Who benefits from a foreign holiday?

When I was a child I used to have family holidays in Wales or at the beach in the UK. When I got slightly older we had trips to France and Spain. We never left Europe. No doubt to my parents’ minds the hassle, expense and possible danger of going farther afield was too great.

Nowadays this seems to be less the case than ever before. For those with money there are countless package holidays to nearly anywhere on the planet. These package holidays provide facilities and services that make bringing the children possible.

The internet and globalization has made the world smaller. Everything can be researched online and booked online – from taxis to the airport, to flights, to 4 and 5 star hotels with English speaking staff and babysitting services. Even if you don’t use the services of a travel agent you can arrange everything to make traveling with children as painless as possible.

Is this a good thing? My 2 year old daughter has more fun playing in the splash pool around the corner from my house than she does going around a museum in Italy. She loves the sea and swimming pools and park rides but she cares not where they are. We might want to introduce new cultures to our children, but when they are young their ability to discern the subtle differences between cultures is severely limited. They might notice that people speak a different language and that the milk tastes different, but what useful experience do they get?

The truth is that in many instances the adults fancy a holiday in Thailand, the Seychelles, Mexico or wherever and the kids are dragged along. The holiday is for the adults not the kids.

Lying around a pool or on the beach can be boring for kids. The solution is to find interesting activities for the kids to do, and interesting places to visit. Making the kids happy will prevent them throwing fits and getting grumpy and thus make mum and dad’s holiday better too.

However, from a responsible tourism point of view and from an eco-tourism point of view traveling with kids can be construed as bad. You are likely to carry more, use more taxis, use more air-con and generally increase your carbon foot print. Moreover, the idea of ‘family friendly’ hotel and hotels with inclusive deals where everything is provided starves the local economy of tourist money. Big hotels are often owned by big chains. The profits from these big hotels do little to help the local community or preserve local culture. Spending most of your time at the hotel may be convenient and safe but it is somewhat of an insult to the local people. You are shunning the local bars, restaurants and retail outlets.

I have been traveling for over 20 years, mostly in developing countries. During this time I feel that traveling has become a consumer product more to do with being pampered than with discovering different cultures. Taking kids to a Sheraton hotel on the other side of the world seems to be just part of this cultural shift.