Favorite Places to Travel with Kids (So Far)



What's your favorite place? I get this question all the time and it's impossible to answer. There is no favorite place. Everywhere we go we find amazing experiences and wonderful people. To pick just one country or city? I can't do it. That said, I sat down with my daughters to discuss some of our favorite stops along our travels over the past few years. In no particular order, here are some standout attractions...  


Sitka, Alaska
When you go to Alaska, you have it in the back of your mind that it would be really cool to see a bear... under the right circumstances. Fortress of the Bear makes it possible. And this non-profit bear rehabilitation and rescue facility is just $10 for adults and $5 for kids (children under 7 are free), so it's much cheaper than an all-day wildlife tour. No hiking involved, either. Just show up and watch the bears (two sibling groups of brown bears, and one group of black bears) lounge, play, and eat in their sizable habitats. You observe the bears from elevated viewing platforms, allowing for unobstructed photography. You'll probably spot a few bald eagles at no extra charge.
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Todos Santos, Mexico
Releasing baby sea turtles is an amazing experience. You can do so, courtesy of Tortugueros Las Playitas for free, though by the end of it, you'll probably feel inclined to offer a donation or buy a t-shirt. The non-profit relocates the nests of leatherbacks, Olive Ridleys, and black sea turtles to its greenhouse for incubation. When the turtles hatch (follow them on Facebook to stay in-the-know), volunteers collect data on the turtles, then shepherd them down to the shoreline at sunset. Show up and they'll hand you your very own baby sea turtle to place in the sand and cheer on as it makes the epic journey into the sea.
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Todos Santos, Mexico
This place was a well kept secret until idiots like me starting getting the word out. Just kidding. Sort of. There are no signs, so you need someone to draw you a treasure map to get to this little gem of a beach. Be prepared to hike through a palm tree grove to get there (watch out for snakes on the path, seriously). You don't want to weigh yourself down with too much gear. At the same time, don't expect any facilities or vendors, so you'll need to bring everything you need with you. If you can find Palm Beach, you're in the club. Enjoy the incredible views, undeveloped beach, and massive rock cliffs. I saw one review on Trip Advisor that said this is a nice safe swimming beach. This is NOT true. The water is deceptive and currents are strong, every now and then resulting in the death of someone who thought it was a "nice safe swimming beach." Stay safe.
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São Paulo, Brazil
There are a handful of KidZanias around the world, so you can experience this even if Brazil isn't on your itinerary. At first I thought we were subjecting ourselves to an annoying and expensive amusement park. Not so! Well, it is expensive, but it's an experience that puts annoying amusement parks to shame. In KidZania, kids are given "money" upon entry and with which to engage in commerce. They can go to a pizza joint and spend their money on pizza, or they can work a shift at a pizza joint, learn about the process and earn a wage. They can also attend flight school, intern at the hospital, serve as customs officials, and get their drivers licenses. It's an incredible microcosm designed to give children a taste of adult life and managing finances.
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Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
Manaus is the jumping off point to reach this place. From there, a guide will take you by van to boat to smaller van to smaller boat to eventually reach the lodge. Sleep in hammocks, fish for piranha, view monkeys, toucan, tarantulas, caiman, and river dolphins. This experience was not a cushy one (no towels, frequent power outages, an occasional halt on running water), but my daughters (6 and 8 at the time) did fantastic. One of the most awesome adventures we've ever had with our kids. 
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Copacabana Beach
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
After the jungle, we were ready for a little beach time. I wondered if Copacabana Beach would be an appropriate place to take kids. Would they be exposed to a lot of buttocks? Well, yes. Yes, they were. But this is really only a big deal if you make it one. And it's usually the parents who freak out, not the kids. We spent New Year's Eve on Copacabana with a few thousand people, enjoying the beach and vendors all day (you can rent chairs and umbrellas and buy anything else you might need from passing vendors), and then stayed for the amazing midnight fireworks show. If you're into epic New Year's Eve parties, put Copacabana on your list. (The photo above is my daughters walking in Rio headed for the beach. This photo was also later used as the cover shot for Vagabonding with Kids: Brazil.)
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Capoeira Exhibition
Itacaré, Brazil
Capoeira is an amazing mix of martial arts, dance, and what appear to be physical impossibilities. These people do not mess around! If you have an opportunity to watch a capoeira exhibition, do it. Just know that there is a very real chance someone's sweat might land on you. This is not the end of the world, I promise.
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Beerwah, Australia
Yes, this is Steve Irwin's zoo and we happened to go on Steve Irwin Day, when Irwin's family and the zoo celebrate his life. I have trouble calling this place a zoo, because it's so much more. And I think if you were an animal in a zoo, this would be the zoo you'd hope to end up in. Amazing, overwhelming, educational, and interactive. This photo was followed by my husband and I asking the girls if they wanted to go look at some real animals, but this giant action scene of a croc battling a dinosaur held a lot of appeal for them.
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Port Arthur, Australia
I love prisons. It's true. I'm endlessly fascinated by convict history (which sometimes just boils down to man's inhumanity to man). You can easily spend all day roaming the grounds at Port Arthur, learning about the history of the wardens, guards, prisoners, and the evolution of facilities of incarceration. We added on the boat ride that takes you to the site of the boys' prison. It's everything you might expect it to be: shocking, entertaining, and also terribly sad. But this site was one of my favorites in Tasmania and well worth the trip.

I want to hear from you. 
Which of these would make YOUR list? 
What are your must-see attractions?

Want Vagabonding with Kids for free? 
Listen to the free audio recording of the book 
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Chapter 10 - In the Unlikely Event of an Emergency






Carnivorous flies, overseas medical care, and why you shouldn’t freak out when your child is sick. Here's a free audio of chapter 10 from Vagabonding with Kids.

New York Times bestselling author AK Turner kicks off the Vagabonding with Kids series with a free podcast version of the book. Hilarious adventure blends with tips (often learned the hard way) on extended travel with children. Perfect for digital nomads and lifestyle entrepreneurs.

Another Chapter from (Book 1) Vagabonding with Kids

On the Wisdom of Banning Books (Hint: There Isn't Any)



Jerome Middle School was recently embroiled in a censorship battle. The book in question was a Japanese light novel/manga (also known as graphic novel or comic depending on what year you were born). I’m weighing in as an author, board member of the Idaho Writers Guild, Boise Public Library volunteer, former writer-in-residence appointed by the Boise Department of Arts and History as part of their Artist-in-Residence program, and mother of two.
When the appropriateness of a book’s place on a library shelf comes into question, the parties involved would be well served to consider the following in terms of what they hope to accomplish:
▪  Banning a book only serves to increase interest in that particular title. This is why banned books become best sellers. Censoring a book from a library does not make the book go away. It only makes it more desirable.
▪  Manga, graphic novels or comics often serve as the bridge between nonreaders and chapter books. Young people who struggle with reading or an interest in reading often transform into avid readers after discovering this type of media. Consider the following from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity:
Graphic novels provide struggling readers with a way of strengthening their vocabularies, build their reading confidence, and foster their appreciation of story. Graphic novels can also help support a reader’s understanding of everything from Greek Mythology to Shakespeare. (http://dyslexia.yale.edu/EDU_KidsCantWait.html)
▪  The legacy left by a crusader against any book is not a positive one. It communicates distrust in youth and a misguided effort to dictate based on personal preferences. Censors place themselves in league with those who railed against To Kill a Mockingbird and Where the Wild Things Are, no matter how one might try to tell oneself “this case is different.”
▪  Children deserve far more credit than we afford them. Their ability to process media and its commentary on society is considerable. To assume less of them or think that they will be corrupted from something on their library shelf is a disservice to them and the entire system of education.
▪  Conversation is far more effective than attempting to control the words and images young people encounter. Acknowledging issues of concern can lead to healthy and open discussion. Trying to restrict children to the parts of the world that suit an individual is an exercise in futility, willful denial of the reality of modern adolescent life and an act of suppression that breeds contempt.
Before we, as adults, object to the content our youth consume, we must strive for perspective, clarity and understanding. Further, we must remind ourselves of what censorship truly does (and does not) achieve.
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As printed in the Idaho Statesman
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Chapter 9 - Staying Safe






Crime is as worldwide as street food, so don’t let a newspaper headline close you off from the world. Just because Australia is known for deadly animals doesn’t mean you’ll encounter any. Also, ice cream is excellent at determining the seriousness of playground injuries.

New York Times bestselling author AK Turner kicks off the Vagabonding with Kids series with a free podcast version of the book. Hilarious adventure blends with tips (often learned the hard way) on extended travel with children. Perfect for digital nomads and lifestyle entrepreneurs.

Another Chapter from (Book 1) Vagabonding with Kids

Alternative Ed Review: Smartick




I was recently given a free trial for Smartick, an intuitive, online math tutorial for kids ages 4 to 14. Each child has their own profile and logs on for 15 minutes per day, 5 days a week. They complete math problems to gain ticks (stars that serve as Smartick currency). After the 15 minutes, they spend additional time navigating Smartick's virtual world, where they can redeem their ticks for avatar accessories, virtual pets, and treehouse decor. Eventually a game center opens up with games that focus on perception, memory, attention, and reasoning.

Focusing!

Pros:

Intuitive - As a child answers questions, the program gauges her level and adapts accordingly. There is also an "I don't know" button if the material is too advanced.

15 Minutes Per Day - This is an entirely manageable block of time. It goes by quickly. Not only do I no longer get resistance from my children about doing their Smartick lesson, they wish they could do more lessons (the program allows one lesson per day, no chance to binge).

Virtual World & Games - Smartick's virtual world and math games are highly engaging. As students progress, new aspects of the world open up. After the lesson my daughters easily spend another 15 minutes exploring the virtual world and tailoring their avatars. Because this is so engaging, they're eager to do their lessons. The games available are math-orientated. If your kids are going to play games online, these are the types of games you want them playing.

Timer - I debated over whether this was a pro or con. In the beginning, the presence of a timer caused panic and frustration (the kids can see if they're on track to finish or falling behind). Ultimately I think this is a necessary component. Without a timer, either of my daughters is liable to end up staring into space when confronted with a difficult problem. The timer keeps them focused and moving forward.

After the math lesson, it's game time. 

Cons:

Dialect Issues - Smartick originated in Spanish, was then translated for a British audience, and is now being introduced to the US. There are a few instances of unfamiliar dialect or words not common in American English. Overall this isn't a huge stumbling block, but it does come up from time to time. These are kinks that the company is actively working out.

Occasional Lesson Glitches - One in every ten lessons seems to miss the mark. Either the content will suddenly revert to something far too basic, or a lesson gets stuck repeating a question a dozen times (even when answered correctly the first time). Again, I think this type of thing will be smoothed out shortly.

Price: 

For two children, Smartick ranges from $30-$45 per month, depending on whether you pay monthly, quarterly, or yearly. My children each complete their 15-minute Smartick lesson 5 days a week. This works out to be 10 hours of math tutorials per month (I like to work out the hourly cost for this sort of thing). While more expensive than using IXL, Prodigy, or Khan Academy, the reward system of what the user can do with their avatar in Smartick's virtual world and the games available make the program more engaging.

From the Mouths of Babes:

Emilia (age 10): "I love Smartick. It's so fun and you learn a lot of stuff. You also get to buy things and there's a school and a treehouse where you make friends. You get to buy a lot of stuff like a pet that you see with your picture every time and you also get to buy gifts to give to other people. The thing I don't like about Smartick is there's this timer that drives me crazy. You only get 15 minutes to see how many questions you can answer. And the more questions you answer, the more ticks you get. That's like money in Smartick world. But otherwise it's really fun to do and I hope other people get to do it."

Ivy (age 7): "Smartick is super fun because on the math part there's a timer and also you get to play games after a little while. And I think I should share Smartick with other people in the world."

Overall: 

The pros far outweigh the cons for this one. The program is engaging, interactive, and challenging. Smartick is not meant to be a substitute for math instruction, but a supplement to it. It's an exercise in mental agility. The fact that my children look forward to a daily math exercise is a testament to the program's efficacy. I definitely recommend this product. I'd encourage using the free trial and having your child complete a full two weeks before you pass judgement.

For more on alternative education, check out:

Chapter 8 - Adventures in Street Food






It’s worldwide, delicious, no riskier than your local McDonald’s, and a great way to experience culinary culture.

New York Times bestselling author AK Turner kicks off the Vagabonding with Kids series with a free podcast version of the book. Hilarious adventure blends with tips (often learned the hard way) on extended travel with children. Perfect for digital nomads and lifestyle entrepreneurs.

Another Chapter from (Book 1) Vagabonding with Kids

Chapter 7 - What Do You Really Need to Take with You?





Don’t let small children pack their own bags, skip the vanity items, and what to do when you find yourself stranded on an island in Alaska with a breast infection.

New York Times bestselling author AK Turner kicks off the Vagabonding with Kids series with a free podcast version of the book. Hilarious adventure blends with tips (often learned the hard way) on extended travel with children. Perfect for digital nomads and lifestyle entrepreneurs.

Another Chapter from (Book 1) Vagabonding with Kids

Chapter 6 - But Think of the Children!



For all available audio recordings of Vagabonding with Kids, click HERE.



The idea that removing children from traditional education is both outdated and wrong. Adopting hybrid forms of education and the benefits of travel for both kids and adults.

New York Times bestselling author AK Turner kicks off the Vagabonding with Kids series with a free podcast version of the book. Hilarious adventure blends with tips (often learned the hard way) on extended travel with children. Perfect for digital nomads and lifestyle entrepreneurs.

Another Chapter from (Book 1) Vagabonding with Kids

AK Turner on How to Raise a Maverick



My latest podcast appearance was on an awesome new show called How to Raise a Maverick, hosted by Emily Gaudreau. She's a fierce advocate for children and a mom who knows that protecting your kids doesn't mean shielding them from the world. She also has some pretty crazy travel stories of her own.

We talk about:

The value of finding your own path 
The ridiculousness of mommy guilt
The benefits of traveling with children
Education models and options 
Fostering an entrepreneurial spirit
How to expand your cultural knowledge without leaving home

There are also practical travel tips including what basically amounts to a commercial for Imodium. 
Maybe Imodium could be my corporate sponsor?! 
While I work on getting that arrangement set up, check out the How to Raise a Maverick podcast as well as The Three Traits of Maverick Parents.

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Want more on educating kids? Check out: