As a family travel writer, it's a conundrum that comes my way often.
"You have to help me," a friend wailed during a recent walk in Toronto. "I'm taking my kids (both tweens) to Europe for the first time this summer. All my older one wants to see are ruins. Ruins, ruins, RUINS! But my younger guy says 'There's no way I'm going there to see BORING ruins!' This trip is costing a fortune, Lori. I don't want it to be a failure. What do I do?"
Too bad I hadn't yet discovered kidsGo!, a series of pocket travel guide books that take aim at young travellers. The series so far includes six helpful guides: New York, London, Sydney, Bali, Hong Kong and Phuket, Thailand.
Launched in spring 2011, the guides are focused specifically on seven-to-14-year-olds, a demanding, savvy, sometimes-hard- to-please set that is prone to eye-rolling and shockingly strong vocals when it comes to the wrong way to pass a family vacation.
Designed and written by a group of moms with tweens who have actually been to these places, these books speak in direct, concise, intelligent language that encourages young travellers to take an active interest in their own itineraries.
For example, in a section called Speak the Lingo, the kidsGo Sydney guidebook says: "English is the main language spoken in Sydney, so you shouldn't have any problems communicating if you are reading this, however, here are a couple of typical Aussie phrases:
G'day, mate: Hello!
How ya goin'?: How are you?
The Do's and Don'ts in the Phuket guide warns kids to drink lots of bottled water, wear a ton of bug spray and to be careful not to step on the small offerings (for the gods) seen on the street. Other advice: "Smile and put your hands together (as if you are praying) to say hello and thank you," and do not "touch people with your feet, or point your feet at anyone's head."
I don't know about your kids, but mine would have lots of interesting questions about why you can't point your feet at the locals' heads! (Answer: It's thought that your soul lives in your head, so it is sacred.)
For parents, the guidebooks really do take some of the exhaustion out of finding tween-friendly activities in unfamiliar destinations. The books are chock-full of age-appropriate suggestions, from the most spectacular safari trips in Bali to the wildest water parks in Phuket, the fastest speedboat tours on the Thames, and the kind of museums in New York and London that won't send kids into whine mode within the first 30 minutes.
Helping parents stay well away from climbing the hotel-room walls on a rainy day, the books also list things to do when it's pouring. For example, who knew there are two movie theatres in Bali catering to foreigners, with English-language movies and maybe even some popcorn?
Published by Haven Books, the printed guides and their simple, colourful maps go hand-in-hand with a new, interactive website ( kidsgotravelguides.com).It's gimmick-free and as easy to navigate from your home computer as it is in desperation in an internet cafe in midtown Manhattan.
The best part of the site is the instant access to the Family Feedback and Kids Go & Show sections, quick links to the restaurants, beaches, museums and attractions other kids-in-the-know found fascinating.
A fast click through the London online pages, for example, reveals one family found the Museum of London at Docklands to be one of the city's most "special." Another family recommends when visiting London art galleries, children should request a Kids Art Trolley, which apparently makes a gallery visit "lots of fun."
And finally -- and ironically most boringly for tweens -- both the website and the books have pages of tips for parents, mostly written by the series author Mio Debnam. In Bali, for instance, Debnam warns parents that "at many religious and historic sites you'll need to wrap a sarong around your waist and legs. You can often rent them, but to save money and time, we suggest you carry one in your bag."
With the help of a kidsGo!, hopefully those poor bored tweens who are forced to travel the world with their parents won't be biting much either nor will they be doing more than their fair share of eye rolling.
The kidsGo! guides are sold at Canadian bookstores for $11 each and are also available online at Amazon Canada for $9.23.