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Trip-of-a-lifetime with 9-year-old (1st holiday abroad) - big birthday celebration

(35 Posts)
Moominmammaatsea Sun 22-Jan-17 10:18:22

I've a milestone birthday in the summer and I'd love to take my nine-year-old on a dream holiday as her first trip abroad. I'm a totally lone parent and a low earner, but I've saved a substantial sum for this holiday, so our budget is healthy (not quite no expense spared, but more generous than a wet weekend in Blackpool).

We normally spend our holidays in the wilds of Scotland or Northumberland, and also enjoy city breaks to historic locations like London, Edinburgh, York and Bristol.

I know the world is our oyster but I'm tying myself up in knots trying to work out where to go! I hope the collective wisdom and experiences of MNers might help us pinpoint a holiday destination.

Things we like: history, walking, nature and wildlife, exotic food, being on the go, weather of all descriptions, camping, stargazing and learning about different cultures.

We're not really sunseekers (hence the Scotland and Northumberland holidays!) and I'm not really keen on the idea of a beach holiday (we like hunting for fossils on beaches rather than lying on them).

Disparate ideas that appeal to me are New Zealand, remote Scandinavian islands, chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland, Cambodia & Vietnam, or touring Japan by train.

Help! Where should we start?

helterskelter99 Sun 22-Jan-17 10:23:53

Presume you are going summer hols?
So northern lights aren't good then (I think)
New Zealand is winter which is like UK autumn so can be a bit wet!
Vietnam is cool and the history is quite visual but we went Easter and it was hot
Japan by train sounds super cool
Remote Scandinavia islands also appeals and could be fun without a huge flight
Hawaii is miles away but could stop in San Fran but was nice we hired a convertable and went to see the telescopes but you might have to be 10 to do the altitude
American road trip could be cool?

Apachepony Sun 22-Jan-17 10:27:03

Safari in Africa? You might catch the wildebeest migration in the summer, that would be a definite trip of a lifetime.

Stilitzvert Sun 22-Jan-17 10:32:27

I'd take her to Thailand. It's incredibly child friendly and there's so much to see and do and to help her experience a different way of life with most of the western luxuries. You can spend a couple of days in Bangkok with a guide to take you round, spend a few days in Chiang Mai learning to cook Thai food and camping at an elephant rescue and then spend a few days on an island. IMO something like that is far more of a trip of a lifetime than Disney or the like

specialsubject Sun 22-Jan-17 12:23:23

NZ is actually wet at the moment in high summer, winter can often be drier - but short days, icy roads, things closed so not really a good time. February is an excellent time so consider that. It is not essential to go at the time of the birthday. Why not go now?

Australia is another option; Sydney, along to Melbourne and then as long as possible on Tasmania which would tick all your boxes. Again, needs to be their summer.

loads to see on Hawaii Big Island but Mauna Kea summit not recommended for under 16, and it is an immense journey.

GemmaB78 Sun 22-Jan-17 12:26:16

No northern lights in the summer, but Iceland would be lovely. As would Scandinavia. How about hiring a camper van and exploring the Baltic? Finland, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania?

juneau Sun 22-Jan-17 12:31:13

Given your criteria you might also want to look at Canada. Lots of fab outdoorsy stuff to do there, plus the Rocky Mountains for dramatic scenery and fun cities like Vancouver and/or Montreal, Quebec City. It has excellent public transport and is English & French speaking, so nice and easy for Brits.

I probably wouldn't go all the way to NZ in their winter as its pretty cold and damp or icy, etc. It's a really, really long to go and if you want that sort of experience you could have similar in Norway, Sweden, Iceland in summer for less travel and money. I have a 9-year-old myself and I know he'd find the 24-hour flight and huge time difference hard too, so I'm guessing your DD would too and that would rule it out for me at this age.

juneau Sun 22-Jan-17 12:32:33

No Northern Lights in summer - you need darkness for viewing them and the far north has pretty much 24 hour daylight in summer.

Shockers Sun 22-Jan-17 12:35:51

I'd love to visit Japan. Hiroshima, the landscapes, the cherry blossom, the ghibli museum grin.If you go there, post back to let us know how it was!

DialMforMummy Sun 22-Jan-17 12:36:35

Cambodia is very hot in the summer and so is Thailand. However, once there, life is pretty cheap and it would be safe to travel alone. I second what the pp said, Thailand is very child friendly and there is plenty to do there. Japan is very very very expensive (even by train) but would be fascinating.
What is your budget?

parklives Sun 22-Jan-17 12:39:18

Japan might be too humid in August, it was when I visited but I only did the main island. Otherwise Japan is amazing, I couldn't recommend it more highly, so much to see and do, a real change of culture, completely safe.

frenchfancy Sun 22-Jan-17 12:47:40

Mexico. Visit the ruins. But go further than Chichen Itza(sp?) and check out Uchmal. Visit Merida and go and see the Flamingos.

Fettuccinecarbonara Sun 22-Jan-17 13:36:00

Hong Kong? Amazing place

Iamastonished Sun 22-Jan-17 13:49:37

If you don't want to go so far, but want something different, how about the Azores? We stayed on Sao Miguel and it was so beautiful. There is also all the volcanic scenery to see, lots of walking and nature, and in summer it rarely gets above 24 degrees.

theveryhighlife Sun 22-Jan-17 14:11:14

South Africa has my heart! So much to do. Wonderful wildlife, delicious food.....

TheTantrumCometh Sun 22-Jan-17 14:17:05

Safari, or china would be my top picks based on what you've said.

Wherever you chose to go it sounds like you'll have the most amazing time

tribpot Sun 22-Jan-17 14:25:17

I think I'd avoid a holiday with too many time zone changes unless you can afford a week at the beginning to acclimatise. Ds and I went to Alaska last summer and it was brutal, recovering from the 24 hours of travelling (we had a long layover) and the 9 hour time difference.

We are thinking about Iceland for next summer - I've been talking to this tour company about how we could add more volcanoes in as my ds is mad about volcanoes grin. I would like to combine that with a stop off in the Faroes, potentially on the ferry.

At the other extreme, what about the Galapagos? (still a 6 hour time difference)

capercaillie Sun 22-Jan-17 14:30:41

As it sounds like we like the same type of holidays (and weather), then I'd vote Iceland or Pacific Northwest (eg base round Seattle...Vancouver Island..San Juan Islands). It depends onwhether you're happy to cope with a bit of jet lag...

The Lofoten Islands in Norway are also on my list.

lljkk Sun 22-Jan-17 14:39:34

Japan can be very cool.
You'd get northern lights on remote Scandi islands.
I think with a kid I'd be tilted towards "safe". I seriously considered an Egyptian ("family adventure") hol with my kids, but too much scope for stuff to go wrong.

Moominmammaatsea Sun 22-Jan-17 18:20:37

Thanks for all the suggestions- and support. I'm beginning to feel excited rather than overwhelmed and mired in indecision. It's surprisingly liberating to ask a random group of strangers on the internet to select the destination for the most important holiday I will ever take!

So, I'm thinking Iceland, the Norwegian islands recommend upthread (sorry, I don't know how to do the bold-namey thing), Galapagos (!!!! I would NEVER have considered the islands without MN input), Japan or an African safari.

I was initially nervous about a driving holiday, or a holiday that involves driving, as it's so far out of my comfort zone, despite a 20-year unblemished driving history, but I've never been afraid of a challenge (I'm a single adoptive parent and a foster carer), so I guess I may have to woman up.

My next question is: has anyone used an independent travel agent to plan / organise a holiday? If so, was it worth the expense? In fact, would I pay, or would an agent take commission from the various suppliers? This is one of the few occasions in my life where I will be cash rich but time poor, so, provided the cost wasn't astronomical, it would be worth it to me to pay someone to help me plan the logistics (depending, of course, on the complexity of our final trip).

Thanks so much for your help. We'll send a postcard!

tribpot Sun 22-Jan-17 19:00:13

I've decided against a self-drive holiday for Iceland. It will only be the two of us and I find driving very tiring. I like guided holidays (in a way I would have hated before I had ds) as all the thinking is done for me - I just go from one place to the next as required. It hugely takes the stress out for me.

So for me I would look for a tour - the Galapagos link I gave above was for the tour company Tauck, who are amazing (but also very expensive - it truly is worth it, though - on our Italy tour the year before last our group had a private visit to the Vatican Museum including the Sistine Chapel. Alaska was not quite in the same league but still great). If/when we go to the Galapagos it will definitely be with Tauck.

Japan is also on our list, again I'd probably look for a tour (google took me here, which looks amazing) - you can find self-guided tours where you aren't herded on a bus which might be a good compromise between planning it all yourself / with a travel agent. But equally it wouldn't hurt to consider all the options.

juneau Sun 22-Jan-17 20:05:58

Trailfinders are great, if you have a local branch. My parents do loads of independent travel and they swear by them - very knowledgeable and will suggest stuff you haven't even though of.

Liara Sun 22-Jan-17 20:17:48

I would go for a safari in Africa. Tanzania is fantastic (the NgoroNgoro crater, for example) as is South Africa, which has the advantage of much lower immunisation requirements, and malaria free alternatives (NgoroNgoro is malaria free too, as it is at high altitude so no mosquitoes).

Japan is awesome, but to me not really the most suitable for a 9yo. I am planning on taking the dc (dh and I lived there for a bit ages ago), but probably in their teens.

My similar aged and inclined child would also love the Grand Canyon, and loved the giant sequoias in California. There's a lot of fun stuff in the US, actually.

Apachepony Sun 22-Jan-17 20:19:25

Second trailfinders, helped me organise my camping safari (many years ago...)

Moominmammaatsea Sun 22-Jan-17 21:19:08

Tribpot, you make me feel better about my driving reluctance, it's not that I can't do it, as I do it every day and obviously not too shoddily (no points or accidents in 20-odd years) it just would feel a bit like a busman's holiday, especially as there's no one else to take up the slack. Thanks also for the Tauck recommendation; the trips genuinely seem amazing; I've shortlisted the Costa Rica and Galapagos holidays (the Rockies trip looks brilliant but is sold out).

Liara/Tantrum/Highlife/Apachepony, DD is in seventh heaven at the thought of an African safari. I shared the news of my secret holiday fund this evening and she literally bounced to bed to read up all her relevant National Geographics.

Thanks to everyone who's responded and made suggestions. I'm actually well travelled as an adult (I've lived and worked in Australia, the Far East and the US), it's just that my world has shrunk so significantly since becoming a parent that I've lost confidence in my decision-making process.

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