Family travel: Things to do before you're 13

From husky-sledding in Lapland to diving with sharks in the Philippines, our hard-to-please teens reveal their most treasured childhood trips

By Rhonda Carrier
Published 7 Dec 2015, 08:00 GMT, Updated 5 Jul 2021, 12:47 BST

Always quick to deride with a well-chosen diss and a world-weary shrug, teens are difficult creatures to impress. So when we asked 13 of these cool creatures to share with us their most thrilling travel experiences — things they'll never forget and would recommend to younger kids — we were surprised at just how knowledgeable, keen and, yes, excited they were. Read on for the true, tried and tested pre-teen bucket list.

Wildlife encounters

Ride with Huskies
The husky ride was my favourite part of my Lapland trip, aged nine. We got there just before dark and could hear the huskies barking and howling because they wanted to run. I sat in the sled and my mum steered, and we went for an amazing ride in the dark pulled by the huskies and guided by snowmobiles. Afterwards, we sat round a fire and cuddled the puppies. There were lots of other excursions, like visiting Santa, a reindeer sleigh ride and snowmobiling. I'd recommend it. Callum Phillips, 13

How to do it: Activities Abroad has seven nights in a cottage in Jeris, Finnish Lapland, from £1,775 (adults) and £1,064 (children), including flights, half-board accommodation, six lunches and activities (husky safari, reindeer farm/sleigh-ride, snowmobile safari, Santa visit and cross-country skiing).

Dive with Sharks
I first dived on a Bubblemaker when I was nine, qualified at 10, and got my Advanced certificate in the Red Sea in Egypt. My first shark dive was in Komodo, Indonesia, but the best has to be Malapascua in the Philippines, with thresher and reef sharks. None of these little adventures has cost me any of my limbs because, for all the hype when one does happen, shark attacks are rare. Zac Sutcliffe, 15

How to do it: Regaldive offers diving for ages 10 and over in destinations worldwide. Nine nights, B&B, at the Bintang Flores Hotel in Indonesia's Komodo National Park from £1,896pp including flights and transfers; dive courses start at £235.

Road trips & other great adventures

Go Campervanning
I was 10 and my brother was seven when our family drove an RV through Arizona up Route 66 to the Grand Canyon — the memories still make me sigh wistfully. Campervanning opened up opportunities we'd never have had otherwise. We entered a hotdog-eating contest at a country fair, met a pet tarantula and an iguana, swam in a hidden canyon lake, and got given Navajo lucky stones.

I never tired of being able to open the camper's door, set up a chair outside and watch the world go by; we met lots of people, and shared amazing stories over s'mores (crackers with marshmallow and chocolate) and popcorn.

The Grand Canyon is everything people say about it and more. We entered via the Desert View East Rim (easy to hike down into). When I looked down into the canyon I didn't feel fear but weightless with a sense of freedom. Making my way down the 5,900ft side is an experience I'll never forget. Ben Gow, 18

How to do it: American Sky has 15-day motorhome hire with flights from £1,299pp; itineraries include the Grand Canyon & Las Vegas by Motorhome, and Attractions of the West by Motorhome.

Activity holidays

Learn to Surf
I had my first surfing lessons in Spain, when I was 10. But my favourite spot so far has been Sayulita, a popular surf town in a charming part of Mexico. You could watch some amazing surfers, but there were a lot of beginners as well. The waves were pretty gentle, which was great because I was 11 and still starting out. The water was really warm, too. And if you study Spanish at school, it's a great opportunity to speak with the locals in town and while surfing.

I also went zip-lining and horse-riding through the forest and onto a beach, and watched adorable baby turtles hatching on the sand at night and scurrying into the ocean. What's more, the town had great places to hang out with other kids after surfing. Natasha Salmi, 14

How to do it: Apartments and villas in Sayulita from around $600 (£390) a week. Group tuition for ages nine and over costs $40pp (£26) with Wildmex.

City Breaks

New York City
I love NYC as much as when I first visited, aged two and then four. For my fourth birthday, I got a remote-control boat and played with it in the boat pond in Central Park, pretending I was local. Every time we left, it got harder — so eventually we moved here and now we don't have to!

Everything my mum took me to then, I still go to now, from Luna Park in Coney Island to the American Museum of Natural History and the Planetarium.

And the parks are great. I learned to swim in Tompkins Square Park pool, and while now we go to bigger pools with diving boards, we still like to go to Tompkins at least once or twice a week in summertime to see everyone. Jarvis McGrath, 13

How to do it: British Airways offers a three-night city break for a family of four with flights and a family room at the Art Deco-style Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown for £467pp.

Read the complete feature in the Winter 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family


Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2024 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved