Every month our intrepid editors travel the world in search of the very best travel experiences. Collectively, they have stayed in over 7,000 luxury hotels, so there really is no better resource to answer all of your travel-related questions.
Well, the most obvious answer is to take them somewhere with no cell phone or Internet connection. Such blissful places are, however, becoming increasingly rare. Three years ago, on my last trip to Botswana’s Okavango Delta, the only place I stayed that had Wi-Fi was Abu Camp. But as it is owned by Paul Allen of Microsoft, this seemed hardly surprising. Alas, I recently learned that Sanctuary Chief’s Camp has now succumbed. The most egregious case of cell phone pollution I have ever experienced was in the Serengeti. The park headquarters is located in the middle of the reserve and has a cell phone tower, which means that you can get a very adequate signal — greatly superior to the one in much of Manhattan — while surrounded by a million wildebeests and the immensity of the Short Grass Plains. But surely, no one would ever…. Oh, yes, they would and do. On a recent Harper safari, there was a lull in the action and one man, evidently bored by a surfeit of grazing zebra and Thomson’s gazelle, pulled out his phone and began chatting to his broker about the previous day’s market fluctuations.
A trekking vacation in Nepal should be a safe bet, though the last time I ventured into the Himalayas the foothills were alive with the sound of mountaineers on satellite phones. And nowadays even cruise ships in the Antarctic have Wi-Fi, though it still tends to be gratifyingly slow and unreliable.
So I suspect you’ll have to try another tack. The great antidote to screen fixation is activity. At eco-resorts in places like Costa Rica and Belize, you can go riding, rafting, zip-lining, surfing or diving. Similarly at dude ranches, you can ride, fly-fish, hike. (I once had an unforgettable multigenerational family vacation at Smith Fork Ranch in Colorado. And I have heard other parents and grandparents wax similarly lyrical about their experiences at The Resort at Paws Up in Montana and Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in British Columbia.)
Most pre-teen and early-teen kids seem to be allergic to sightseeing, and particularly dislike art galleries, where being told to admire an apparently endless succession of masterpieces generates either sullen resentment or a positively indecent lust for Netflix. So if you take them to Rome, forget the Palazzo Borghese and sign them up for a pizza-making class instead. This need not be so philistine as it sounds, as they’ll get to meet some real Italians, see a tourist-free neighborhood and maybe even learn a few words of the language.
On family vacations, I think a degree of parental fascism is necessary. The Harpers have an absolute ban on cell phones at mealtimes. And that means you, too, Dad. It’s no good grumbling about your children’s obsession with Instagram, if paterfamilias starts checking his emails at breakfast.
If I had to pick one place in the entire word to render iPhones redundant, it would be the Galapagos Islands. I’ve yet to meet anyone between ages 8 and 80 who isn’t completely enraptured by the place. Phones work on the ship, but once you’re on land they don’t. But this is irrelevant really, as virtually everyone walks around in a perpetual trance of amazement and delight.
I think it important to bear in mind that different generations tend to enjoy different things. I remember being at Singita Sasakwa in Tanzania and observing three generations of a family over several days. It was the parents who were most enthusiastic about game drives. They were always willing to get up early to head out onto the plains before sunrise. Their children did this initially, but after a couple of days they clearly preferred to sleep in. (Possibly the kids had seen all the major species, and their interest in wildlife had begun to wane.) However, the children were always fired up for activities such as archery or escorted visits to local communities. As for the grandparents, they clearly had little interest in bumpy dirt roads and preferred to spend their days reading by the pool. So the moral of the tale is that for a multigenerational trip you should only consider a safari lodge or camp with a wide range of options besides wildlife viewing.
For example, at Sirikoi in Kenya, those who don’t want to go out on a game drive can lounge by the magnificent pool and watch animals come to the nearby waterhole. It is possible to take air safaris by helicopter (to Mount Kenya) or to fly at low-level in a light aircraft with an open cockpit. The more adventurous can go on camel safaris with the local Samburu people. And no one will want to miss a visit to the Lewa rhino sanctuary, where it is possible to walk in the bush with baby rhinos. An equivalent in South Africa might be Tswalu Kalahari, where in addition to game viewing you can learn about the captive breeding of endangered roan and sable antelope, go horseback riding and take guided bush walks. A Junior Ranger program includes spoor identification, tracking and archery. And while the kids are happily occupied, the adults can take an open-air yoga class or unwind in the spa, where the treatments have been inspired by the plants and landscape of the Kalahari.
I also think that for multigenerational safaris you should choose somewhere that is comfortable, possibly with air-conditioned bedrooms. Some members of the group may like the idea of being adventurous; the older generation may not. A power shower feels especially good at the end of a dusty game drive, and air-conditioning also makes it easier to keep out the bugs. (Many a safari has been ruined by children who have been badly bitten by mosquitoes.) And remember, if the kids are very young, you will probably want to travel where there is no malaria. The Eastern Cape in South Africa is malaria-free, as are desert areas in Botswana and Namibia.
When traveling with children, you may wish to choose a safari lodge that has solid walls, as opposed to canvas ones. The sounds of the African bush at night can be fairly blood curdling. And in the darkness, even many adults are not reassured by the fact that only a sheet of canvas separates them from the local lion pride. Canvas-walled lodgings are completely safe and animals do not try to break in, but at 3 a.m., a variety of unpleasant scenarios can seem plausible.
Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Sabi Sand offers a variety of walled suites in its five independently-run camps. Also in Sabi Sand, Singita Castleton comprises a main farmhouse and accommodation for up to 12 people in six adjoining bungalows. Farther south in the malaria-free Eastern Cape, Kwande Private Game Reserve offers a variety of reassuring accommodations, including the Uplands Homestead, which is ideal for a family group. In southeastern Zimbabwe, Singita Pamushana, set on a 130,000-acre private reserve, offers seven magnificently-appointed air-conditioned stone cottages.
Also remember, at many upscale lodges it is possible to request a private safari vehicle and guide. Although this is more expensive, when you are traveling as a family group it is an extremely good idea and worth every penny.
All Greek islands are family friendly in that Mediterranean people like children and are accustomed to seeing them in restaurants. Mykonos, however, is a party island and perhaps more suited to people in their 20s and 30s. (Alas, only a few Greek islands have hotels of a Harper standard.) It is easy to hop from Mykonos to Santorini and then on to Crete by hydrofoil or ferry. (Hydrofoils are at least three times faster than ferries, but you will be inside. Whereas on a regular ferry, you can sit on the top deck in the sunshine and watch the Aegean slide by.) All three of these islands offer luxury accommodations. But elsewhere you will be staying in places that are much simpler.
For example, it is a magical three-hour ferry ride from Athens across the Saronic Gulf to the exquisitely pretty island of Hydra. There I have stayed at the Orloff Boutique Hotel, set within an 18th-century mansion. (The property takes its name from a Russian favorite of Catherine the Great, who fomented an unsuccessful revolt against the Ottoman Turks in the 1770s.) It is a charming and atmospheric place, but not luxurious in the sense that Hideaway Report readers tend to understand.
In my view, much the best way to island hop in Greece is aboard a motor yacht. You can then visit smaller unspoiled islands in comfort. (Personally, I prefer sailing boats, but their cabins tend to be more cramped. Also, many Greek captains like to run the engine, and it takes a lot of cajoling to make them put the sails up.) The best month of the year is unquestionably June. In August, the Meltemi winds that blow down from the Black Sea can be particularly strong and make life afloat uncomfortable. And the weather in the Aegean very often breaks in September, with violent thunderstorms generated by the summer heat.