6 Family Travel Trends to Watch in 2017

Digital detox getaways, history-focused trips and immersive vacations are on the rise.

U.S. News & World Report

6 Family Travel Trends to Watch in 2017

Portrait of smiling girl waiting in airport

Whether you want to unplug from digital devices or take your kids on a river cruise to remember, here are a few emerging trends to fuel your wanderlust in the fresh calendar year.(Getty Images/Hero Images)

As you gather with family for the winter holidays, it's an ideal time to start to plan adventures for the coming year. The recent Family Travel Association Summit in Tucson, Arizona, discussed how parents, more than ever, are looking to bond together through travel. Nowadays, extended families are traveling together on multigenerational trips with grandchildren to celebrate milestones or explore ancestral history. And these trips are playing a valuable part of our children's education. Here are six trends to look for in 2017, according to Family Travel Association experts.

History-Driven Trips

The dominant story of 2016 was the U.S. presidential election. Now that the election is over, perhaps you and the kids are making plans to visit the nation's capital for the Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2017. Inauguration weekend will include the traditional parade, concerts and inaugural balls. And for those looking for an escape from inauguration weekend, Philadelphia offers plenty of places to celebrate America's history. The new Museum of the American Revolution, which will display thousands of artifacts including many items owned or used by George Washington, will debut in spring 2017. A top highlight of the museum will be Washington's Revolutionary War command center headquarters tent. A new guided trip from Adventures by Disney, the company's group tour division, bundles Philadelphia and Washington, District of Columbia together, so families can see where the Declaration of Independence was signed before touring of the U.S. Capitol.

An Interest in Exploring America's National Parks

Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Parks Foundation, recently called America's national parks "our common ground." Certainly, the National Park Service's 2016 centennial celebration proved American's love affair with our national parks is as strong as ever. At the Family Travel Association Summit, the National Park Service's Estee Rivera Murdock says the "Find Your Park" campaign will continue past the centennial year. Notable parks to visit in 2017 include Alaska's Denali National Park, which will celebrate its centennial in the New Year, Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park, which turns 55 next year and Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2017.

Families Are Seeking Vacations Where They Can Disconnect to Reconnect

According to findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American children spend much less time playing outside versus an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including phones, computers, televisions and other digital devices. Parents are opting for meaningful outdoor experiences for their children, and a number of companies are creating nature-based vacations. UnCruise Adventures, a small-ship cruise line, takes 80 to 100 people on weeklong immersive trips to places like Alaska, the Galápagos and Mexico's Sea of Cortez. Sarah Scoltock, director of communications at UnCruise Adventures says that there are a number of first-time experiences for kids on these vacations. "Parents enjoy the big moments such as seeing a humpback whale breach," Scoltock explains. "While kids like the small things such as licking a slug or learning about lichen – small things make a big impact on the kids," she adds. Outdoor Adventure River Specialists (also known as O.A.R.S.) has created transformative, life-changing outdoor trips through the American West since 1969. "Kids that experience nature before the age of 11 are more apt to grow up caring about nature [and] to inspire the next generation of stewards of the land, kids need to experience it," says Steve Markle, vice president of sales and marketing at O.A.R.S.

Families Want to Experience New Cultures

A study presented at the Family Travel Association Summit revealed that over half of parents want to expose children to new destinations and cultures. "I'll never forget a multi-regional trip through Europe with our sons," says John Miller, president of travel provider Grand European Travel. "We explored all the major highlights, from London and Paris all the way down to the ruins of Pompeii. The entire trip was filled with educational experiences, and stands out in our family travels," Miller adds. Travel should be an essential part of every child's education, and an important way to understand diverse people, cultures and differences. And taking kids to an international destination is a perfect way to broaden and elevate their global perspectives. Grand European Travel has a number of itineraries designed specifically for families, including a "Gladiators, Gondolas & Gold" tour in Italy, a "Castles & Kilts" tour in Great Britain and a "Monkeys, Jungles & Volcanoes " tour in Costa Rica.

River Cruises Will Cater to Families

Formerly catering to well-off retirees, today's river cruises are attracting more families with their small, intimate ships, extended time in port for leisurely exploration and the ability to travel across a continent without touching a suitcase. Plus, river cruises offer the chance to explore tucked-away destinations and enjoy immersive experiences aboard and ashore. Venerable river cruise line AmaWaterways has partnered with Adventures by Disney and Tauck River Cruises has developed multiple itineraries specifically for families. "Travel is part of life's curriculum," says Chris Greco, brand manager of Tauck River Cruises. These river cruise itineraries are designed to optimize fun, enriching and engaging activities for all family members. Meanwhile, in the U.S., American Cruise Lines specializes in river cruises along the Mississippi, Hudson, Columbia and Snake rivers as well as coastal sailings in New England, Alaska and more.

Families Will Visit the Caribbean and Central America in 2017

Research presented at the Family Travel Association Summit revealed the most popular region for family travel is the Caribbean and Central America, with Europe close behind. Costa Rica continues to appeal to families with its stable democracy, rich biodiversity and variety of natural resources and activities. And in Europe, London is an especially enticing choice for kids, particularly for those travelers with youngsters obsessed with Harry Potter. There's J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" playing at the Palace Theatre and "The Making of Harry Potter" at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Finally, for an international adventure closer to home, our neighbor to the north, Canada, is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017 with events and celebrations across the country throughout the year.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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