I’ve changed my mind about tours. I was always an “organise it myself” type of traveller. I research, I find hotels and flights and how to get around each city. I’ve travelled around the world before kids. It’s not that hard right?
Two holidays changed my mind.
China and Vietnam.
I tried the DIY approach with kids in China. It was hard going.
We wasted countless hours trying to figure out how to buy tickets for attractions, how to get to the train station and how to order food. I got back from that holiday, needing a holiday.
For a few days on that trip, I booked a private guide. One day to take us to a less touristy part of the Great Wall and another day to negotiate the Terracotta Warriors in Xian.
Those days, were the best days of our trip. When you don’t have to organise and negotiate you can relax and enjoy the trip more. We got off the beaten track, without getting lost.
China got me thinking… perhaps a guided tour would be great with kids. It could allow our family to see more adventurous destinations, without all the hassle.
I decided to test my theory on an Intrepid Vietnam Family Tour. The 13-day tour starts in Hanoi, travels to Ha Long Bay, includes an overnight train ride to Hue, then on to Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta.
Intrepid are known as the best in the business when it comes to family tours, so I felt pretty confident that nothing could go wrong.
The difference in per-holiday planning stress was noticeable straight away.
All those hours spent searching for hotels? Gone.
All those hours dedicated to planning transport. Zip.
I had more time to spend on the kids and on me. I have enough to do with school and work. I’ll take any extra hours I can get.
More time to enjoy the holiday
Normally, when we arrive at an airport in a foreign country, I will keep the (increasingly grumpy and tired) kids amused while my husband figures out the best way to get from the airport to the hotel. Usually, that will also involve finding an ATM so you can pay for a cab or a train ticket, buying a local SIM card or pocket WiFi and fielding complaints from the bored kids.
When we arrived in Hanoi with Intrepid, a driver met us at the arrivals hall and took us directly to our hotel. All the horrid bits of travelling the kids whine about and we parents endure were gone.
Our Intrepid Family Tour guide Duc Nygen met us at the hotel on arrival. He organised a local sim, helped us to get Vietnamese Dong (the ATM was actually in the hotel – so easy) and made check in an absolute breeze.
Each time we boarded our bus, Duc explained where we were going, what we would see and how we would get there. He organised our tickets, he helped us negotiate security at government buildings and made sure we always had water – something that is incredibly important when travelling in Vietnam. He was always one step ahead of our logistics questions.
When all those “admin” tasks are taken care of, you can relax and enjoy the country you’re visiting. You can delve deeper into history and take your time at each attraction, rather than checking your watch and the train timetable. You could also pay more attention to the kids and answering their questions. And if you don’t know the answer, Duc knows for sure. “Ask Duc kids”.
Probably my biggest concern about touring was that you could be stuck with the same people for two weeks. What if you don’t like them?
On every Intrepid Family Tour, you have a first night briefing where you can meet the tour group. The kids tend to stick close to their parents, eyeing the other children from a distance.
By the end of our tour, the kids were down one end of the table and the adults are at the other. My daughter and her Intrepid friend now email and message each other every week. They bought matching pineapple outfits in Hoi An.
The reality is, you will find like-minded families booking these tours. Most families who book them are keen to explore new places, to teach their kids about other cultures and get more out of a holiday than your regular stop-and-flop. You tend to have a lot in common.
And if you still don’t like them? Intrepid builds in a lot of free time where you can choose to do activities with the other families, or go it alone.
One thing we really loved about the Intrepid Family Tours was the interaction with locals through cooking classes, homestays, and one-off experiences.
In Hoi An, an older lady spun me and the girls around and around in a bucket boat, cackling as we squealed. Then we set off with her to hunt mud crabs. We had tea and chatted with the ladies in the vegetable village and helped them to water the garden.
In the Mekong we sat up after dinner with the owner of a homestay, chatting about how the river system and the country have changed. We even called one of his relatives in Australia on Skype and said hi – just because she lived in Sydney, near us.
We made incense with the locals in Hue, we learnt to cook traditional food with a Vietnamese chef in Hoi An, made lanterns at a local lantern shop and toured the rice fields during harvest, picking up grains of rice.
All these experiences gave us a richer taste of Vietnam.
I would probably not have booked these activities, or even know I could do if I was doing Vietnam myself. And these were the experiences the kids loved the most.
Intrepid builds a lot of free time into their family tours. They get that kids need a rest. They get that you need time as a family.
We asked Duc for suggestions for restaurants and free-time activities. I can’t even tell you how much time and stress this saved. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wanders along the street on holidays trying to pick a restaurant all of us will like – especially in countries where you can’t drink the water. Is it safe? Will it be good? How many locals are inside? Does it have food the kids will eat?
Every single time, Duc’s recommendation hit the mark with a lovely location, great food and excellent service. He was particularly good with coffee recommendations – a must for every Australian.
After we returned, I mentioned this to other families who had been on an Intrepid Tour. Every single one had the same experience.
No long bus tips
If you’re considering a family tour – check the details really carefully. Intrepid limits bus transport times to less than four hours. That’s really important when travelling with kids. They do not do long travel times well.
The longest transport time we had was our overnight train from Hanoi to Hue – and that was really an adventure the kids loved.
It was noticeable from the moment we joined our Intrepid Family Tour, that the company had an environmental focus. Duc gave each person on the tour their own cloth bag and encouraged them to say no to plastic bags when shopping.
Our bus had a huge water tank and we used our own refillable bottles, rather than buying more plastic.
In almost all of the restaurants we visited, they didn’t have plastic straws. Instead, we found pasta straws, metal straws and paper.
Kids these days are more environmentally focussed. They noticed. And they loved it. So did we.
Intrepid Travel’s 12 day Vietnam Family Holiday starts from $1,720 per adult twin share and $1,548 per child.
The trip starts in Hanoi and ends in Ho Chi Minh City and includes accommodation, transport, an expert local leader, most activities and most meals.
To book call Family Travel on 1300 404 100 or use the chatbot on this page.