, broken down by age, from Christopher Wilmot-Sitwell, co-owner and director of travel agency Cazenove+Loyd; Chicago-based family travel specialist Kathy Sudeikis; and Austin-based travel advisor Sam McClure.

For primary-school kids (ages 8-12)

South Africa private game viewing in Madikwe and Cape Town

The Galapagos Islands by private yacht, followed by the foothills of the Andes in Ecuador

A jungle trek and surfing lessons in Costa Rica

Visiting kangaroos and wallabies in Australia

For young teens (ages 13-15)

Sri Lanka's temples, beaches, and culture

Brazilian capitals and beaches, followed by a trip to the Amazon

The royal palaces of Rajasthan

An action-packed, Lord of the Rings-style trip to New Zealand

For older teens (ages 16-19)

Gorilla trekking in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Whitewater rafting and mountain biking in Peru

A food pilgrimage (with a dose of culture) to Southeast Asia

Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland

- BLOOMBERG

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