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500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up

Posted by Miss Maccy on Mar 6, 2010 in Travel Guides, Travel with kids, Uncategorized

Or, 500 Tacky Tourist Traps it might be better to avoid.

I guess you can tell from my sub title I’m a little underwhelmed with this book. It’s a disappointing offering from Frommer. I’ll cover what I think are the major flaws of the book.

First of all, it’s organised by themes. So chapter one is “awesome vistas’, chapter two is “exploring the scenery” right through “walk with animals” to “budding scientists” to “rides and thrills at the end”. Don’t get me wrong the themes sound great. The problem is that for each theme they then pick one or two highlights from each continent basically. This creates a kind of artificial selection, so that for theme parks we have Lunar Park in Sydney as the major offering (eh?) rather than focusing on the fact that the Gold Coast has a cluster of whizzie woo woo theme parks (and that maybe a park like Wet ‘n’ Wild Water World is more iconic of Australia). There are quite a few choices in the book that felt like this type of token gesture to me. I mean, really did someone pick Lunar Park of wikipedia?  I can’t think of any other plausible reason for it’s inclusion.

The other problem with themes is that it isn’t how you actually travel. You travel geographically. While there is a small  geographical index at the back, it was almost like an after thought. There were maps provided of all the major countries but while the main cities were marked, none of the actual attractions or destinations were. I’m not sure what purpose they thought these maps were going to serve but they certainly don’t help you to work out where to go.

Let’s take an example of a family visiting New Zealand. You want to know what things you must see. It’s a long way to get to NZ from anywhere, so you don’t want to miss out on anything, right? In the index fro NZ the attractions we have listed are: Fiordlands National Park, Mount Cook (ahem, correct name Aoraki or at the very least Aoraki/Mt Cook), Rotorua, Stewart Island and Wellington Cable Car. If you’ve never been to NZ before, you might well wonder where these things are. Well, don’t use the maps in this book, on NZ it has marked: The North Island, Wellington, The South Island, and Stewart Island. Now we have been to NZ several times. In fact Super Gizmo man had to take Beckham across the ditch just a couple of weeks ago. I did the planning and listed all the places they really should visit depending on where they got flights. In the end they flew in and out of Wellington. Not once, not once did it even cross my mind as a merest flicker that they ‘really should go on the cable car’. If you are in Wellington with kids, the places you should make a bee line for are Te Papa which is the fabulous national museum and the Karori Santuary. If you need a bit of public transport excitement, then Wellington has the only public trolley bus system in Australasia.

Another problematic aspect of the book is it’s US centric focus. Now I am sure that the US is an amazing place to visit but the mere fact that a whole chapter is devoted to “Settling America” is pretty telling. Especially when American places dominate the other categories as well. Maybe a better title would have been “Places American’s should consider taking their kids”.

Compounding the disappointing nature of the places selected is the fact that the selections seem to focus on major cities and traditional tourist destinations. I confirmed this with my flick through of their choices fro France and Italy. D’uh oh! We neglected to go to almost all of the places they mentioned. Give me Pienza any day over Rome for an amazing cultural experience for kids. Famous Bridges selected were the historic choices of the Tower Bridge, London and Le Pont Neuf, Paris. Where is the hair raising Millau Viaduct (France) the tallest vehicular bridge in the world? Or the Forth Railway bridge in Glasgow, the first bridge and major structure in the UK to be built of steel ? Instead the choices are those found in any travel agents brochures. There are no hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Instead this book follows a very paint by numbers approach to exploring the planet. Hard to believe this is published by the same company as the brilliant “with your family” travel series. Save your money for those or the much glossier Travel with Kids by William Gray.

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HOW TO: Plan a Vacation Using Social Media

Posted by Miss Maccy on Jun 8, 2009 in Travel Guides

HOW TO: Plan a Vacation Using Social Media.

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Mistakes Were Made | nerd’s eye view

Posted by Miss Maccy on May 4, 2009 in Travel Guides

Mistakes Were Made | nerd’s eye view.

Hilarious but really great advice!

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The Holy Grail of Family Travel Guide Books

Posted by Miss Maccy on Jan 16, 2009 in Travel Guides, Travel with kids, Uncategorized

After Christmas I went and did the rounds of our local libraries, I have to confess I was hoping to find a guide book along the lines of “Where to Stay in Europe if you Accidentally take Your Children”. It became painfully obvious that our local libraries are not inundated with families travelling to Europe, hmmmm. One of our libraries had a copy of the excellent Take Your Kids to Europe, 7th: How to Travel Safely (and Sanely) in Europe with Your Children

This is a fantastic book which I can’t recommend enough. After I finished reading through the library copy I realised I had bookmarked every second page and so it was necessary to buy our own copy. It is absolutely loaded with information and is a fantastic resource in planning a trip in general. However, there are a few areas where I wanted even more specific information. Although Harriman encourages families to travel “off the beaten track” because of the scope of the book, she does not go into details about specific locations. There are recommendations scattered throughout the book but for the most part, the book is about managing the trip. Also Harriman’s emphasis is on going for as long as you can rather than squeezing as much as you can into a short space of time.

Young Rick Steves convert
Image by eugene via Flickr

Another guide book series that is excellent in terms of getting off the beaten track are the books by Rick Steves and Co.  These are great in that he is all about travelling very economically without necessarily backpacking (and you can find location specific advice). He does include information for families in each book but overall his target audience are “mature travellers” and those requiring standard accommodation for one or two people. Plus guidebooks for specific locations.

The best guidebooks for details about sights to see are the Eyewitness Travel Guides by DK.  These are stunningly beautiful books with illustrations of all the best sights and loads of historical information. They are like having a tour guide on tap and I think particularly helpful in deciding which sights you want to see in a particular area. However, I wouldn’t rely on them for affordable accommodation or even eating recommendations.

All of these guidebooks are great and I’m using all of them, however none of them could be classified as Family Travel Guidebook Nirvana. But I did not despair. Well, ok, actually I did despair, quite a lot. But I did not give up and my intrepid searches on Amazon were finally rewarded by finding the Holy Grail of Family Travel guide books. Frommers have just published an entire series of books for families and they are brilliant!!!

You can find the list of Frommer’s with Families guide books here:

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Travel Gurus

Posted by Miss Maccy on Dec 3, 2008 in Packing, Travel Guides

One of the most influential travel guides I have read when researching this trip, is Rick Steves’ Europe through the Back Door. [amtap book:isbn=1598801082] Rick Steves seems to have a huge fan base and I think it’s entirely justified.

One of the key concepts is being less “touristy”. This means travelling off the beaten path, viewing the main sites – but doing it efficiently, and taking more time just to experience everyday life in Europe. This has really influenced our decision making process. It’s a terrible confession but we may not do every major monument in Europe! What’s more, we are trying to reduce the number of each type of tourist attraction. I suspect where we will bomb out on badly will be the theme parks and the museums, but the rest will be strictly rationed. We will be saving our sight seeing for a few select castles, and a few select cathedrals etc. I am thinking we can do without an hours journey each way just to see the leaning tower of Pisa. I know! I know! Total sacrilege! But I also figure the kids will get bitten by the travel bug, and that there will be plenty of time for them to come back and see the big monuments.

The other influential concept is to pack light. Rick Steves’ heavily promotes the idea of only taking carry-on luggage. I will talk some more about this in later posts. What we did decide very early on is that we were also going to be committed to taking over only carry-on luggage. Note: I did not say there we will not bring stuff back. I think this is an important distinction considering the last time we flew back from the UK I had several rolls of wallpaper border and a Winnie The Pooh lamp shade from Mothercare tucked into my suitcase. Or rather, taking up most of my suitcase.
Winnie the pooh lampshade
I just put that in there as I was having a nostalgia moment and so that you can see how smuggle worthy Winnie the Pooh is. Luckily for SGM, we now have entirely halogen lighting, which diminishes the need to bring back random light fittings. The rest of this however, I consider fair game…

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