Your progeny will be out in the world soon enough, hopefully employed, with time constraints and travel plans of their own. But for now, there's summer college break, when you can carve out a last-blast family trip.
Seeing foreign countries with your nearly grown offspring is a particular joy. They are way beyond the need for Kids Klubs at beach-resort hotels. And those defiant, push-all-your-buttons teen years are but an unpleasant memory. Older teens and 20-somethings are open to exploring world and family history with you; especially when said exploration includes small-group exposure to new cultures in places where the bar scene is safe and fun.
A good custom tour company will arrange seamless pickups, transportation, the highest quality lodgings and intuitive guides. The best are adept at multigenerational trips -- a growing trend. Here are three that have proved to provide an above-and-beyond, personal touch.
Ireland with Vagabond Tours
The Irish are storytellers, so what better than to have your own personal raconteur behind the wheel of a jet-black Land Rover retrofitted to accommodate up to 13 travelers? "The tourists can have the Ring of Kerry with its back-to-back coach buses," says Vagabond owner Rob Rankin. "We go 'off-Ring.'" Sign up for the End of the Earth Southwest Tour and, if the weather agrees, you'll surf in Brandon Bay, ride horses along the craggy coastline and kayak in protected inlets. You'll hike on old shepherd paths over hill and dale, through burbling streams, past neon-marked sheep to hidden waterfalls. You'll stop at beautiful beaches for impromptu games of "Vagaball" (volleyball played on sand without a net) or take sandy spins on Inch Strand, blaring rev-you-up American rock songs. Your college-age son or daughter (18-plus) can imbibe a Guinness or two with you while listening to fiddle masters in crowded pubs. At night, you'll bunk down in cozy off-the-radar B&Bs. According to Rankin, "It's worth mentioning what a great destination Ireland is for a family holiday. It is safe and compact. There's loads of history and culture, great accommodations and a fast-developing outdoor adventure infrastructure. In 2011 it was ranked in the top 10 countries in the developed world for adventure travel potential."
Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam with G-Adventures
Nothing fuses pleasure, pain and spirituality like a trip to Southeast Asia. Thai massage, elephant camps, cheap but phenomenal street food, Buddhist temples, Khmer Rouge genocide, the Vietnam War -- they create teaching moments for all generations. For those like me who came of age when the day's body count was a staple of the nightly news, visiting Saigon is a revelation. You and your kids will discover together that our Vietnam War was known here as the American War of Aggression, though animosity toward U.S. citizens has subsided, especially among the nightclub set. G-Adventure guides will steer you to street food that won't make you sick, spas that don't feature "naughty" massage, and tuk-tuks or cyclotour drivers that won't figuratively "take you for a ride."
Begin in Thailand -- a Lilly Pulitzer-colored tangle of spiritual and earthly delights. Get a massage (or one every day), take a cooking class (our favorite was the small, home-based Thai Orchid Cooking School), shop the night markets, ride and/or bathe elephants, and certainly visit temples to learn about the Buddha. You'll need these positive experiences before heading to Cambodia, where, besides the Wonders of the World temples in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Pra Thom), you'll witness the consequences of genocide and war near Phnom Penh. Certifiably crazy Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of nearly 3 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. Exposure to the torture and interrogation center S-21 -- now Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum -- and the Killing Fields Memorial provokes a cavalcade of painful emotions.
And in Vietnam, if you grew up in the '60s with images of GIs (rifles raised, slogging through rivers), daily body counts and anti-war protests, tourist sites can be disorienting. Perhaps you served, or knew someone who lost his life. This trip offers a perfect opportunity to discuss memories of your own college-age years.
INFO 888-800-4100, gadventures.com
Eastern Europe Jewish Heritage Tour with Gil Travel
I felt something like guilt while stretched out in an overnight train from Budapest to Krakow, warm and comfortable in my own little bunk. The contrast was especially jarring in Auschwitz, where the doomed were transported like cattle in boxcars and the vestiges of horrific mass extermination remain. How can you look at glass cases crammed with shoes, shorn hair and luggage marked with names and addresses of families who believed they'd be reunited with their belongings after a brief "relocation" and not be torn apart? Even if you've never said Kaddish (the Hebrew prayer for the dead), you'll feel compelled to here.
All is not heart-rending in Eastern Europe, however. After the Iron Curtain came down, stylish restaurants and hotels went up, and each city has something to recommend it: Budapest's Hot Baths and Spas; Krakow's college town vibe and incredible cathedral-like Wieliczka Salt Mine; beautifully preserved Prague as Hitler's "Museum of the Annihilated Race," and Berlin's sparkling newness (climb the glass dome of the Reichstag at night).
Visit what's left of the Berlin Wall and discuss the Fall of Communism. This kind of tour will spark conversations about absolute evil, World War II and heroism in the face of certain death.
INFO 800-223-3855, giltravel.com